ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who art always more ready to hear than
we to pray, and art wont to give more than either we desire or deserve…
(Collect Trinity XII)
The Collect for the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity expresses a truth that is rehearsed habitually but rarely remembered. The truth it reveals is that it is God’s nature to be more ready to hear than we to pray because our condition is often otherwise occupied and, thus, slothful in relation to our spiritual well-being. God hears in order to give, and what He gives is, as the Collect continues, more than either we desire or deserve. (Idem) The failure of zeal, alacrity, and dispatch is on our side. In desiring Him more, we shall receive the abundance of His mercy and the intensity of its Power.
The deaf and dumb man described in today's Gospel is an image of that spiritual condition that neither desires nor deserves what God longs to give. The man can neither hear nor speak. But prior to this morning’s Gospel, we meet a Syrophoenician woman who had no problem speaking up and begging Jesus to heal her daughter, who had an unclean spirit (St. Mark vii. 25). She may not have felt that she deserved anything, but that didn’t stop her from desiring fragments of Jesus’ healing power that she knew could cure her demonized child. She was not a Jewish petitioner but a Gentile seeker, and so was provoked by Jesus, who reminded her that [God’s] children should first be filled; for it is not meet to take the children’s bread, and cast it to dogs. (Ibid, 27) The response that Jesus anticipated and desired to elicit from her was brilliant. She said, Yes, Lord: yet the dogs under the table eat of the children’s crumbs. (Ibid, 28) Jesus told the woman that because of her faith and desire for fragments of the holiness that He has brought into the world, the devil would be expelled from her tormented daughter. The faith of this Gentile realizes that she is rewarded with a gift that she desired but did not deserve. Her desire was born from a deep sense of God’s presence in Jesus, which His own fellow Jews missed. Desire follows love. This woman loved her daughter and so was led to the light and power of God in Jesus Christ.
Now, this morning, we encounter a Jewish man who cannot so much as express his desire and has no idea about what he might or might not deserve. His friends, however, express his desire for him and seek the power that Jesus brings. We read: And they bring unto him one that was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech; and they beseech him to put his hand upon him. (Ibid, 32) Jesus is back in the land of the faithless Pharisees, the land of His own Jewish people, amongst men with pretensions to religion. Yet here we find a man who images the Jews’ deaf and dumb relation to God. What ensues is not a conversation at all. Jesus had spoken to the Syrophoenician woman because she spoke to him. But here He finds silence in a man who is deaf and mute, and so a silent prayer is offered from Jesus to His Father. We read: And Jesus took him aside from the multitude, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spit, and touched his tongue; and looking up to heaven, he sighed….(Ibid, 33, 34)
Jesus took him aside from the multitude. Noise and commerce drown out the silence that Jesus draws from to impart God’s Grace to us. The silence of the wilderness should have been remembered by the Jews, who heard God’s Word and experienced His Power only when they had been put to silence. Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth. (Psalm lxvi. 10) Jesus took him aside so that in solitude and silence, he might be more receptive of deep and lasting impressions, even as the same Lord does now oftentimes lead a soul apart, or takes away from its earthly companions and friends, when He would speak with it, and heal it, as Archbishop Trench reminds us. (Trench, The Miracles) This man needed to find God in Jesus Christ for the very first time. His healing can come about only from a deep and lasting impression of the Word heard for the first time and, thus, alone capable of unloosing his tongue.
With St. Paul, the deaf mute man would come to realize that we are not sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; [for] our sufficiency [comes] from God. (2 Cor. iii. 4) We, with the deaf and mute man have a long journey ahead of us. But if we desire and seek God, knowing that we have been deaf to His Word and are thus dumb, we can learn to hear Christ the Word and speak His truth to the world. We read that Jesus put his fingers into his ears, and he spit, and touched his tongue…. (St. Mark vii. 33,34) Almost all other avenues of communication, save those of sight and feeling, were of necessity closed (Idem, Trench) to this man. Jesus must use the man’s seeing and feeling to stir his faith. The fingers are put into the ears as to bore them, to pierce through the obstacles which hindered sounds from reaching the seat of hearing. (Idem) First, we hear. Second, we speak. The tongue must be touched and pried from the roof of the mouth into motion to repeat what it has heard. Like a newborn babe, this handicap sees and feels before he can hear and speak. Thus, with wonder and awe, this man sees and feels as the approaching God opens his ears and unlooses his tongue. Pseudo-Chrysostom tells us that,
Because of the sin of Adam, human nature had suffered much and had been wounded in its senses and in its members. But Christ coming into the world revealed to us, in Himself, the perfection of human nature; and for this reason he opened the ears with His fingers, and gave speech by the moisture of his tongue. (Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers, iv. 2)
The man is new to hearing and speaking. The Lord must link his physical actions to the power that He instills from on High for the man to understand.
Through His human nature, Jesus will identify Himself with the fallen condition of man. As He cures the deaf mute man, looking up to heaven, he sighed, and saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened. (ibid, 34) The power to heal comes from Christ’s unity with the Father in Heaven. Christ sighs in response to the wreck that sin had brought about, of the malice of the devil in deforming the fair features of God’s…creation, wringing a groan from his heart. (idem, Trench) With St. Paul, we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body… [For] we hope for [what] we [do not yet] see…[and so] we with patience wait for it. (Romans viii. 23) So, as the Venerable Bede teaches us, [Jesus] looks up to Heaven to teach us that it is from there that the dumb must seek speech, the deaf hearing, and all who suffer healing. He [sighed or] groaned, not because he needed to seek with groaning anything from the Father…but that he might give us an example of groaning, when we must call upon the assistance of the heavenly mercy…. (Ibid, 2). Jesus sighs to show us that we must with deepest inward groaning desire to ask the Lord to give us spiritual hearing and speaking because we obstinately refuse to hear and speak of the truth that He brings. Jesus sighs or groans because He desires us more than we Him, and longs to give us more than we desire or deserve. (Collect)
The words of other men have started this miracle on course to fruition. But to become conscious of the power of God’s Word, we must ask it for ourselves. Our Collect reveals the kind of miracle that we need. Pour down upon us the abundance of thy mercy; forgiving us those things whereof our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things which we are not worthy to ask, but through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord. (Collect) Our souls fear past sins; the remembrance of them is grievous unto us, and the burden of them is intolerable. (General Confession: HC Service, BCP 1928) When we are given spiritual ears with which to hear the truth about ourselves, we become conscious of the horror and shame of the past lives we have lived. Our consciences are afraid; they tremble before the presence of Almighty God. We approach our primordial and primitivenothingness. In the presence of God’s Word, Jesus Christ, we pray for those good things which we are not worthy to ask. (Collect) We do not deserve to hear, and yet God desires to open our spiritual ears. We are ashamed to speak, and yet His Word slowly but surely gives us those words that can praise His Visitation.
Jesus says Ephphatha, that is, Be opened. And straightway, his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain. (St. Mark vii. 35) Jesus hears the Word of the Father and speaks His Word. The man now can both hear and speak simply of the wonderful works of God. The deep impression of God’s heartfelt desire for his salvation now opens his heart to thank Jesus.
And he charged them that they should tell no man….(Ibid, 36, 37) The new miracle will take time to perfect. Without any fanfare or boasting, we must patiently allow God’s Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, to give us the words to plead the merits of His visitation. Perhaps, we are deaf to God’s Word and cannot speak His truth. As Pope Benedict writes, There is an inner closure that affects the person’s inmost self, which the Bible calls the “heart”. It is this that Jesus came to “open”, to liberate…to enable us to live to the full our relationship with God and with others. (Benedict XVI: September 9, 2012) Ephphatha, Be Opened, Jesus says. Jesus longs to open the ears of our hearts so that we might have what we neither desire nor deserve through His merits and mediation. (Idem) Christ calls us to follow Him quietly to His Cross. There, we shall see and hear how He offers Himself completely to us. There, we must plead the merits of His all-sufficient Sacrifice and Death. There, we must plead His mediation that begins from the Cross and extends into Resurrection and Ascension’s Eternity. From Heaven, He is our only Mediator and Advocate. Then, we shall exclaim, He hath done all things well; he maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak. (Ibid, 37)
I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. (Luke 5.32)
Trinity Tide invites us on to the road that leads to salvation, through the name and blood of Jesus Christ, who alone reconciles us to God. No human being is denied this offer of redemption and reconciliation with Almighty God, the Father of lights, the Maker of all things. Every human being is invited to arrive at the end that God has always intended. Every human being can become a pilgrim on the way to the fulfillment and enjoyment of everlasting life with God. Every human being can find the way that will leads to this end. Know thyself, the ancient oracle at Delphi commands. Know thyself, O Christian man and woman, and if thou can see who thou art, and what God is, then thou shalt find the way and the means that lead all to eternal life.
Every human being can come to know the way that leads to death and destruction on the one hand, and the way that leads to life and redemption on the other. The road that a man walks is, of course, his spiritual path. In this morning’s Gospel parable, our Lord illustrates the two ways. Two men went up into the temple to pray: the one a Pharisee, and the other a Publican. (St. Luke, xviii. 10)
The first man is our Pharisee, a privileged and honored member of the established church of his day. This man was religious, he gave a tenth of his tithes to the Temple; he followed Jewish ritual and dietary law to the tee; he gave alms to the poor. He was the Eminent Victorian Christian of his own age. In addition, he was a religious expert on the dos and don’ts of the moral code. He was, more than likely, a good man, admired and talked of…toasted at public dinners and spoken of with conventional absurdity as a perfect divine. (A. Trollope, Conclusion, Barchester Towers) From him, we should expect to find the way to real religion and true piety.
The other man who went up to pray was a Publican – a Jew who was despised and hated by his own people for being a traitor because he collected taxes for the Roman Empire. From him, we might expect to find only the wrong way to pray since his conscience was seared with treachery. Day by day he was forced to live with a soul torn between the religion of the one true God and his greed.
So, we read that the Pharisee stood by himself and prayed thus. (Ibid. 11)) Long before we hear anything from the Pharisee, we see him. He is standing off by himself, segregated and divided from all others, perhaps intending that others should notice his piety (Notes on the Parables, Ch. 29),as Archbishop Trench suggests. This sight should disturb us. It appears that he is talking with himself.He is removed safely from all others, and next we hear why. God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. (Idem) The Pharisee has a very high opinion of himself. His prayer is relative and comparative. He considers himself uniquely virtuous, unlike all other men and, thus, superior to them. From the difference between all other men and himself, he takes a greater occasion for pride, as St. Augustine says. (Aug. Serm. LXV.) Looking over at the Publican he says I am alone, he is of the rest…. not… as he is, through my righteous deeds, whereby I have no unrighteousness. (Idem) As righteous, he divides himself from the unrighteous. He judges and dismisses them all as what he is not. With them, he shares no common ground. Because he is not an extortioner, adulterer, or even as this publican (Idem), he rejoices in his own goodness. He justifies himself, or thinks that he is better, by convincing himself that he is not a sinner, outwardly and visibly, in this world, and in relation to other men. He insists, in other words, that he is good by the standards and appearances of this world. The outside of the cup, his exterior and visible self, is pristine! For our admiration, he sets forth a list of his virtues. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. (Ibid, 12) He went up to pray to praise himself. His list is short, for he has done all that he needs to do in the eyes of God. To be religious, as John Henry Newman points out, was for him,
to keep peace towards others, to take his share in the burdens of the poor, to abstain from gross vice, and to set a good example. His alms and fastings were done not in penance, but because the world asked for them; penance would have implied consciousness of sin; whereas it was only the Publican’s, and such as they, who had anything to be forgiven.
(J.H. Newman, 10th Sunday after Pentecost, 1856)
He knows that he is neither a traitor nor a sinner and, thus, thanks God for his well-behaved, decorous, consistent, and respectable life. (R.C. Trench: Parables) Again, he thanks God for himself. Our Pharisee thanks God that he was not as that Publican. Never does he ask God for what He wants him to be. What we see and hear is a man who does all the talking in his prayer. He cannot hear God. Furthermore, he cannot see or hear one man who had found the way that alone leads back to the Almighty.
But see and hear what the Pharisee missed. The Publican, standing, afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. (Ibid, 13) This man, despised by his own people for his compromised and divided loyalties, is standing afar off. He does not think that he is worthy to come close to the wall of prayer or the holy Pharisee.He stands afar off, no doubt knowing most cuttingly that he is the last and least of those whom God should save. His conscience is seared. He knows that he is an unworthy sinner. He is poor in spirit and fearful of approaching God Almighty. He smites his breast, and what we see and hear is a man whose soul is wrenched with desperation over impotence against his division from God and his fellow men. God alone can save his soul. In all humility, without any doubt, he pleads, God be merciful to me a sinner. (Idem) This man knows himself. He knows, too, that avoiding God would be far worse than approaching Him to beg for mercy and healing. O Lord, correct me, but with judgment; not in thine anger, lest thou bring me to nothing. (Jer. x. 24.) He sees the Pharisee but thinks himself unworthy of his company. He knows only one truth. God stands before Him as the One who knows him, can help him, and can save him from himself and his sins. Before God, he sees himself as nothing. With the prophet Isaiah, he exclaims, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips. (Isaiah vi. 5)
This man stands by, but not near, the Pharisee. He stands afar off. (Ibid, 13) Little does he know that he stands far closer to the heart-searching God than most. He does not see by his own light but stands out against the all-seeing God. He sees God’s light and what it reveals to him of himself. He prays that God will hear his humble prayer. Unlike the Pharisee, he is not his own teacher, pacing round and round in the small circle of his own thoughts and judgments, careless to know what God says to him, fearless of being condemned by Him, standing approved in his own sight. (Idem, Trench) Rather, he hears the words of the Lord, Be still and know that I am God. (Psalm 46.10) He sees and fears God and is ripe and ready to hear the words of Jesus Christ: I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. (Luke 5.32) He has seen himself in the light of God’s truth and mercy. He knows that he needs God, and that God alone can save him from his spiritual wretchedness, misery, and poverty. He sees God and longs to hear the Word of His Forgiveness. He seeks pardon for wrong done, and the power to do better. Thus, he says, God be merciful to me a sinner. (Idem)
The Publican and his prayer, which the Pharisee can neither see nor hear, are a model for our own piety. The Publican does not justify himself with God whom he sees and hears. Eventually, he sees himself, with all other men, as one in sin and separation from God. With St. Paul, he insists I am the least of the Apostles, that am not meet to be called an Apostle…but by the Grace of God, I am what I am: and His Grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain. (1 Cor. xv. 10) He knows that he is helpless before God’s Majesty and Might. Unbeknownst to himself, he is one with all fallen men. John Henry Newman reminds us,
this is because created natures, high and low, are all on a level and one in the sight and comparison of the Creator, and so all of them have one speech, and one only, whether it be the thief on the cross, Magdalen at the feast, of St. Paul before martyrdom. One and all have nothing but what comes from Him, and are as nothing before Him, who is all in all. (Newman, Idem)
The Publican’s prayer is the true prayer of all men. In his heart, we find that unselfconscious holiness about to be born because of the weight of his own sin. From him we learn to humble [ourselves]… under the mighty hand of God…casting all [our] anxieties upon Him (1 Peter v. 6,7)
Let us this day, my brethren, see ourselves in the Light of Almighty God radiating from Jesus Christ. Let us see too that, if left to our own devices, we judge in relation to all others, convincing ourselves that we are good enough and better than notorious sinners. Let us see that God, our Heavenly Father, calls us to hear Him in Jesus. Let us pray that He might mercifully grant unto us such a measure of [His] grace, that we, running the way of [His] commandments, may obtain [His] gracious promises, and be made partakers of [His] heavenly treasure. (Collect Trinity XI) Let us seethat He alone, unlike any other, can and will save us from the Cross of Christ’s Love. He will hear us if we pray with the Publican, God be merciful to me a sinner…for everyone that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. (Ibid, 14)
Concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant.
(1 Corinthians xii. 1)
In the Collect, Epistle, and Gospel for the Tenth Sunday after Trinity, the subject matter is struggle. As always, in the Trinity season, we are exhorted to so turn to God through Jesus Christ, that we might struggle to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit, becoming visible and audible agents – revealers – of God’s presence in the world. And today we are reminded of a few key elements that rightly position our souls before God who longs to struggle with us and bring His gifts alive in our hearts and souls.
First, we learn what is not meant by struggling in relation to God. I would not have you ignorant…carried away by dumb idols, (1 Cor. xii. 1,2) St. Paul tells the young Corinthian Church. Jesus witnesses the worship of dumb idols when He visits the Temple at Jerusalem and finds His own people wholly ignorant of the gifts that God’s own people should have struggled to obtain as they prepared for His coming. Our Gospel lesson tells us this morning that Christ Jesus entered the Holy City, whose Temple symbolized the Church that Christ would grow from the foundation of Solomon’s beginning. The Temple was meant to be a place of encounter between God and man in this world, but Jesus finds it rather the site of sinful commerce between man and man. And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, saying, If thou hadst known, even thou…the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. (St. Luke xix. 41, 42) Instead of finding faith, hope, and love, there Jesus finds man’s obsession with mammon and money. In the Temple, Jesus finds that God’s Word which proclaimed His coming is unheard by the Jews, who have been blinded and deafened by their worship of dumb idols. Jesus finds men who were too busy for faith in the gifts of God’s Word and Spirit, now to be summed up and perfected in His mission to fallen men. They know not, neither will they understand; they walk on in darkness: all the foundations of the earth are out of course. (Ps. lxxxii. 5) They worship mammon and money and don’t reveal even an inkling of the struggle involved in putting God first and worshiping Him alone.
Second, in Jesus’ weeping over the sins of His own people, we have a picture of that struggle and pain that must characterize our own mourning over our sins and the need to repent. The Church is the new Temple of God, and in it we too must grieve and lament over our ignorant worship of dumb idols. Origen of Alexandria, commenting upon these first few verses, says that
Jesus weeps over Jerusalem first to confirm and establish those virtues which He desired should come alive in us. He writes, All of the Beatitudes of which Jesus spoke in the Gospel He confirms by his own example. Just as He had said “blessed are the meek”, He confirms this where He says “learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart. And just as He said “blessed are ye that weep”, He also wept over the city. (Origen: Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers: iii, p. 341)
We must struggle to embrace meekness, which is that virtue of knowing our place and the limitations of our human nature. We must then struggle to mourn and weep over our frailty and failure to be faithful to God. We also struggle to remember that Christ’s weeping is a sign of His compassion for us. St. Cyril of Jerusalem writes that Christ, who wishes that all men should be saved, had compassion on these. And this would not have been evident to us unless made so by some very human gesture. Tears, however, are a sign of sorrow. (Ibid) St. Gregory the Great writes that the compassionate Saviour weeps over the ruin of the faithless city, which the city itself did not know was to come. (Ibid) And so three of the great Church Fathers remind us that Christ uses His human nature to reveal to us the great urgency to struggle to practice meekness and mourning so that our souls might unite with Him and thus be rightly related to a sinful world and our part in it.
So, through the gifts of the Holy Spirit, we struggle to confess that we have too often and for too long worshiped dumb idols in ignorance and have failed to confess our sins and mourn over them. But why is this such a struggle? The answer is that we are habituated to this world and our fleshly comforts. Our little worlds, one might say, are far too worldly. We are so immersed in creature comforts that have morphed into needs that we treat God and His Heavenly Treasure as a kind of afterthought of merely occasional compartmentalized interest. The fallen Jerusalem over which Jesus weeps this morning is the fallen Jerusalem of our souls. The soul that is fallen has lost the habit of ongoing submission to God’s Word of Promise for redemption, found only in the saving life of Jesus. The soul that is fallen has forgotten its sin because it is no longer confesses its powerlessness in relation to the God who alone can heal, redeem, and save.
We might recover the soul’s spiritual consciousness by looking at today’s Old Testament lesson. Here we read that Jacob rose up that night, and took his two wives, and his two women servants, and his eleven sons, and passed over the ford Jabbok. (Genesis xxxii. 22) Jacob, the son of Isaac, crosses the river Jabbok, which means to struggle, to empty, or to pour out. Unbeknownst to him at the time, Jacob was struggling to leave his old self, the natural man and the soul immersed in earthly and profane commerce, behind. Jacob can be our model for the man who empties himself of the worship of dumb idols, leaves behind corrupted desires for impermanent riches, and struggles to cross the spiritual waters. And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day. (Genesis xxxii. 24) Possessions, money, even spouses must be left behind for a season so that true spiritual struggle can begin. Jacob struggles and wrestles. Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that, The Church’s spiritual tradition has seen in this story a symbol of prayer as a faith-filled struggle which takes place at times in darkness, calls for perseverance, and is crowned by interior renewal and God’s blessing. This struggle demands our unremitting effort yet ends by surrender to God’s mercy and gift. (Weekly Catechesis, May 25, 2011) Wrestling is spiritual struggle. Each of us must engage it. God struggles with us against the deceitful promises of the world, the flesh, and the devil. In the Person of His Son, Jesus Christ, we find God’s struggle to purge the temples of our bodies and souls of any evil that pursues false commerce in the world. Of course, God never forces His saving power upon us. He does not wish to prevail against Jacob or us. He touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob's thigh was put out of joint, as he wrestled with him. (Genesis xxxii. 25)
Wrestling or struggling with God leaves behind a sign of our own imperfection and finitude. The thigh, which means his heart, struggles until it rests in God. God’s touch is the loving reminder that He will be the source of our healing and redemption. Jacob is touched by the love of God that saves him. He struggles or wrestles to obtain a blessing from God. God asks, What is thy name? (Genesis xxxii. 27) Jacob answers. God says, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed. (Genesis xxxii. 28) Israel means he has striven, hunted, aspired with God. And so too must we if we would be saved.
You and I must be prepared for spiritual warfare. Jesus weeps because He knows what we lose if we refuse to struggle and wrestle with God. Blessed are they that mourn. (St. Matthew v. 4) Mourning is grief over how we have neglected God’s will. We mourn over our failure to struggle more earnestly to discover His promises for us. Our spiritual thighs must be felt to be out of joint. We must struggle to grasp that God’s Grace intends that we hobble around this world careful not to be desiring this man’s gift and that man’s scope…mourning the vanished power of the usual reign, as T. S. Eliot reminds us. (Ash Wednesday) If we fail to wrestle and struggle with God, to hobble, we shall never feel our condition as sinners in need of a Saviour. If we fail to struggle with God, we shall never be able to go with Jesus to His Cross. If we fail to struggle with God, we shall never see how Son of God has won our salvation in His ultimate struggle to hobble to the Cross to conquer sin, death, and Satan.
Jesus…wept, and then we read that He went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold therein, and them that bought; saying unto them, It is written, My house is the house of prayer: but ye have made it a den of thieves. (St. Luke xix. 45, 46) In Jesus’ tears, we must struggle to learn that through Him, God expresses His Love as wrath against our sin. For whom the Lord loveth, He chasteneth. (Hebr. Xii. 6) Let us receive this wrath as Divine Loving correction. Christ brings us to our own powerlessness. We were made to struggle and hobble. Jacob wrestled with God and found himself. Now God, in Jesus Christ, wrestles and struggles against Satan for us. Satan underestimated the omnipotence of his adversary. Satan tortured and crucified Christ as Man. Christ assumed our weakness. But Satan forgot that as Christ the Man was dying, His death was already becoming the instrument of Son of God’s victory over sin, death, and Satan. In the Crucified Dying Lord, Death took on new meaning as the source and seedbed of the hobbling struggle of new life that never dies.
Jesus wept over the destruction of Jerusalem as He saw the human soul’s failure to struggle to put God first. Jerusalem is fallen, and so are we. But now Christ takes us into His loving death as we struggle and hobble to be born again and walk upright. Walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour. (Eph. V. 2) Our Collect directs, let us ask God for such things as shall please [Him] that the Spirit may enable us to struggle and hobble to thank God for this and rejoice!
Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail,
they may receive you into everlasting habitations.
(St. Luke xvi. 9)
In last week’s Gospel, we prayed that God’s never-failing providence that ruleth all things both in heaven and in earth [might] put away from us all hurtful things and [might] give to us those things which are profitable (Collect: Trin. VIII) for our salvation. And this week Jesus illustrates how we might apply what we know of God’s providence to our present lives. He does this through The Parable of the Unjust Steward. In it, He commends the virtue of prudence for our consideration.
In the Parable of the Unjust Steward, we read about the administrator or manager of a rich man’s treasure who has been accused of wasting his master’s goods and being a careless manager of the rich man’s estate. The rich man summons his employee to call him to account. How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward. (St. Luke xvi. 2) The rich man is disturbed but gives his worker time to give account of his stewardship. The employee is struck dumb with trepidation over his future. Because he can make no excuse for his sin, he says to himself, What shall I do? For my lord taketh away from me the stewardship: I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed. (Ibid, 3) He is proud of his education and ability and, thus, will not lower himself to menial labor to repay his master. He will not beg by reason of the same shame. He has a good mind and will use it to make good out of the evil that has befallen him. He thus muses:
I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses. So, he called every one of his lord’s debtors unto him, and said unto the first, How much owest thou unto my lord? And he said, An hundred measures of oil. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty. Then said he to another, And how much owest thou? And he said, An hundred measures of wheat. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and write fourscore.
Though he has failed to manage the rich man’s business properly in the past, he will nevertheless use his practical perspicacity and prudence to begin to call in his master’s debts. So, he makes a deal with others who have loans with his master. He asks them what they owe that he may return at least a portion of their debt to his boss. He ends up collecting fifty percent of what one man owed, and eighty percent from another, and returns to give to the master what he has collected. So, the lord commended the unjust steward because he had done wisely. For the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light. (Ibid, 8) He has used unrighteous mammon and made friends through it. Jesus tells his listeners that in earthly and worldly terms, here we find a man who used his prudence and worldly wisdom to bring good out of evil. He has made friends through the mammon of unrighteousness. (Ibid, 9) Having realized his careless negligence, he calls in prudence to reclaim his master’s debt.
So, what does Jesus mean when he says that in this instance the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light? And why does He say that we are to make us friends with the mammon of unrighteousness? It seems to contradict what He commands elsewhere – that we cannot serve God and Mammon. (St. Matthew vi. 24) We learn more about it in what follows today’s Gospel lesson. There Jesus says that He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much. If, therefore, ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man's, who shall give you that which is your own? (Ibid, 10-12) Unrighteous mammon is a term used to describe money or earthly treasure. If a man has been dishonest when entrusted with earthly riches, how can he be trusted to increase the worth of his spiritual treasure? The unjust steward was irresponsible and unfaithful with his master’s fortune. But he repented of his error and was determined to use prudence to find favor in his master’s eyes once again. In the Parable Jesus seems to suggest that the prudence of the unjust steward is a virtue to be imitated. Of course, it is not the unjust steward’s concern with making up for his fraud that interests Jesus, but rather the prudence or practical wisdom that moves the man to recover from the mistakes he had made. Making friends with the mammon of unrighteousness involves acquiring the habit of prudence. The unjust steward is still unjust, and the unrighteous mammon is always unrighteous. The mammon of unrighteousness is false mammon, ‘the meat that perishes’, the riches of this world, perishing things that disappoint those who raise their expectations from them. (M. Henry. Comm. Luke xvi.) So, is Jesus encouraging us to make use of it to advance spiritually and progress with God? No. This is not Jesus’ intention. Rather, he is using the parable to show that all men should know that they are unjust stewards, by reason of sin, and should, therefore, always make friends with what is always unrighteous mammon, with prudence.
The prudence in the parable restores the unjust steward to his lord or master. Jesus encourages us to translate the unjust steward’s prudence first into practical prudence. St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that prudence is the application of right reason to action. Prudence is a virtue that makes its possessor good and his work good also. Similarly, St. Bonaventure tells us that Prudence rules and rectifies the powers of the soul for the good of the self and one’s neighbor. (Bonaventure: C. M. Cullen, p. 98) He tells us also that prudence helps us to remain close to the spiritual center. (Idem) The center for the Christian must include the practical knowledge of how to use the mammon of unrighteousness properly. A prudent man then befriends unrighteous mammon. Because a prudent man is on intimate terms with the mammon of unrighteousness, and knows only too well its dangerous potential, first he will use it to assist others. Prudence encourages us also to see in our neighbor another self and to love our neighbors as ourselves. So, when we are practically wise or prudent in relation to the mammon of unrighteousness, we use the perishable and disposable wealth of this world for those in need. Jesus says that he that is faithful in that which is least, is also faithful also in much. (Ibid, 10) He means that we must use prudence to become faithful and honest with these lesser and least of riches because only then can we reveal what truly moves and defines us. If we can dispose of unrighteous mammon effortlessly and easily, then we show others that we are far more intent upon serving one Master and looking for one reward. We shall also make friends for Christ. Charity, generosity, liberality, and kindness overcome other men’s basic needs so that their souls can join ours in laboring [spiritually] not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life. (St. John vi. 27)
Christ makes it very clear in using this parable that most men are rather more prudent in preparing for their worldly futures than His followers are prudent in readying themselves for their spiritual destiny. If spiritual men would take as much time, care, and caution in preparing for salvation, as they do in worrying about money, the world might become a more Christian place. Thus, the parable has a more spiritual meaning. Spiritual men need to be more prudent about their spiritual future, converting the earthly prudence they use in relation to mammon to higher ends. Making friends with the mammon of unrighteousness, (Ibid, 9) must involve cultivating the Cardinal Virtue of prudence that is on the way to being perfected through God’s Grace.
First, the prudent spiritual man imitates the unjust steward who acknowledged his sin and was thus assiduously and conscientiously determined to make right with his Master. We should intend to make ourselves right with God. Second, the prudent spiritual man knows that he is always an unjust [spiritual] steward of God’s gifts because of his fallen nature, and thus can never repay what he owes to Him. So, he must live under God’s Grace praying always that God, like the rich man in today’s parable, might be merciful. Third, the prudent spiritual man is determined to help others with what he has been given, thus loving him spiritually as a fellow pilgrim on the journey to God’s Kingdom who will receive him into everlasting habitations (Ibid, 9) if he himself has been merciful like his Lord. Luther tells us that those whom we have helped and who have gone before us will say to the Lord: ‘My God, this he has done unto me as thy child!’ The Lord will say: ‘Because ye have done it to the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.’ Therefore, these poor people will…be…our witnesses so that God shall receive us. (Luther: Trinity IX)
Today my friends let us begin to study the virtue of prudence. Prudence looks with foresight and vision into a Christian future in Heaven. As Isidore of Seville says (Etym. x): A prudent man is one who sees as it were from afar, for his sight is keen, and he foresees the event of uncertainties. (STA: Summa, II, ii, 47, i.) Prudence sees things from afar and weighs Heaven as far more important than earth and its perishable mammon. As our Collect reminds us prudence is the spirit to think and do always such things that are right and what enables us to live according to [God’s] will by His Grace. (Collect: Trinity IX) Thus, Christian prudence sees that God has called us to make to ourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness so that we might be humbled, not arrogantly thinking that we are standing above those whom we help but taking heed lest we fall. (1 Cor. X. 12) After all, if Jesus stoops down to suffer and die for us on His Cross, from the low plain of doing it to the least of these [His] brethren, we should humbly allow them, then, to receive us into [His]everlasting habitations from Heaven because we have served not Mammon but God through His Life of perfect suffering and service from the Cross of His Love.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons: