Trinity XVI 2022
Hear now this in the House of Jacob, and publish it in Judah, saying,
Hear now this, O foolish people, and without understanding;
which have eyes, and see not; which have ears, and hear not;
fear ye not me? Saith the Lord….
(Jeremiah v. 20-22)
There is a truth about life nowadays that seems to escape most people. For whatever reasons and due to whatever causes, people these days seem to live on the surface of existence. Perhaps they are pursuing their carnal appetites; what matters most to them is the fulfillment that comes by way of eating, drinking, and sex. Perhaps they are feverishly pursuing mammon; the acquisition, retention, and multiplication of earthly riches consume them habitually. Perhaps they are determined to perpetuate earthly existence and so spend their every waking moment trying to find the fountain of youth; they are obsessed with dieting, eating just the right foods, and drinking just the right drinks. They fear death. Or perhaps earthly life is just so unbearable that they are caught in the grips of one addiction or the other that deludes them into thinking that they are embracing a solution rather than exacerbating a problem. Whatever the false god people are worshiping, and it is probably a combination of more than one, post-modern man does seem to be in a very precarious and dangerous spiritual place. Jeremiah describes them in today’s first lesson: They are without understanding; which have eyes and see not; which have ears and hear not (Idem), and who do not in any way fear the Lord. These people have forgotten that they have souls, have failed to discover the meaning of human nature, and thus have never pursued the highest form of spiritual perfection.
Of course, the problem of the soul is as old as creation. Not only ancient Jewish but also ancient Pagan civilizations were busy with the discovery of the soul’s existence and meaning. For them, this was an exercise in self-examination because the desire to know about the nature of the soul is a pursuit only found among those who have reason. We take our reason for granted and we abuse it. To a greater or lesser extent, even carnally-minded men who are compulsively gorging, drinking, texting, or trading are using their minds to pursue an end. The glutton uses his mind to overindulge his body in eating. The alcoholic uses his mind to drown his fears and sorrows in drink. The text-addict thinks for just long enough to blather on into his cell phone.
So it would seem that not a small percentage of human beings have forgotten about the existence and purpose of the soul. They refuse to use their minds to stop, contemplate, and judge what they are doing with their lives. They deliberate poorly and so their choices are poorly made. Many of them, these days, haven’t ever heard of the great ancient pagans, like Socrates who taught that the unexamined life is not worth living. (Apol. 38a) He believed that rational creatures ought to search for the ideas and first principles that move the universe. Only then could man use his reason to discover the permanent things or the unchanging forms that can perfect human nature and carry us up and above the brute beasts without understanding. Socrates knew that man’s perfection does not consist in the pursuit of animal appetites and passions. Man is created to examine the universe, find its truth, and to apply its goodness to the soul. For Socrates, man is made to move from sense perception to imagination and then from imagination to intellect in a journey of discovering the truth. Socrates is sure that there is a transcendental truth whose goodness has meaning for human existence. Man has the capacity to see and understand what promises to ennoble and purify his soul. The good that man is made to come to know is the cause of all life but is also the source of his true happiness and joy.
Socrates’ philosophical method was on the way back to God. So too was Jeremiah’s. What both exhort us to pursue is the kind of thinking that searches beneath the surface of reality to discover the Divine truth. This thinking begins in inquisitive wonder rather than in making. Socrates starting point in the quest after knowledge begins with the words, I know that I know nothing. (Apol. 21d) Jeremiah is brought to a parallel sense of futility and impotence in the presence of the living God. Do you not fear me? says the Lord; Do you not tremble before me? I placed the sand as the bound for the sea, a perpetual barrier which it cannot pass; though the waves toss, they cannot prevail, though they roar, they cannot pass over it. (Jer. v. 22) If we think that we create and make reality, we are sadly mistaken. At most, we perpetuate it. Even our scientific inquiries create nothing; they investigate and discover what is already there. Do we think that if we hadn't found it, it never would have been found? Foolish man. Creation is made so that truth can be found in it. Don’t we realize that God rules and governs the universe? Cannot we see with the soul’s eye that the rules and principles that nature obeys have nothing to do with us? Creation is made, moved, and defined not by us but by a transcendental logic which every creature depends on in order both to live and to live well. The whole of the universe is packed full of God’s thinking of it. This is what we are made to discover! A denial of this truth is idiotic. We neither create nor perpetuate our own thinking. We use our souls without any thought of where our thinking comes from. God patiently awaits not only our discovery of our souls but also His plan and purpose for them.
Socrates and Jeremiah knew that God is waiting for us to find Him. He intends that we should come to our senses as we learn to acknowledge humbly that we know nothing and that we are neither the creators nor definers of the world or ourselves. That we have souls should be evident in the very fact that we are thinking. That our souls persist beyond death can be seen in this morning’s Gospel. The young son of a widowed mother is dead in body. His decomposing corpse is being borne from the walls of Nain to its burial ground. His soul lives on. Christ addresses the living soul that no longer inhabits the body. Christ intends that his body should be brought back to life in order to house his soul for its extended spiritual journey. Why? Jesus wants us to see that bodily existence has no meaning and definition without the soul. If man were merely a soul or merely a body, Christ would not have bothered to reconcile the two. But Christ shows us today that He intends to give life to the embodied soul forever. The real proof for God’s existence and governance of the universe is found in the soul’s being and knowing. Christ addresses the dead man’s soul. The soul lives on and is called to account by Jesus. This is a portent of what every soul will do on Judgment Day when it will give an account of the quality of life it has lived. The real evidence for God’s power and promise is found in the soul that knows Christ and obeys His call.
This is the kind of soul that Jesus finds in the Widow of Nain. Her soul is so present to her because it is filled with anguish and sadness. The pain and heartache of losing her only son consume her soul. She is not running away from reality or attempting to deny the truth. She is overwhelmed by it. She is precisely where Jesus wants to find all of us. Because of her spiritual sensitivity, she is ripe for Christ’s visitation. She has no words, pleas, supplications, or demands for Him. She weeps silently because words cannot conquer creation’s cruelty. She knows the futility and vanity of human wishes. She is Rachel weeping for her children who are no more…. (Jer. xxxi. 15) She is a figure of the Blessed Virgin who will mourn the loss of her only Son, Jesus Christ. She is the figure of Mother Church who weeps until her wayward children are found by Christ. Her mourning is sincere and pure because her soul has found the truth of all things. She will become the fulfillment of the Beatitude: Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted. (St. Matthew v. 4)
The Widow of Nain’s soul is open to the Lord. Jesus commands her to Weep not. (Ibid, 13) She obeys, for in knowing herself she knows her Maker and Redeemer. The passion of her heart is wholly vulnerable to the Lord’s healing touch. Jesus came and touched the bier: and they that bare the dead man stood still. (Ibid, 14) Her soul, along with those of the mourners, must be still, dead with the young man, so that Christ might breathe new life into all. God’s compassion in Christ will bring life out of death, good out of evil, and hope out of despair. And he that was dead sat up and began to speak. (Ibid, 15) What did he say? We do not know. It is not important. That he speaks at all is a sign that his soul inhabits a body quickened by Christ once again. All are filled with awe and wonder. The wonder that has wrought new life in the dead man now rejuvenates his mother and her fellow mourners. The miracle is contagious.
Today we are called to remember that whatever the state of our souls, we must acknowledge not only that we have them but that they depend wholly and completely on Jesus Christ’s love for lasting meaning that leads to salvation. With the Apostle Paul, we must come to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge. (Eph. iii. 16-19) This is the greater miracle of new life that Jesus Christ bestows upon our souls through His everlasting love. The young man in today’s Gospel is an illustration of the body that needs to be brought alive once again. His mother ought to stir us into mourning over it. Only when the soul of the one and the body of the other are brought back together by the love of Jesus Christ can we have any hope of salvation. Only when Socrates’ learned ignorance, I know that I know nothing, and Jeremiah’s fear of the Lord are present can we be made ripe for the visitation of God’s love in Jesus Christ.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons