Ye cannot serve God and Mammon (St. Matthew vi: 24)
Our Gospel lesson appointed for today comes to us from the Sermon on the Mount. And like all the lections of Trinity Tide, it helps us to understand our sanctification or our habituation to virtue. Today’s lesson is hard to study because it involves our relationship with two necessities of life, food and clothing. And our anxiety and worry over these essentials are not made any easier by Our Lord’s abrupt dismissal of their acquisition and retention. He appears far more concerned with the spiritual food and raiment that will nourish and clothe our souls. He warns us: You cannot serve God and mammon. (St. Matthew vi. 24) Simply put: You cannot serve God if you are also serving mammon. And He condemns the idolatry of mammon because He insists that God will provide us with all our earthly needs.
Perhaps we can better understand all of this if we recall the main reason for Jesus Christ’s Incarnation. He has come down from Heaven to enable us to get right with God the Father for our salvation. He has come down from Heaven to overcome our slavery to sin and a world full of false gods. Fallen man is a spiritual schizophrenic. The frailty of man without [God] cannot but fall, we read in today’s Collect. Indeed, the problem is that we are frail and fallen and thus we are torn between God and Mammon. Christ comes first and foremost to feed and clothe us with God’s holiness and righteousness so that we might be saved. What He longs to procure for us is the means that ensure our salvation. As Romano Guardini puts it, From the abundance otherwise reserved for Heaven, Jesus brings Divine reality to earth. He is the stream of living water from the eternal source of the Father’s love to a thirsting world. From ‘above’ he establishes the new existence that is impossible to establish from below, existence which, seen only from the natural and earthly level, must seem subversive and incoherent. (The Lord, p. 82) Christ comes down from Heaven to share the Eternal Treasure of God’s love with us. This is what we call Grace. That loving power is the Treasure of spiritual food and drink that makes a man hale and hearty for salvation. And yet, this Treasure is never forced upon us. If a man desires to be fed and clothed by God’s Grace and changed by Divine Virtue, he must seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. (Col. iii. 1) So, Christ intends to habituate us to the Divine Reality, the Reality of God. God has made us to know and love Him. This is our real food and drink. From the Father alone flows that living water that not only sustains mere existence but promises to make life better spiritually through the soul’s discovery of its true nature and destiny. From the Father alone can we learn to grow and harvest that spiritual fruit, which is the knowledge and love of God.
And it is not as if man hasn’t longed for this salvation or some form of it throughout human history. The ancient pagan philosopher Aristotle taught his students that all men by nature desire to know (980 a21), and that man naturally seeks happiness. (1097b) We men are not mere animals. We also possess the desire to seek for happiness and knowledge. Rational men use their sense perceptions to inquire after truth. In all aspects of life, we study nature and ourselves in order to discover the truth and to find happiness. But, if we are normal, still we are restless. Still, we seek for higher truth and more lasting happiness. Surely, we are not content with food and clothing. If we are true to ourselves, our souls seek to find first principles and even God. Aristotle quotes Hesiod when he writes:
Far best is he who knows all things himself;
Good, he that hearkens when men counsel right;
But he who neither knows, nor lays to heart
Another's wisdom, is a useless wight. (1095 b10)
A useless wight is a fool who settles for very little. Christians believe that in God alone Another’s Wisdom is found that will satisfy man’s inward spiritual hunger and thirst for knowledge and happiness. Christians believe that God’s Wisdom must be made flesh in Jesus Christ and offered to man as the only spiritual means capable of saving him from becoming a useless wight. Of course, God’s way in Jesus Christ is entirely practical. In Him, we are called to see this world as no end in itself, but a created good that must be used only in so far as it advances our salvation in Jesus Christ. The things of this world are gifts that secure us so that we might move inward and upward in spiritual passion, longing, and desire back to the author and giver of all good things.
Jesus urges us on to the effort of seeking the Supreme Good of God by reminding us, in an Aristotelian way, that God is the Mover and Definer of all things. He is our generous Father who forever loves and cares for us. Consider the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. Stop, he urges, if you are indeed consumed with this world. Look at nature, look at the flowers, the animals, and the fowl of the air. All of nature is held in my Father’s loving hand. Nature is providentially ordered by Him. He feeds it, sustains, colors, beatifies, informs, and defines it. Each unique nature is defined by my Father’s Wisdom and enlivened by His ceaseless loving care. None of these creatures is anxious about anything. The birds neither sow nor reap and my Father feeds them. The lilies neither toil nor spin, and Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed by my Father like one of these. (St. Matthew vi. 26-29) Jesus brings before us the created things of this world and shows that they hang entirely upon the Father’s Wisdom and Love for their existence and beauty. He shows us that God orders all of nature providentially. He reminds us that the birds of the air are anxious over nothing and are fed. Similarly, the lilies of the field emanate with utter beauty and not the slightest effort or toil. God provides for them, and would do the same for us, if only we would have faith and trust in Him. See and believe, Christ urges us today. Faith in God begins with openness to what surrounds us. We are bidden to slow down, stop, and behold how God enlivens and quickens, orders and defines, and even gives immense beauty to all of His creatures and the universe itself. See and believe that God is at work in His world. Christ tells us to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all other things shall be added to you. (St. Matthew vi. 33) Faith in Christ means following Him, through nature and then beyond it, up and into the transcendent truth and love that enliven and inform all things.
Yet why do we find this so difficult to do? Are we enslaved to the means of securing only limited and impermanent kinds of happiness? Have our souls grown cold and been dulled by the worship of creaturely comforts and earthly joys? Have we been rendered slothful because we have forgotten whence we come and whither we go? Are we possessed by Mammon? Mammon is, as R.D. Crouse reminds us, a false God, and the service of Mammon is idolatry. And it is the essence of idolatry to trust the things of the world as though they were a final and ultimate significance. Idolatry is the worship of worldly things, and it is a subtle, but constant, ever-present danger to the spiritual lives of all of us. (Parochial Sermons: RC) If we wish to find our way out of the worship of Mammon, and away from the anxiety that worries about earthly riches, we must tend first to the good of our souls. We must see and understand that created things, Mammon, really can never make us happy in any lasting and significant way.
So, Jesus asks us today why we are serving Mammon and not God. He wonders why we pursue creaturely comfort more than His Kingdom. Is not life more than meat, and the body made for more than raiment? (St. Matthew vi. 25) He wonders if the Mammon hasn’t gotten the better of us so that we are toiling and spinning so desperately over it that we have become negligent about what God’s Good Providence has in store for us? Or do we toil and spin because we have become so at home in this world that we have forgotten that we were made for another? Mammon has the ability to make a mess out of us all. Thus, we postpone, neglect, or reject outright our pursuit of God’s Supreme Goodness in Jesus Christ.
This morning let us stop sowing, reaping, toiling, and spinning over earthly gods and their fleeting promises. Nature herself silently urges us to imitate her absolute dependence upon God! The Goodness of God is so free and diffusive that its runs over and fills a world full of creatures which all hang upon Him. He duly feeds them and gives them as much as they crave. He enlivens and quickens even those who never call upon His name and worship His glory. God’s Goodness enlivens, moves, informs, and defines us all. He makes the sun to shine upon the evil and the good.
But we cannot leave it here. Ye cannot serve God and Mammon. (Idem) We must not worship the creature rather than the Creator. O how great is thy goodness that thou hast laid up for them that fear thy name. For there is a loving kindness in God that is better than this life and all its choicest comforts. Redeeming Love is the highest love. Redeeming Love wins for us the greatest treasure. Our world is made not to be worshiped but to be redeemed. Our Lord has made us for Himself and knows that we are restless until we find Him. How do we find him? We go with Him to the Cross. What must we do? Pray that His victory over the world, the flesh, and the devil becomes our own death. How do we have it? Through a small piece of bread and a tiny sip of wine. Food and Drink. Health and Happiness. Body and Blood. The elements that feed and clothe us with all of God in Jesus Christ our Lord. So simple and yet so profound. This is the love that is as deep as the human heart and as broad as the universe. This is the love that must feed us and clothe us in such a way that this treasure gives us the greatest foretaste of eternal knowledge and happiness.
In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly.
And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts:
the whole earth is full of his glory. And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke.
Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts. Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: and he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged. Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me. (Isaiah vi. 1-8)
Our text is taken from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. Isaiah, as you all know, was one of the great Major Prophets of the Old Testament. He lived from somewhere between 740 and 686 B.C., praying for the victory of his homeland Israel against the foreign occupation of the Assyrians. Victory soon came with the courageous efforts of King Hezekiah. But none of this might ever have happened had Isaiah not been chosen and called to pray for his people Israel. And Isaiah never would have been chosen and called had he not been in possession of that character that is at once open to the vision of God Almighty and duly humbled in His presence. His character, you see, was fitted for the prophesy and promise. And this, because he was separated out for mission and ministry.
Isaiah the prophet was separated out, chosen, and called by God because of that character that is most suitable for the ministration of His Will. What is this character, you might ask? Isaiah had no consciousness whatsoever of being worthy or fit for any work from the God whom He had seen and endured. Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips…(Is. vi. 5) The prophet echoes his forefather Moses who beholding the Burning Bush and the Word that emerged from it hid his face, for he was afraid to look upon God. (Ex. iii. 6) and, also, Jeremiah the Prophet who when God touched his mouth said Ah Lord God! Behold, I cannot speak for I am a child. (Jer. i. 6) Isaiah is undone and all the more so because he dwells in the midst of a people of unclean lips. Isaiah is the recipient of both a vision and a call because he has been separated out from those who shall not see with their eyes nor hear with their ears until they understand the extent of their spiritual destruction.
But, still, Isaiah does not understand what God has in store for him. The Prophet is truly undone. He is full of the sense of his own sin and the punishment that it justly deserves. Isaiah is filled with anguish, anxiety, and fear. He stands in the presence of the Lord of life but hears only the message of death, his own death. Isaiah, by all standards, was a man of deep faith and an unsullied life. And yet now, he sees stains in himself which he had not imagined before, and discovered impurities…and saw his own sin and his people’s sin, for he did not feel that he ever ought to separate himself from them…till this mighty cry of anguish was wrung from him. (Trench: Isaiah’s Vision) Isaiah knows his own iniquity in the presence of the All Holy God. God sends the seraphim or His angel of love to touch Isaiah’s lips and reveal God’s will. Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged. (Ibid, 7) The Lord, knowing perfectly well what He intends, then asks Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Instinctively, humbly, and without any thought for himself, Isaiah responds: Here I am; send me. (Ibid, 8)
Isaiah the Prophet stands in a long line of those who are chosen, called, separated out, and sent to prophesy, promise, proclaim, and preach God’s Word and Will for His people. Isaiah the prophet, as Archbishop Trench reminds us, is one who has seen himself in that terrible light which laid open and manifest to him all of himself which hitherto had been hidden even to himself. (Idem) Those who remain at a guilty distance from God can never behold even the remotest skirts of the glory of Him on whom the seraphim wait to catch the faintest echoes of that angelic song ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’ which fills the temple of God. (Idem)
Today, my friends, we come to celebrate the Ordination to the Priesthood of one man whom we believe has consecrated his heart to God, the tip of whose lips have been touched by the Angel of Love and set apart for ministry in God’s Holy Church. Today, my friends, we come to pray for one man who knows that because he is undone, a man of unclean lips in the midst of a people of unclean lips, he is not satisfied with and in himself but dreams one thing, that one thing that is everythingand lacking to others. (Idem) Today, my friends, we come to ordain one man who is chosen, called, separated out and sent to help us to receive that cry of anguish that qualifies his character to minister to us. Make no mistake, this qualified character is chosen, with Isaiah, to become one of God’s suffering servants. He is called to become the Lord’s Messenger, Watchman, and Steward, to teach and to premonish, to feed and to provide for the Lord’s family, to seek Christ’s Sheep dispersed abroad…and for His children who are in the midst of this naughty world. He is called to remember always how great a treasure is committed to his charge. The treasure is you all, the sheep of Christ, which He has bought with His Death, and for whom He shed His blood. You are the Body of Christ, and you He must serve. Towards you he must never cease in his labor, his care and diligence, until he has done all that lieth in him, according to his bounden duty, to bring all committed unto his charge, unto that agreement in the faith and knowledge of God, and to that ripeness and perfectness of age in Christ, that there be no place left among you, either for error in religion, or viciousness in life. Today, my friends, we pray that Kevin Fife will forever be ruled and governed by so High a Dignity placed in him that he should never give offence or be the occasion of others’ offence to God. For his part, like Isaiah, he must remember that he hangs forever upon the Grace of God. He must recall day in and day out that the will and ability to become one who is chosen, called, separated out, and sent is given of God alone. Thus, he must pray for God’s Holy Spirit at all times.
The weighty work that Kevin Fife is called to is your salvation. So, you must be deeply impressed with this one fact and pray for it. Kevin is chosen, called, and sent to minister the Gospel of Jesus Christ to you. He is called to study the Holy Scriptures, the Fathers, the great Medieval Doctors, and the Reformers of the Church so that he might be better able to teach you sound doctrine and to exhort you to that holiness of life that leads to salvation. He is called to drive from his soul and yours erroneous and strange doctrines contrary to God’s Word. You must humbly allow him to be your preacher and teacher. You must let him admonish and discipline you when you err and strayfrom Christ’s Way as your pastor. Kevin is called also to minister the Holy Sacraments to you. His cure and charge are to discern the state and character of your souls and to ready them always to faithfully receive the most Precious Body and Blood of our Blessed Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. If Kevin is chosen, called, and sent to humble himself under the mighty Hand of God (1 Peter v. 6), so too must you, through his needful assistance, whereby he pastors and ministers to your souls.
Today, my friends, we praise God for having chosen, called, separated out, and sent Kevin Fife to us as priest and pastor. Today, my friends, Kevin will be grafted into the great branching tree of the Apostles’ ministry. For, as Austin Farrer reminds us,
A priest is a living stem, bearing [the Word and] Sacraments as its fruits: [he preaches and teaches], he gives you the Body and Blood of Christ; he gives you, if you faithfully confess before him, Christ’s own [forgiveness]. And that’s not all; the man who bears the Sacrament is sacramental himself; he is, one might almost say, himself a walking sacrament…
A walking Sacrament is a man through whom God works in a way that even the great prophet Isaiah could never have imagined. Kevin is becoming a walking Sacrament, a living stem from the Apostolic tree.
St. John Vianney, the Curé d’Ars, one of the world’s greatest walking Sacraments, said that The priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus. Today, we are blessed by Father Kevin Fife, who with the Prophet Isaiah, as a walking Sacrament will minister the love of the heart of Jesus to us. If we faithfully receive what Jesus gives to us through him, I am sure that we all shall be, with him, undone.
But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation,
a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light…
(1 St. Peter 2. 9)
You might be wondering this morning how exactly I plan to weave the words just quoted from St. Peter’s first Epistle into this morning’s lections. St. Peter seems to be speaking of something rather grand, elevated, and regal, or of a reality that is radically other than the sordid business found in today’s Gospel. He talks of a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people. He speaks, in other words, of a world that seems light-years away from the one we have just read about. For there we are reading about a leper colony, a sordid space of slowly suffocating spoilage, corruption, and decomposition. There we discover a sign and symbol of sin and its punishment and a spiritual sadness far removed from the truth, beauty, and goodness of God’s good life. Over and against St. Peter’s vision of the glorious life to come, we find ourselves in a reality that still reeks of suffering and sadness. But Jesus is the master artisan who can buttress the gap, unite the two, and so enable us to move from the one to the other. Jesus has a funny way of showing us that what we thought were mutually exclusive and radically opposed conditions of existence, end up being essentially interdependent and united moments on the way to His glory. Jesus will show us this morning, that the chosen generation, royal priesthood, holy nation, a peculiar people is the destiny and fate of thankful lepers.
Jesus is on His way to peopling His holy nation with a chosen generation and a royal priesthood. Today we read that it came to pass, as Jesus went to Jerusalem, that he passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. (St. Luke xvii. 11) Jesus is passing through the middle divide of two distinct and different cultures. The one is full of Samaritans and the other full of Jews. In neither place will He find the conditions suitable to His spiritual work. Neither those on the left nor those on the right seem much interested in the healing and salvation that He longs to impart. Both the Jews and Samaritans were consumed with worldly idols and false gods; their pretense to bits and pieces of knowledge add up to vanity and vexation of spirit. Jesus knows that the road to the kingdom must drive straight through man’s side shows and welcome him on to the road of salvation. And that road is peopled by those who need and desire what He has come down from Heaven to bring.
And as He entered into a certain village, there met Him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off: And they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us. (St. Luke xvii. 12, 13) Leprosy in the ancient world was viewed as a spiritual sickness which earned the infected exile from the city of man. Its physical manifestations were deemed so hideously horrific by healthy men, that it was judged a sign of punishment for sins, both by the God of the Jews and the Samaritans. The leprous were unwelcome in both communities, and so lived on the borders of both as aliens to all. And it is into the midst of one such group that Jesus travels this morning. We meet them because Jesus chose not to take the common and safer route for Jews making pilgrimage up to Jerusalem, but to go through the midst of the more dangerous border country. Jesus chooses, in other words, to travel through no man’s land in the middle of enemies to teach us about the nature of the road that leads to His kingdom. These alienated and shunned lepers stand on the outskirts of two villages and cultures, and they cry out for help to the one alone whom they trust will hear their plea. They can find help neither from the Jews on the right nor from the Gentiles on the left. They are desperate and powerless. They are shunned and abandoned. They are companions in a disease that seeks a common cure. Their disease is so debilitating that together they long for the healing power of God. So, as Archbishop Trench reminds us, they do have hope that a healer is at hand, and so in earnest they seek to extort the benefit. (Comm.Par. 262) And so they cry, Jesus, Master, have mercy upon us. (St. Luke xvii 13)
And when He saw them, He said unto them, Go show yourselves unto the priests. (Lev. 14.1-32) And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed. (St. Luke xvii 14) The healing of the lepers needs no human touch but on the Word of God alone. The lepers’ faith rises up in swift obedience to Christ the Word. Knowing that earthly medicines can make them no better and deprived of the milk of human kindness, their hearts hope only for what might come from the Word of the Lord. They believe and trust Jesus and so obey His command. They do not ask when and where they will be healed. Neither do they ask how? They do not so much as ask if they will be healed. In fact, they question none of it at all! They obey and then follow. They have enough faith in Jesus’ command that they are led by the Spirit. An outward and visible spiritual disease has destroyed their bodies and now they cry from the ground of a fragile but present faith. For them, Jesus’ Word and Spirit alone are enough. Go shew yourselves unto the priests is trusted inwardly and followed outwardly. Thus, we read, that as they went, they were cleansed. (St. Luke xvii 14) Notice that nothing more was needed for the healing of their bodies. The men were physically healed and so they continued on towards the temple. But is this the end of the matter? Is this miracle about healing the physical disease of leprosy alone? Does this miracle teach us that faith and obedience, going to the temple to show ourselves to the priest to offer sacrifices for healing was all that Christ intended?
No. What is clear from the miracle that we read about this morning is that this process of healing that Jesus inaugurates is indeed about much more than the healing of the body. We read of one man who alone turns back to lead us into the truth. He is the one whose cure has startled his conscience and shaken his heart. Far from experiencing only the effects of a new lease on living, this man perceives that a greater power has touched his soul. For there he felt most deeply the pain of alienation from all other men, and thus from that place that Jesus has reached him. It was from here too that he would have felt alienation from the Nine others, all Jews, whose temple he was commanded to enter. There in his soul, he had felt the pain and, perhaps, the fear of God most acutely. This one who had healed him was sending him with the Jews to their temple. Salvation is of the Jews. (St. John iv. 22) Was he destined for that salvation too? With wonder and awe, he begins to believe that Jesus is the author of it. And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan. (St. Luke xvii 15,16) This man was a Samaritan, an alien and stranger to Israel’s promises.
He alone turns round to the one who is the fulfillment of Israel’s promises. He not only turns back, but he glorifies God. He not only praises God but falls down at the feet of the One who was drawing him into Israel’s salvation. And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine? There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger. (St. Luke xvii 17,18) To this stranger alone Israel’s salvation seems less strange. This stranger believes that he has found the Saviour. His faith and obedience believe Jesus not because of what He did but because of what He said. His heart is enlarged and his soul now fills with thanks for the love and power of the Giver. His healing moves up from his body to his soul. Jesus knows his transformation and with not a little joy says Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole. (St. Luke xvii 19) This man, alone, amongst the ten, will forsake all and follow Jesus.
The question that we ask ourselves this morning, is, where do I find myself in this morning’s Gospel miracle? Am I am one of the ten lepers? The ten lepers are really an image of a chosen generation or those marked out specially for God’s healing in Jesus Christ. The lepers are called to become members of a royal priesthood. Is this not to be comprised of those who, with St. Paul in this morning’s Epistle, walk in the Spirit [who] shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh? (Gal. v. 16) Is it not to be made up of those who, like the Samaritan Leper, are led of the Spirit and are not under the Law of sin and death? The other nine lepers are consumed with fleshly healing alone. This one man is moved to discover the salvation of the Spirit that Jesus brings. This man alone has found that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance in Jesus Christ who has healed him! Like him, can we sense that we all are Samaritanswho need the love of Jesus who will save all cultures and races? Like him, can we perceive the longsuffering, gentleness, and goodness that bears with us and calls us into salvation? Like him, can we see in Jesus the meekness and temperance that waits for us to turn round and give God the Glory in Him? Like him, can we apprehend the joy and peace that greet us when we realize who Jesus is and what he wants for us?
My friends, today we remember that we are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people. (Idem) We must pray for that faith, hope, and charity that makes the good Samaritan chosen, royal, holy, peculiar and distinct from the Nine other lepers. We must pray to obtain what [Christ] promises because we have loved what He dost command. (Collect Trinity XIV) Today’s good Samaritan has obeyed and come to love what Christ commanded because he obtained not fleshly healing but the conversion of his soul.
But the Scripture consigned all things to sin, that what was promised to
faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.
(Gal. iii. 22)
In our Scriptural readings appointed to be read this morning we are blessed to discover both knowledge and virtue. First, we are brought to certain knowledge of who and what we are, and the limitations of human nature. Next, we are offered the opportunity to make that knowledge into virtue. This virtue will find its deepest expression in both the love of God and the love of neighbor.
But first, let us study knowledge. In today’s Old Testament Lesson, we learn about our human condition from Joshua, the Son of Sirach, who lived some two hundred years before the birth of Christ. From him we learn that man’s life is created by God, that it is limited to the time between birth and death, that all of creation is subject to God’s rule and governance, and that man has received the use of the five operations of the Lord, and in the sixth place he [has been given] understanding, and in the seventh speech, [the interpretation] of the cogitations thereof. Counsel, and a tongue, and eyes, ears, and a heart, gave he them to understand. (Ecclus. xvii. 5,6) Man is given five senses, a sixth operation – understanding, and then a seventh – the interpretation of knowledge. In addition, man can glory in the magnificence of the wondrous works of God’s creation. But he is also given God’s judgment and Law to guide him into knowledge and understanding. So, it would seem that as far as knowledge and understanding go, man is well equipped to live a life under the rule of God in a beautiful creation.
Yet, as man’s knowledge isn’t strong enough to resist the evil and cleave to the good, it turns out that created man has no easy time in applying the good that he knows to his own life. All nations compassed me round about… They kept me in on every side, they kept me in, I say, on every side… They came about me like bees, they blazed like a fire of thorns… I was pushed hard so that I was falling…. (Ps. cxviii. 10-13) His predicament is desperate and dire. And yet he knows that God’s mercy and compassion are essential. Yea, let them now that fear the LORD confess, that his mercy endureth forever. (Ibid, 4) The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the holy is understanding. (Prov. ix. 10) Healthy spiritual fear alone opens a man to the healing presence and power of God’s work and labor in the human soul. To will the good we must implore God’s strength and might, that His mercy and Grace might banish evil from our inner and outer lives. What we learn and understand, we must embrace and endure as we courageously sing, The LORD is my strength, and my song; and is become my salvation. (Ibid, 14)
The application of the law involves always the work of God's grace and an autonomous, responsive act of will on our part. The Law reveals man’s problem or predicament – his alienation and separation from God. For if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness [and salvation] would have come through the law. (Gal. iii. 21) In other words, if knowledge of the Law was all that was necessary for salvation, the Law would have saved man. But the Law is a summary statement of the problem and not the solution. This the Psalmist not only knows but experiences as he reaches out into the future for God’s salvation and deliverance, as he yearns and longs for the Grace and mercy that alone can redeem and sanctify him.
Our Gospel lesson this morning both accentuates the problem and offers a solution. It is prefaced by Jesus with these words, BLESSED are the eyes which see the things that ye see: for I tell you, that many prophets and kings have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them. (St. Luke x. 23, 24) Jesus is speaking to His disciples, who have just returned from a trial-flight mission into the world to spread the news that He has come. They had performed miracles and cast out devils in His Name but were told not to rejoice that the spirits were subject unto them, but that their names were written in heaven. (St. Luke x. 20) Jesus reminds them that their success was due to God’s Grace alone. But next, we read that, …a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? (Ibid, 25) Lawyers know the Law, but mostly apply or misapply in relation to othes…for their own profit! Jesus had said at another time, Woe unto… ye lawyers! for ye lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers. (St. Luke xi. 46) Jesus asks him, What is written in the law? how readest thou? (Ibid, 26) The lawyer answers with the Summary of the Law: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. (Ibid, 27) Jesus responds, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live. (Ibid, 29) But crafty lawyer wonders. So, he willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour? (Ibid, 30) Origen of Alexandria tells us that the lawyer wishes to justify himself, or his own way of living because no one is his neighbor. (Sermon cccxxxiii) All men to him are potential sources of income. He cannot imagine what it means to love his neighbor. No one is his neighbor because his relation to all men involves not love but profit.
Resorting to a parable, Jesus teaches the lawyer about the name and nature of his true neighbor. He says: A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. (St. Luke x. 30) Jesus continues: And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. (Idem, 31) Origen says that the priest stands for the Law and the Levite for the prophets. (Idem) Law regulates human life and Prophesy promises a better future. Neither can save a man from sin, death, or Hell. The Law reminds all men that they are sold under sin. Prophesy looks forward to the solution that has not yet come. Neither the Law nor prophesy can save a man. So, neither Priest nor Levite can ever be the true friend or neighbour to the man fallen into the ditch of the fallen condition, nor teach others what it means to be a neighbor. Jesus goes on: But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, and went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. (Idem, 34) What does the Samaritan represent? To the Jews the Samaritan was a sinful, polluted alien and outcast. But Origen tells us that Samaritan means Guardian. (Idem) A Guardian cares for one entrusted to his care. The image of the guardian in this morning’s Gospel points to Jesus. Jesus is the Samaritan in this morning’s Gospel. Jesus, the Good Samaritan, is the one who alone can come near to our half-dead condition, who possesses the necessary medicine to heal our souls, to bind up our wounds, and to place us upon His own beast of burden – the shoulders of His own sacred humanity, and take us to the inn, or the church, that spiritual healing might commence and lead us to Heaven. Jesus, the Good Samaritan, places us into the hands of His church and her ministers, and commands them: Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee. (Idem, 35) The point is that through the parable our seventh sense comes alive. Remember that Joshua the Son of Sirach instructs that our seventh sense is the ability to interpret knowledge. Our interpretation of the Parable must mean that Jesus is the Good Samaritan who comes to heal and save us, that in and through us, He may heal and save others.
So, who is my neighbor, the lawyer had asked? My neighbor, our neighbor, is Jesus the Good Samaritan. He alone loves God with all [his] heart, mind, soul, and strength. He alone loves [His] neighbor as [Himself]. (Idem, 27) Jesus is full of our Heavenly Father’s love, compassion, and pity. Jesus comes to find the lawyer and all of us in the ditch of life, left half-dead, in one way or another. Jesus longs to heal and redeem us always. Jesus the Good Samaritan intends that the healing that He begins should continue in the Church. The inn keepers are the faithful in Christ’s Church, who are like the victim redeemed and saved by the Good Samaritan. They too have been stripped of all integrity and meaning, wounded and bruised by the suffering that life brings, and then left half dead in the ditches of an uncaring and cruel world. Because they have been rescued and healed by Jesus the Good Samaritan, now they have the tools and passion to pass on His healing power to those who will receive it.
In this morning’s Gospel Jesus says to us Go and do thou likewise. (Idem, 37) As Archbishop Trench suggests, the question is not only who is my neighbor, but to whom can I be a neighbor? (Notes on the Parables, p. 252) To whom can I be neighbour? Jesus. For Jesus is not only the Good Samaritan but also the man left half-dead in the ditch. To whom can I be neighbor? Well, to those with whom Jesus identifies because He is with all men in their ghastly suffering. Perhaps, the man in the ditch is all men whose suffering cries out for the Good Samaritan’s determination to help, heal, and save us. In this morning’s Collect, we pray that we may become God’s faithful people who always do true and laudable service to Him…by faithfully serving Him. (Collect Trinity XIII.) Faithful service comes when we love our neighbours as ourselves. Faithful service might even mean that we love our enemies as ourselves. Jesus did. The Good Samaritan’s loves and wants them also…even lawyers!
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons