For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned
unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.
(1 St. Peter ii. 25)
In Eastertide, we are called to become members of Jesus Christ’s Resurrected Body by embracing the forgiveness of sins in our lives. In so doing, we must acknowledge that the forgiveness of sins is really a two-edged sword meant to divide us from both sin and wickedness in our own lives, and also from sin in the lives of others. With regard to the first, we were bidden to receive the forgiveness of our own sins. With regard to the second, we were urged to translate the forgiveness of sins received into forgiveness of all others, hope for their salvation, intercession from them, and then, of course, the usual acts of kindness, compassion, pity, and mercy that are second nature to the Christians who are grafted into the life of the Crucified One. Did I say the Crucified One? Of course. Our Resurrected, Ascended, Glorified Lord Jesus is nothing if the Father doesn’t see us through the Whole Glorified Christ, through His Wounded Hands, Feet, and Side.
So, I begin our sermon, with a dire warning that our return to God will be through Jesus Christ, the Crucified Wounded Healer. It will not be easy. This might strike many people with surprise since this is Good Shepherd Sunday. Most people think that Good Shepherd Sunday ought to be about Jesus the kindly caring, gentle herdsman of tender lambs. And while this might be true for Hallmark and the Mormons, in another way it reveals a superficial, half-baked, and even diabolical version of Jesus Christ.
Christ, the Crucified One is indeed the Good Shepherd but His goodness is offered to His sheep with conditions. As we become His sheep, the censorious and demanding character of Jesus the Good Shepherd will become clearer to us. What the sheep of Christ look like and what the Good Shepherd expects are illustrated in this morning’s First Epistle of St. Peter. St. Peter is describing unjust or unmerited suffering. He writes his letter to the newly formed churches in Asia Minor, many of whose members are servants or slaves. We don’t know the specifics of individual cases, but the general impression is that Christian slaves are having a hard time with the forgiveness of sins. Their particular struggle involves the mechanics of dealing with Masters who are punishing them unfairly and tyrannically. St. Peter is keen to identify with their pain and suffering since he thinks that if they consecrate it more faithfully to Jesus the Good Shepherd, they will abide in Christ more securely as they make their way to the Kingdom.
With specific reference to their perplexing dilemma, he says, Servants,
be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward. (1 St. Peter ii. 18) If he were writing as an earthly-minded pagan man, whose notions of justice and equity are always measured but an earthly standard, we should judge his advice to be hard-hearted and full of cruel cold comfort. But St. Peter is not writing as an heathen and so his chief interest in not with social and political justice but with Divine and lasting spiritual liberty. He writes as a member of the Body of Christ, and so he continues, For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps. (1 St. Peter ii. 21) St. Peter does not pretend in any way that such a spiritual response to earthly injustice and tyranny is easy. For, as Monsignor Knox reminds us, St. Peter remembers, too, how he followed in his Master’s footsteps, when Christ was led away to be crucified. (R.K.: The Epistles and Gospels, p. 125) He is only too conscious of the radical injustice done to his Master, Jesus Christ, and of his own fear-driven cowardice and powerlessness in the fact of it. When he had been sitting by the fire in the cellar of the High Priest’s palace, he was surrounded by slaves. Here were those who were chained to other men. Here was he who was shackled and enslaved to his own terror, pusillanimity, and impotence. He responded to evil by retreating into his own sin. The slaves who surrounded him were in chains because of other men’s evil. Peter was afraid of the same evil that bound the slaves. Yet, his slavery was self-imposed and voluntary, the just reward and punishment of his own betrayal. Peter had become a slave to a far more cruel master than any earthly slaveholder. He feared imminent death by reason of association with Jesus. And because he was guilty of denying Jesus before the cock had crowed, he feared judgment. He remembered that guile was… found in his mouth, that when reviled, he reviled…again, and that when he suffered the accusation that he was one of Jesus’ friends, he threatened his accusers. (Ibid)
But now in today’s Epistle, St. Peter speaks as one who has received the forgiveness of sins made flesh in His Master, Jesus Christ. Christ has forgiven him who once was the slave of sin and now He calls him into the new life of the Resurrection. Now, Peter exhorts all slaves who suffer unjustly to forgive their oppressors and masters. Christ suffered for our sakes…who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: who when reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not; but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously: who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. (Ibid, 22- 25) St. Peter became a sinful slave to the evil of this world voluntarily. The slaves he addresses are the hapless victims of other men’s wickedness, and yet they are in danger of being possessed spiritually by the evil that oppresses them. Both Peter and earthly slaves are now invited into true spiritual liberation through Christ who is the forgiveness of sins and the resurrection and life. The slaves are given a great opportunity not only to follow Christ themselves but also to prick the consciences of their masters, Christian or pagan, because they can become evangelists for the forgiveness of sins and Christ’s Resurrection. What they can reveal is that they are the free sons and daughters of the living God –whose Love in them can conquer all manner of wickedness because the evil of other men must never be an excuse for unfaithfulness and cowardice. True freedom lies in obedience to God and not to men.
This obedience to God requires that they forgive the sins of others, endure grief, suffering wrongfully…take it patiently…[because] this is acceptable with God. (Ibid, 19, 20) St. Peter is inviting the slaves to see that the Saviour has suffered unjustly and has borne the burden of all men’s slavery to sin on the Cross of His Love. Like Christ, they must forgive those who are the cause of their suffering.For Christ is interested in all sinners –both slaves and free men! Where His indwelling presence is put to the test is when men suffer wrongfully and innocently. If He – the perfect model and example of the unjustly tortured, punished, and crucified Slave, can forgive, then so too must all they who would become members of His Resurrected Body. In fact, Jesus said, If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you…if they have persecuted me, they will persecute you…. (St. John xv. 18, 20) For Christ bare our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness. (Ibid, 24) Again, with Monsignor Knox, Christ’s wounds are healing stripes, and His death produces, of its own efficacy, a new death and the beginning of new life in us. (Idem) So the slaves and the slaveholders are invited into the new life of the Resurrection, which demands that all sin should be overcome with love as forgiveness, faith, and hope. For ye were as sheep, going astray, but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls. (Ibid, 25 The deepest impression of the Good Shepherd’s transformative love must be embraced by all kinds of sinners.
St. Peter shows us that all men are sinners who need to be incorporated into the Resurrected Life of the One who has become a Slave for us all. And this Slave is the Shepherd and Bishop of [our] souls. He calls Himself the Good Shepherd in this morning’s Gospel, for He is the Shepherd of Souls who voluntarily becomes God’s Slave because, as He says, He giveth His life for the sheep. (St. John x. 11) So the Good Shepherd is the Slave who is employed wholly for the good of two Masters –His Father and His sheep! He even lays down His life for His sheep because it is the only way that His Father’s Spirit can become a true Slave to their condition, [in making] Him to become sin for us to break its chains through the perfect power of the the forgiveness of their sins.
Jesus Christ is forever the Father’s willing Servant who longs to become our Slave even now through the Holy Spirit. He who is wholly subservient, obedient, and docile to the Father’s will knows that He must find and save us. He will become menially malleable to our spiritual welfare and good. He longs to be the Slave who alone shares the Spirit of His suffering death with all of us so that we might overcome the world, the flesh, and the Devil.
Jesus goes where He is sent. Will we allow this Slave find us lost sheep? Most earthly slaves try to run away. This Slave searches us out. We must first allow this Slave to find us. Of course, we had better realize that this Slave finds us because He does what we cannot do for ourselves. We are, after all, lost sheep. Unless and until we know ourselves as lost sheep, Jesus Christ is of no use to us. This is the hardest part of Christianity for post-modern man. Supposedly free, post-modern man is the slave to his own overly confident and superficial understanding of Jesus Christ. He laid down His life for us in order to conquer sin, death, and Satan, supposed orthodox Christians proclaim ad nauseum. But will we allow this Slave must become our Master? If He is to become our Slave and Master, we shall see that He also is the Good Shepherd who can help us to endure grief, suffer wrongfully…and patiently be buffeted for the good. (Idem) We become His sheep, following the blessed steps of His most holy life,becoming Slaves to others, loving our neighbors as ourselves, with St. Peter and all the Saints, only when His Spirit of Death has conquered sin, death, and Satan in us.
As my Father has sent me, so send I you. (St. John xx. 21)
You and I have just emerged from a rigorous Holy Week and Easter when we tried to walk with Jesus Christ through His Passion and into His Resurrection. I pray that we have striven to move from Death into New life. Now how do we move from Death into New Life? First, we meditated upon the external and visible events that comprised the last days of our Lord Jesus Christ. They were contemplated with a view to acquire a vision of Christ’s Victory over sin, death, and Satan. Second, those same events began to affect our inward and invisible natures, as His death became our Death, and His offer of Resurrection the seedbed of that New Life in Him that leads us to Heaven. Having confessed that I it was denied thee, I crucified thee (Ah Holy Jesus), I pray that our souls began to open to Christ’s response to us as the forgiveness of sins and His persistence in pursuing our salvation beyond the grave. I pray that we have begun to receive this Divine Love, which alone can make us into members of the Body of Christ and children of His Resurrection.
We must beware of treating Jesus of Nazareth like a dead hero or a mere remnant of history or one who said and did good things for His own generation but has been rendered irrelevant and obsolete in ours. G.K. Chesterton noted this tendency, even within the churches, when he said, Plato has told you a truth; but Plato is dead. Shakespeare has startled you with an image; but Shakespeare will not startle you anymore. (The Everlasting Man) Imagine the sense of loss that every student has felt with the death of a great mentor. The student finds himself at a crossroads, for a stellar mind is gone and his voice is silenced. Chesterton continues: Imagine what it would be to live with such men still living, to know that Plato might break out with an original lecture tomorrow, or that at any moment Shakespeare might shatter everything with a single song. (Ibid) Think about what it would be like to have your favorite writer or thinker back from the dead to help you to interpret this mad, mad world that we inhabit.
Perhaps this is not unlike what the Apostles were thinking when they began to mourn Jesus’ death after the Crucifixion. Why, if only He were here, they must have thought. And yet when He was here, men were determined to ruin Him. Would it be any different? So they mused on the might-have-beens. Then they remembered that they too had abandoned, forsaken, denied, and betrayed Him. For now, they were assembled behind the doors for fear of the Jews, (St. John xx. 19) precisely because they feared what guilt by association might mean for them now. Yes, the Apostles were afraid, troubled in conscience, trembling at what the enemies of Jesus might be plotting. Their faith was weak, their hopes were confused, and even their desire for His return might have been half-hearted.
And then, despite themselves, their Beloved Master returns. Jesus came and stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. And when He had so said, He shewed them His hands and His side.(St. John xx. 20) Their Master and Mentor has returned, and as the scales begin to fall from their eyes slowly, they begin to recognize Him. The vision of their faith is weak and fragile but grows and strengthens. He shows them His hands and His side to confirm their faith in Him, that they might not have it by hearsay only, but might themselves be eyewitnesses of His being alive. (M. Henry) He comes to them alone and does not appear to the whole of mankind. He does not reveal Himself to His enemies and He does not reveal Himself to those who had no interest in God or the salvation He has promised to bring. As St. Peter will recall a bit later, Him God raised up the third day, and showed Him openly; not to all of the people, but unto witnesses chosen before God, even to us who did eat and drink with Him after He rose from the dead. (Acts x. 40,41) An event of supernatural making presents itself to them. The Apostles are baffled, bewildered, perplexed, puzzled, and flummoxed. Those who fled the Cross wondered: Did He truly die? Perhaps, in the end, He was spared; we did not see with our own eyes. Others might have thought: This is an optical illusion. Perhaps He was never a true man and that even now He is nothing but a Spirit. And if it will take time to convert His Apostles, there is no small wonder that He did not appear to the chief priests and people.
For forty days Jesus will teach His friends about the great mystery of the New Life, the Vita Nuova. He will teach them about how His coming was prefigured in the Old Testament and that He is its fulfillment in the New. He will teach them about the nature of the New Life that He brings to them, and, most importantly, that the first principle of that life is the forgiveness of sins that He embodies. He will show them that without His suffering and death there could be no new life. For the new life that He brings into the world is perfect forgiveness that alone can overcome the grip of evil through love. His love will draw the new life out of them as His Holy Spirit enables them to be forgiven and to forgive. Suffering and death will begin to be consecrated as essential spiritual moments in the soul’s journey back to God. If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you….If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you…. (St. John xv. 18-20)
Peace be unto you: as my Father has sent me, even so send I you; and He breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive the Holy Ghost.(St. John xx. 21-23) The Word made flesh is with them, and He calls them into His Service once and for all. He breathes His Word into them and they begin to become living members of His Resurrected Body. He has laid down His life for them, and now He gives it back to them transfigured and glorified. These He restores, comforts, warns, and inspires. (Newman, Witnesses of Resurrection, 184) The onslaught of fear and the cloud of confusion recede into the past as He invites them into the New Life slowly and methodically, as their faith grows.
So, the Apostles begin to live the New Life. Christ is the vine and they the branches. As Chesterton says, What the Apostles were looking at was the first day of a new creation, with a new heaven and a new earth; and in a semblance of the gardener, God walked again in the garden, not in the cool of the evening, but at dawn. (The Everlasting Man) The Apostles’ mental unrest and uncertainty flee. The Master has returned as He had promised and is now teaching them how to live the New Life in the garden of a New Creation. Their faith in Him grows into New Life with new meaning, where Christ the Vine God holds, supports, nourishes, and strengthens the branches of His redemption.
In this joyful Eastertide, Jesus Christ calls us into the New Life. St. John tells us this morning, Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is He that overcometh the world, but He that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?(1 John v. 4,5) What the Apostles begin to see is that our faith in Jesus Christ yields the victory that overcomes the world. They see that This [Jesus is He] that came by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth. For there are three that bear witness, the Spirit, and the water and the blood.(1 John v. 6) The Spirit brings into our remembrance that Jesus came by water and blood. (Idem) Inwardly we are polluted and fallen and our flesh needs the healing waters of Holy Baptism. From the world, the flesh, and the devil we meet resistance in the ongoing journey to the Kingdom and thus must be nourished and fortified by the Blood of Christ. The Spirit has raised up the One who has come by water and blood. The Spirit has raised up the One who calls all from death into His New Life. The Spirit enlivens the One who will be the Vine that holds and nourishes us with water and blood. Through the waters of Baptism, His Spirit will grow branches that will bear fruit. The Spirit will cultivate and grow God’s Word in the soul with the vivifying blood that flowers and blossoms into the fruits of righteousness. The Blood of the Eucharist will drown sin in death and flood the branches with the New Life. Spirit, water, and blood will grow branches that will give God the Glory. His Spirit will animate a new Body- the Church, that tree of New Life whose branches reach into Heaven from the New Garden that Christ cultivates.
And yet none of this can happen without deepest faith in the Resurrected Jesus Christ Who, as we pray in our Easter Collect, by His rising to life again hath restored to us everlasting life. Solomon tells us that this process will be strange and painful. In the sight of the unwise [we shall] seem to die: and [our] departure [will be] taken for misery; and [our] going from [them] utter destruction….(Wisdom ii 2) But once they see what is happening to us, they will conclude that we are in Peace. Jesus says today, Peace be unto you…and He showed them His hands and His side. (St. John xix 19,20) From His side flowed water that cleanses and the blood that gives New Life. Christ is the Vine and we are the branches. We are given the New Life. Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. (Ibid, 21) Christ sends us, His branches to reach out and into the world.
Then we shall find Blessed Gueric of Igny’s words surprisingly true:
The man who enters Christ’s garden becomes a garden himself, his soul is like a watered garden, so that the Bridegroom says in praise of him: ‘My sister, My spouse is a garden enclosed’ (Cant 4, 12). Yield the fragrance of incense. Blossom like the lily, and smell sweet, and put forth leaves for your adornment. (The Garden of Delight)
ndeed, yield fragrance, blossom, shoot forth, from water and blood and reveal the Risen
Christ to the world!
Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. (Col. iii. 2)
Our journey through the Lenten Season to Good Friday will have been of no use if it has not been characterized by affection. Set your affections on things above, proclaims St. Paul this morning, and not on things of the earth, and if we have been conscientious, this is exactly what we have been doing. Affection is passion, desire, yearning, and loving. And throughout the Holy Season of Lent, we have prayed that the Holy Spirit might purify the thoughts of our hearts so that we can follow Jesus up to Jerusalem and beyond. Our affections have been set…on the things above [and] not things of the earth, things which have come down to us in the passionate heart of Jesus Christ to lift us up higher. Out of the unquenchable ardor and fervor of His heart, Christ has desired that our affections might meet His in that Death that alone brings new spiritual life. Easter is all about the pure affection of God in Jesus Christ for the transformation of the cosmos and the transfiguration of all men.
In the course of our journey to Easter, we have learned that setting [our] affections on things that are above and not on the things of the earth is no easy business. And yet the distraction or diversion comes not from God but from us. God’s affection and desire for us have never ceased. From the Divine Depths, articulated and expressed in the incessant, loving Passion of Jesus, the uninterrupted longing of God for our salvation has persisted. The Word has gone out. God’s desire and affection have never dithered nor departed from His Great Unseen Eternal Design. The Word of God came down from heaven to live in man’s heart. His Good Friday is but one moment in the unfolding drama of our Redemption.
The common lot of men would have none of it. Their affections and desires were otherwise dominated. The mighty engine of Caesar’s Rome could not accommodate the strange Passion of a loving God whose affection is set high above man’s muddy reason. Even God’s chosen people, the Jews, could not imagine how such love and affection could be reconciled to their Law. The fear and the cowardice of those with the best of intentions were rendered equally powerless in the presence of God’s unfolding affection. Men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth. (St. Luke xxi. 26) Human affection for God is fickle, unreliable, inconstant, and ultimately treacherous. Man’s fallenness cannot bear the Divine irruption.
And yet, God persists in the heart of Jesus with a love that seeks to draw the hearts of all, even His worst enemies. Father forgive them for they know not what they do. (St. Luke xxiii. 34) In this, Christ says, Come follow me. Today thou shalt be with me in paradise. (St. Luke xxiii. 43) He is saying, Come follow me. Woman behold thy son…behold thy mother. (St. John xix. 26, 27) Come follow me. My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me. (St. Matthew xxvii. 46) Come follow me. I thirst. (St. John xix. 28) It is finished. (St. John xix. 30) Father into thy hands, I commend my spirit. (St. Luke xxviii. 46) Come follow me even into my death, Christ insists. We begin to see His death as what alone can make us new. Our love grows and expands as sin is swallowed up into a Death that is strangely alive. Christ dies, and Man dies. Christ is coming alive, and so is Man. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. (1 Cor. xv. 22)
In pure affection, God made all things, and with the same affection He will remake all things. Christ brings primal Man into death. In the pure affection of self-willed exile, man had desired God’s death. God had given man his desire. As you wish, or As you like it. So, God in Christ endures and suffers our choice. God is dead. Christ is interred in the sepulcher, and with Him, it would seem, man’s affection for the things that are above is dead and buried. The affections that moved the human imagination to believe that Christ might be Messiah seem to have died.
Holy Saturday must seem to be an end for those whose hearts fail, for those whose affection and desire for God seem to have died in the Crucified One. There is darkness. There is the death of a Lovethat the world had never known. The affection for things above and beyond which He was, is gone. The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. (Genesis i. 2) Darkness and death seem to have swallowed up the Love and extinguished the Light. Death holds hope hostage in the cruel constrictor-knot of confusion and fear.
But as we move from the seventh to the first day, something strange begins to happen. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. (Genesis i. 3,4) In the beginning, God lovingly made the Light to inform, define, and enliven all of creation. In the same Light now, incandescent beams of Love will open the eyes of believers’ hearts to a new creation being illuminated by that true Light that lighteth every man that cometh into world. (St. John i. 9) Darkness flees, sin flees, death flees, and ignorance flees as the Loving Light jumps up from the heart of Jesus. The pure affection and eternal desire of the Father of lights have transformed the Son as flesh from Death into New Life. The old Man is Dead and the new Man has come alive.
At first only angels and nature sense the strangeness of this Light. The elements stir, the air is parted, the fire blazes, the earth shakes and removes all barriers to the rising Light that follows the passion and affection of its Mover. The Father’s immortal, immutable, and immovable course of affection for man’s redemption are on course and thus willingly embraced in the heart of Jesus. Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. (Romans vi. 9, 10) The question and answer of the prophet Ezekiel are fulfilled.
Son of man, can these bones live? …And there was a noise, and behold a shaking, and the bones came together, bone to his bone. And when I beheld, lo, the sinews and the flesh came up upon them, and the skin covered them above: but there was no breath in them. Then said he unto me, Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, Son of Man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live. So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them…(Ezekiel xxxvii. 1-10)
Christ is the fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophesy. Yes, these bones can and will live. In Him the Light of God blends with rising Love in the transfigured flesh of Man. The pure affection of Man for God brings Light out of Darkness and Life out of Death. God’s Word rises up, informing still, the now transfigured flesh of Jesus. Christ’s uninterrupted affection for God and Man is one Light whose Lovemakes Death into something new. Christ is Risen from the dead…Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us…as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. (1 Cor. xv. 20, 22; 1 Cor. v. 7)
But there is more. And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me. (St. John xii. 32) At first, the affection of both the Apostles and the women seems dead. But then something of the old passion begins to stir within them. On this first day of the week, Mary Magdalene is moved out of the tomb of her soul to the place of Jesus’ burial. And ye shall know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves, And shall put my spirit in you, and ye shall live. (Ezekiel. xxxvii. 12-14) She is moved by what is still alive of her affection and love for Jesus. She finds the stone rolled away. Her affection and passion for the Light hasten into some strange new hope. They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him. (St. John xx. 2) In the darkness, she thinks that Christ’s enemies have stolen the body. John and Peter affectionately and passionately run after this new truth. As Eriugena says, John outruns Peter because contemplation completely cleansed penetrates the inner secrets of the divine workings more rapidly than action still to be purified. John represents contemplation and hope. Peter represents action and faith. But faith must enter the tomb of darkness first and understanding follows and comes after. (Hom. Gospel of St. John, 283, 285)
God’s uninterrupted affection and desire for all men’s salvation is at work in time and space. Stirring within the hearts of Mary Magdalene, Peter, and John are the faith and understanding in the Light that said, I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also. (St. John xiv. 18, 19) Christ is risen. Soon the Apostles will see Him and begin to Live in Him. Christ is risen. In the Resurrected Light that shines through His transfigured flesh, we must remember that we are dead and our life is hid with God in Christ. (Colossians iii. 2,3) In the Resurrected Light, let us reckon [ourselves] to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans vi. 11) In the Resurrected Light let us match Christ’s affection with our own –that affection and desire for becoming very members incorporate in His Risen spiritual and mystical Body, transparent, obedient to His Holy Spirit…apt and natural instruments of His will and way, (The Meaning of Man, Mouroux, p.89) reflecting His Light and Love into the hearts of all others. And with the poet let us rejoice and sing:
Then comes He!
Whose mighty Light
Made His clothes be
Like Heav’n, all bright;
The Fuller, whose pure blood did flow
To make stained man more white than snow.
And none else can
Bring bone to bone,
And rebuild man,
And by His all subduing might
Make clay ascend more quick than Light.
(Ascension Hymn: H. Vaughn)
Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar: and they filled a spunge with vinegar,
and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth. When Jesus therefore had
received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head,
and gave up the ghost.
(St. John xix. 29,30)
Jesus the crucified, Jesus the suffering Servant and dying Lord of Good Friday, is betrayed by one, and then denied and abandoned by the others, including all of us. Sin betrays and forsakes God’s Word, denies His power, rule, and governance in human life, and abandons Him for the impermanent, temporary, and fleeting pleasures and gods of this world, as important as they might seem. So as we look back on this Good Friday, as Christians, it is our duty to identify with any sin that reveals no acquaintance or familiarity with Jesus Christ. We do this because we desire to repent. And we desire to repent because we believe that Jesus Christ is God’s forgiveness of sins made flesh. And we believe that this forgiveness of sins is fully, perfectly, and truly embodied and communicated through the death of God’s Son on the Tree of Calvary. We believe also that this forgiveness of sins calls us into death, the death of Jesus Christ, and then our own deaths. For if we will not die to sin through the forgiveness of sins, beginning here and now, we can never begin to come alive to God the Father through the Risen Christ on Easter Day.
But before we repent we must look into the nature of what Jesus Christ is doing for us when He dies on the Cross of Calvary. St. Paul tells us that by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned. (Romans v. 12) By one man’s disobedience to God, sin and death came to define man’s relation to Him. And so from the time of Adam to Christ all men were oppressed, enslaved, overcome, and even overwhelmed by that power which prevents them from obeying God purely and perfectly. But because Jesus Christ becomes the forgiveness of sins, He takes on and into Himself sin and death and brings their reign and rule over human life to an end. Jesus [humbles] himself and is obedient [to God the Father] unto death, even death upon the Cross. (Phil. ii. 8) Thus, through His sacred humanity He brings man’s addiction to the world, the flesh, and the Devil to death. Through His Passion and Desire for God, He will overcome Original Sin. Through His enduring Love, He will suffer and withstand the worst and the best that man’s sin can do in order to bring it all to death, and out of it make something much better and new. Sin and death then may try to kill God’s Love in the humanity of Jesus, and they will indeed kill the Man. Behold the Man. (St. John xix. 5) They will taunt, tempt, mock, deride, torture and kill God’s Word made flesh. And they will bring the Man and His manhood to death. But what sin and death cannot kill is the Word of God’s Love in the heart of Jesus that persists and endures through suffering, into death, and then up into new life. For even while dying, Jesus’ forgiveness will begin to make and mold a new humanity, a new Manhood, a new Adam whose nature will be shared as the Body of new life for all who believe and follow.
So we come to the vision of Christ crucified. We come to see what sin tries to do to God in the flesh. And to our surprise and amazement we find the forgiveness of sins not as an obscure theological concept but as the life of God Himself in the dying Christ. For this forgiveness of sins is God’s uninterrupted desire for our salvation. And it is still alive and at work in the heart of the suffering and dying Christ. What do we hear emerging from the lips of the dying Jesus? Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. (St. Luke xxiii. 34) Father, today they kill me through ignorance, confusion, weakness, and pain; forgive them, for tomorrow they may repent and believe and become our friends. And then we hear: Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise. (St. Luke xxiii. 43) Look Father, this convicted thief dying alongside me has confessed his sin and desires to come and follow me. We have just now won the first new member of the Kingdom we are building. It’s death-bed conversion! And then what? Father, my Mother and dear John are here watching and waiting, dying to become a part my death and new life. Woman, behold thy son!.. Behold thy mother! (St. John xix. 26, 27) Father, already we have our first two missionaries, members of the new human family that I am making. My Mother is ready to become the mother of your new spiritual children. My friend, my spiritual brother is ready to become a new spiritual son to the Mother of redemption and salvation. But Jesus continues. Father I am suffering and dying, but they are suffering and dying with me. Strengthen them spiritually now, as I grow weaker and weaker, and my pain and agony grow stronger and stronger. For, Father, the Devil is once again on my back. My wounded and lacerated head, hands, and feet are overwhelming and crushing my sense and perception of the outside world that looks and gazes upon me. I am becoming blind, deaf, dumb, withered, and palsied like those I came to heal. I feel the pain of Job, and I hear the words of his wife: Curse God and die. (Job ii. 9) I feel the darkness, the silence, the stillness, even the nothingness enveloping me. Lord I am spent; is there any more for me to do? Father, you, even you, seem to be moving away from me. The deep and mysterious power of sin is attacking me. I sense and feel the nothingness not as that pure potential “about to be” that you and I once made real, but as a temptation to despair. I endure man’s rejection of thee my God. I sense the distance between thee and me. ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ (St. Matthew xxvii. 46) I know that you are here, but, ‘why…art thou so far from my health, and from the voice of my complaint? I cry in the day time but thou hearest not: and in [this] night season also I take no rest.’ (Ps. xxii. 1,2) I know that ‘thou shalt make me hear of joy and gladness: that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.’ (Ps. li. 8) And so, I gasp for that spiritual drink that will satisfy my soul. ‘I thirst.’ (St. John xix. 28) Yes Lord, there is one more thing for me to do before ‘It is finished’ (Ibid, 30), before ‘I commend my spirit into thy hands.’ (St. Luke xxiii. 46) There is Roman soldier over there, I cannot see him clearly, but he has not moved throughout this my suffering death. He has not taken his eyes off of me. But he is not vengeful or wrathful. He has been looking into my eyes from the beginning. By his own judgment and understanding, he knows that something is terribly wrong but, perhaps, that we are about to make all things new and right. The seed of faith is growing in his heart. ‘Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar: and they filled a spunge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth. When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.’(Idem, 29, 30) This Roman soldier, perhaps with another, gave Jesus his last sip of wine. Father, I thank you for giving me this drink through him. I thank you for moving him to provide me with the drink that is becoming his own offering of himself through you. Keep him near, my Mother and disciple will need his help in taking me down from this tree and burying me. And through them, let us welcome him into the Body of my Death, which is already becoming the Body of our new Life.
So today we come to the Cross to repent. We come to confess all of the ways in which we have denied, betrayed, and crucified Jesus Christ’s eternal Word of Love in our hearts. We come to confess how we have refused to embrace his ever-dying desire to heal, cure, redeem, sanctify, and save us. We come to confess how we have refused to embrace that same desire for all others, when we have criticized, judged, condemned, and failed to forgive those whom Jesus always loves and desires to bring into the Body of His Death and the substance of New Life. In the confession of our sins, we come to die to ourselves, the world, the flesh, and the devil. We come then to Christ’s crucifixion to remember our Baptismal vows and covenant. With St. Paul we remember this:
…That so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death? Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of His death, we shall be also in the likeness ofHis resurrection: knowing this, that our old man is crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. (Romans vi. 4-6)
Today we renew our commitment to die to sin, and this death is the first step towards the New Life we anticipate on Easter Sunday. As we die to sin today, let us now see that our sin is also buried with Christ. And with John Donne, let us ask for loving correction and discipline that only the Master can give, that we might turn from death and burial up and into the new life that Easter Sunday will bring.
O Saviour, as Thou hang'st upon the tree.
I turn my back to thee but to receive
Corrections till Thy mercies bid Thee leave.
O think me worth Thine anger, punish me,
Burn off my rust, and my deformity
Restore Thine image, so much, by Thy grace,
That Thou mayst know me, and I'll turn my face.
(Good Friday: John Donne)
The point of our journey up to Jerusalem in this holy season of Lent is not only to see with spiritual eyes what the love of the Word [that] was made flesh and dwelt among us (St. John i. 14) does but also to hear the same Word. We go to Jerusalem to hear what the Word of God in the flesh has to say to spiritual sickness and disorder and then also to spiritual hardness of heart, obduracy, and ill will. What Jesus says or does not say is all-important for a true understanding of the salvation into which He is drawing all who will desire it. For when the ears of sinful men are opened to the Word of God, not only can they learn of His will but, also, they can desire the power of His love. The Word of God in the flesh is not only educational but spiritually sanctifying.
Our theme for this Sunday is spiritual hearing. Our understanding of it is found in this morning’s Miracle of the Dumb or Mute Man. Prior to the reading of this passage from St. Luke 's Gospel, the Apostles had been hearing Jesus’ discourse on petitioning God the Father in prayer. Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. (St. Luke xi. 9,10) Jesus insists that the Father longs to hear from us. Earthly fathers hear their children and care for them. If [they], being evil, know how to give good gifts unto [their] children: how much more shall [the] heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him? (Ibid, 13) And then on the heels of this, Jesus comes upon a dumb or mutant man. Here is a man who can neither hear, nor speak, nor ask. The dumb cannot speak in any rationally coherent way but can only laugh, cry, holler, and groan. If he had been suffering from this physical disability alone, his chief handicap would have been that physical deafness which prevents a man from uniting rationally with the world around him through speech.
But, what we find is that there is a more insidious reason or cause for this man’s inability to hear and to speak. He was possessed of a demon. Jesus was casting out a demon and it was dumb. (Ibid, 14) The real sickness that afflicted the deaf and dumb man was demonic possession. Otherwise, Jesus would have performed a bodily miracle only. But this man’s sickness was psychic and spiritual. Thus, Jesus expels a demon. He does this, no doubt, to teach His Apostles and us something about the nature of that evil which threatens both to possess and to overcome any man in this life. So, He will never treat the symptoms of spiritual disease and sickness alone, but will rather attack and overcome the source and origin of the evil. This man can neither hear nor speak because the devil has possessed him. The devil divides men from God and men from other men. His spiritual aims are as present to our world as to that of the New Testament. Thus, what we must desire from Jesus is that Divine power which alone can overcome and banish those demons, which threaten to ruin our spiritual lives by leading us to despair of communion with God. And it came to pass, when the devil was gone out, the dumb spake. (Ibid, 14)
Yet, receiving the healing of one demon is never enough. We read that when the deaf mutant was healed, He spake. (Idem) And yet what did he say? Nothing. No sooner has one demon been banished from the life of the healed man who desires to speak –to thank Jesus and to ask questions about how he should now live the new life that had been given to him, than other demons worse than the first drown out his questions with a barrage of verbal attacks on Jesus. Where are they, you might ask? They are in the hearts and souls of those who attack Jesus for the miracle he performed on the deaf mutant. But unlike the demon that possessed the deaf and mute man, these demons are concealed. They are so hidden within the souls of the malevolent attackers that they don’t even know what they are saying. The demons have so effectively inured and acclimated these men to sin that they don 't even recognize that they are possessed! These men believe that they are religiously related to the world around them through their piety and good works, and yet while they might lead moral and upright lives externally and visibly, their hearts are far from God.
So, once Jesus has healed the demon-possessed deaf and dumb, the people wondered. But some of them said, He casteth out devils through Beelzebub the chief of the devils. And others, tempting him, sought of him a sign from heaven. (Ibid, 14-16) See how far wickedness has advanced in the lives of these men! One miracle is not enough. They need proof that he is not demon-driven. Jesus responds to them: Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and a house divided against a house falleth. If Satan also be divided against himself, how shall his kingdom stand? (Ibid, 17,18) Jesus makes it clear that the devil has no part in his healing of the deaf and the dumb. He wishes rather to divide the man from God in Jesus. On all levels, the devil is determined to bring men to despair of all spiritual healing, sanctification, and salvation. Satan cannot endure the man’s entry into the world of words through the Word of God made flesh. He cannot stand the love that moves Jesus the Word. Jesus’ love brings men to the good healing that God intends for all. And Satan is enraged.
Jesus continues. If I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your sons cast them out? therefore shall they be your judges. But if I with the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you. (Ibid, 19, 20) Romano Guardini tells us that Jesus replies: Don’t you see how I war against Satan? How can you say that he works through me, which is the same as saying that we join forces to found one kingdom? (The Lord, Regnery, p. 119) Those who attack God’s healing power are Satan’s demonic friends who frantically attempt to set up a kingdom of appearances and disorder. (Ibid, 117) [Jesus’ enemies] have blashphemed against the Holy Ghost [by turning] against the heart of God; Jesus is saturated with the essence of God. To accuse Him of working through the power of Satan, is to touch the absolute in ill will. (The Lord, Regnery, 120) These men are possessed and dare to accuse the Absolute in Jesus of malevolence and ill will. Their malice, jealousy, and hatred cannot bear to endure the spiritual goodness, health, and healing that Jesus the Word brings into the world. Jesus proclaims that He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth. (Ibid, 23) Satan is not divided against himself. His one aim is to divide man from God and God from man.
The deaf and mute who is now able to speak is silent and, no doubt, curious about what his healing has provoked. He might be tempted to receive the miracle humbly as an expression of God’s love or suspiciously as an act of Satan’s mischief. The deaf and mute man has entered into the dangerous world of words. Look and listen to what he sees and hears! He does not see men who are awe-inspired in the presence of a miracle. He does not hear the silence of those who are now mute themselves because God’s strong man is lovingly speaking healing in the earth. Rather, he sees and hears men who cannot be touched by God’s love in the heart of Jesus Christ. Jesus anticipates their impulsive rejection of His love. When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he saith, I will return unto my house whence I came out. And when he cometh, he findeth it swept and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh to him seven other spirits more wicked than himself; and they enter in, and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. (Ibid, 24-26) Many men are liberated from unclean spirits but forget that God’s Grace alone has inaugurated their healing. Because they have been overcome by God's Strong Man and deprived of the armour [of their own good works] in which they trusted, their souls are in danger of greater demonic possession. St. Cyril says that the devil finds their hearts empty, and void of all concern for the things of God, and wholly taken up with the flesh, and so he takes up his abode in them…[So their] last state is worse than the first. (Cyril: PG 72, col. 699.) Jesus reminds us that He that is not with me is against me. (Ibid, 23) Healing is spiritual and must be received and grown from Jesus in thankful hearts that long for ultimate reconciliation with God.
Jesus calls the healed mutant forth into a promising future with God. Yea, rather, Blessed are they that hear the Word of God and keep it. (Ibid, 28) Hearing the Word of God in Jesus Christ is all about a relationship. Hearing the Word of God means thankfully receiving God’s healing Grace and allowing it to grow in strength and power in the soul. In Jesus, we hear of His intention to take the armour in which we have too often trusted and to scatter the spoils. (Ibid, 22) Jesus is the strong man who will establish His love in us and banish the devil. We need to ask for His ongoing healing. For, as Calvin says, Let us not then suppose that the devil has been vanquished by a single combat, because he has once gone out of us. On the contrary, let us remember that…he has knowledge…of all the approaches by which he may reach us; and that, if there be no open and direct entrance, he has dexterity enough to creep in by small holes or winding crevices. (Calvin’s Comm’s; Vol. xvii)
Today, let us hear the Word of God in Jesus Christ who longs to break the power of all demons who would divide us from God. Then we shall remember that we are weak but Christ is strong. And if we shut our mouths for long enough and ask for His healing power, His strong love will vanquish and overcome all of our demons. Amen.
And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth
distress of nations, with perplexity…(St. Luke xxi. 25)
Advent is that season which is all about preparing for Christ’s coming. What is coming to us is what endures forever and never passes away. With eager expectation, we await the one permanent and eternal thing that is all-important and all-defining for the life of any Christian. In the cyclical life of the Church, once again we prepare for the coming of Jesus Christ at Christmas time. Christ Jesus is the permanent Word of God made flesh. He is the eternally-begotten Word of God –that abiding, immutable, and enduring speech of God that was uttered and spoken into time and space long ago. And the same Word is spoken each year, in a new and fresh way, to the souls of the faithful that they might be born again of a wisdom and love that never pass away. Advent is about the coming of Christ the Word. Today we are called to hear the Word that comes to us, to measure our every desire by it, and to ensure that this Word is indeed our enduring hope.
In the Gospel appointed for today, Jesus establishes Himself as the Word spoken and offered to those who will hear Him. He speaks to the Apostles in the present tense of past history, and He speaks to us in the same way today. He speaks though of a future coming, a final coming, when all things shall be measured and summed up in relation to man’s hearing or not hearing His Word. The Word of God, His rule and governance, will be established finally and definitively in that day when He shall weigh the desire of men’s hearts definitively. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. (St. Luke 21. 27) Jesus who is the disclosed and revealed Word of God made flesh, who spoke to the Apostles long ago, who speaks to us today, will come at the ednd of all time, to judge the world, to determine whether every man’s words and works are consistent, commensurate, and compatible with His will. In the end times then, all things shall be summed up in relation to the Christ the everlasting Word of God, and all men shall find their everlasting abode in Him.
So, it is in this life that we are blessed with the gift of preparing for God’s Judgment. This is the time of discovering what God intends for us all and habituating or acclimating ourselves to it. In the Gospel, Jesus fully expects that His hearers- the Apostles then and us now, will be in communion with Him already because they have long since begun to subject their desires to His Judgment and Will. Jesus says today that those who reject Him as God’s Word made flesh and articulated Will of the Father can expect only confusion, bewilderment, and unending terror. And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken. (St. Luke xxi. 25) Heaven will herald in the time of Judgment and the earth will respond in kind with a traumatic and paranormal seismic shift that anticipates heavenly salvation for the good and damnation for the evil.
The unfaithful earthly-minded man will see at last that his perishable riches are now worthless, his worldly comforts surprisingly incommodious, and his natural peace violently inimical. At the same time, the faithful heavenly-minded man will set his eyes and heart upon the coming Glory that is already harvesting and ingathering the fruits of his holiness. And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh, Jesus says. (St. Luke 21. 28) Though the creation’s mostly idolatrous inhabitants will be taken by surprise, the faithful friends of Jesus shall be neither blindsided nor astonished. With joy and rapture, they shall begin to be swept up in their unfolding destiny because they have long since been judged, corrected, disciplined, and redeemed by the permanent and unchanging Word of Christ’s love. Their spiritual state is illustrated neatly in the Parable of the Fig Tree. Jesus says, Behold the fig tree, and all the trees; When they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand. So likewise, ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand. (St. Luke 21: 30, 31) The faithful man shall see the world scorched in ruin, as unbelievers desperately and hopelessly scramble for cover because they have refused to prepare for the triumphant victory of God’s enduring Word. He shall see that the worship of earthly mammon has led only to sterility and impotence cutting off idolaters from the undeterred triumph of God’s love. He shall discover that the words of this world only ever come and go and always pass away because they have no root in God’s Eternal Word. He shall see that man’s possession by lesser gods can never yield any lasting and enduring joy. He shall know that the Word of the Lord alone endureth forever. And so, in the high summer heat of the Word’s return, the bright and burning truth of God’s Word of love shall bring those to life who alone can withstand the heat as what enables them to flower and fruit. With His coming, Jesus says, rejoice and be exceeding glad, for the world will be destroyed, but the dynamically penetrating heat of God’s loving Word shall summon the fruits of His Spirit into final and unbreakable unity with Himself. The Word made flesh will come to establish man’s final redemption either in deliverance to His Kingdom or separation from it.
But how, you might ask, does this Word of God judge us now? How, you ask, do we apply this Word of God to our lives now so that at the Judgment we shall be found so faithful to it so that we shall not be judged unworthy of salvation? Our Collect for today helps us. It exhorts us to a faith that seeks understanding and then generates hope in God’s unchanging Word, that never passes away.
BLESSED Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ.
The Word of God, His communicated Wisdom to us and for us, most fully expressed and perceived in the life of Jesus Christ, is found through a diligent and persistent hearing and reading of Holy Scripture. The same Word must be studied, annotated, learned and understood, and then inwardly and spiritually digested as what alone can enable us to die to sin and come alive to God’s enduring righteousness. We must find in the Word a record of God’s persistent, unalterable, and enduring love for us and our salvation. We must discover that Jesus Christ, God’s Word made Flesh, has, in these last days, become not only the forgiveness of our sins but our resurrection and life, neither of which ever pass away.
The Collect teaches us that if we are to be found faithful, by patience and comfort of God’s Holy Word, we must embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life in Jesus Christ. Hope in eternal life must be the object of our desire. Earthly-minded man hopes for things that perish and puts his faith and trust in earthly relationships that grow old and pass away. Earthly man grows old and when life grows short, his hope grows weary, as Joseph Pieper writes. But spiritual man grows young because he hopes in a life that is ‘not yet’ and shall be as long as eternity. (Faith, Hope, Love, II, 110-111) Spiritual man hopes in a life that is just now starting to be lived in and through God’s Word. Spiritual man hopes in the Word that even now begins to prepare him for perfect everlasting union and communion with God. He has the audacity and courage to hope supernaturally above and beyond this transitory world with its fleeting promises. The theological virtue of hope bestows upon the spiritual man a certain possession of an aspiration that is at once relaxed and disciplined, adaptable and ready with strong-hearted freshness and resilient joy, with a steady perseverance in trust that distinguishes the young and make them so lovable. (Idem) Spiritual man is forever young because he trusts, even recklessly, in a love that makes him forever new. He is forever being made new with ever-growing confidence that what he knows and how he lives can always be bettered by being perfectly possessed and moved by a love that never passes away. Spiritual man is forever young because he does not look backward but forward. His youthfulness lives from a root that penetrates into an area of human nature that the powers of natural hope are unable to reach. This is so because supernatural youthfulness emanates from participation in the life of God, who is closer and more intimate to us than we are to ourselves. (Idem) For spiritual man time is swallowed up into eternity because he hopes forever in the fountain of youth that flows from God’s loving heart into his own! (Faith, Hope, and Love: Chapter II, 110-111)
In this holy season of Advent, we are called to be transformed by the unchanging and enduring Word of God’s love in Jesus Christ that will reward our hope with a love that is forever new and never passes away. So then:
[So] chiefly [we] should lift your gaze
Above the world’s uncertain haze,
And look with calm unwavering eye
On the bright fields beyond the sky,
Ye, who your Lord’s commission bear,
His way of mercy to prepare:
Angels He calls ye: be your strife
To lead on earth an Angel’s life.
Think not of rest; though dreams be sweet,
Start up, and ply your heaven-ward feet.
Is not God’s oath upon your head,
Ne’er to sink back on slothful bed,
Never again your loins untie,
Nor let your torches waste and die,
Till, when the shadows thickest fall,
Ye hear your Master’s midnight call?
(J. Keble: Advent II)
ALMIGHTY God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life,
(Collect Advent I)
Advent is so hard to celebrate properly in our own times. Long before this season even begins, we are assaulted by Christmas and a secular Christmas at that. On or even before Thanksgiving we are blinded by the garish lights and sparkling tinsel. We are bombarded with advertisements and offers meant to make this coming Christmas like none other. We are not, to be sure, aware that any Advent is present at all. Even post-modern Christians, whose sects were founded by 19th Century American “religious” upstarts, who promised, for the first time, to correct history and get the Church right after 1900 years of demonic darkness, dropped Advent long ago.
So, we are thankful that our Church still calls us into Advent as we gather here this morning. Advent is a Latin word meaning coming to. And the liturgical season which bears its name is all about God’s coming to or into His world. More specifically, of course, it is about God’s coming from Heaven into the world in the life of His Son Jesus Christ. So, Advent is, in one way, about the historical, salvific life of Christ. Advent is also about the future when Christ shall come to judge both the quick and the dead. Advent is all about death, judgment, heaven, and hell. In between time past and future time is time present, where we find ourselves today. In it, we learn that Advent is a time of Christ’s coming to us now in heart and soul. And if it is that, then we learn also that Advent is a time of penitence, a time for casting away the works of darkness and putting upon us the armour of light. (Collect) Thus, our Altar and I are draped with the purple of mourning to remind us that we are entering a season of fasting, watching, repentance, and mortification. This is a season of preparation as we ready our hearts and souls for the Coming of Jesus Christ once again at Christmas time. It is a time of introspection. Looking into our hearts we intend to identify old bad habits and persistently present vices. In the light of Christ’s coming, we resolve to die to them. Advent is a time of contemplation, in silence and with stillness. In this season, we open our lives to the judgment of Jesus Christ. We contemplate those sins which, if not overcome by God’s Grace, lead to Hell. We long to embrace the Divine Virtues by which Christ our Savior comes to dwell in us by way of preparation for the Kingdom of Heaven.
I have said this, and still, it is not easy. Jesus never said that it would be. But the alternative to embracing Christ’s Advent coming is perilous and fearsome. The dangers are great. Father Ronald Knox paints us a picture of the common variety of men who, in the course of life’s short span, never get around to contemplating God’s coming in Jesus Christ and the lasting result. He writes of those who never think about the Advent themes of death, judgment, heaven, or hell. He speaks of pagans and also of lukewarm and half-hearted Christians. Hear what he says:
Very few people feel sure that they are going to hell. Those who die in the faith, but without charity, mostly think, wouldn’t you say, that they are all right, they have just scraped through. And those who have lost the faith, or who die in sin outside the influence of faith, probably lay some flattering unction to their souls-it will be all right, they think, they will be given another chance. Up to the moment they are taken away, this world of creatures treats them no differently than any soul predestined to eternal life…So perfect is the illusion of security around them, that they forget God, and forget that they are forgetting him…And then, quite suddenly, the bottom falls out of that world…God, who gave that material world he has come from all its reality, is now the only reality left; and with a great hunger of loneliness the heart that was made for him turns back to him-and God is not there. The sinful soul has created for itself, as it were, a godless universe.’
Life is at its end, and so many people are left with nothing. The material world and its gods are gone. The body is expiring either painfully or just naturally but certainly. The soul teeters over the precipice of a godless universe. God who is always approaching, always coming, was treated as nothing and no one, and thus is absent to the barren soul. Those who have spent their lives either ignoring salvation or presuming that their superficial religiosity would save them, face the dark void. The illusion of security is now known for its false promises.
Such a spiritual condition should frighten the living daylights out of us all. It should awaken us out of spiritual sleep. It should alert our hearts and minds to the Church’s Advent, to her season of solemn warning an impending doom. It should awaken us to Jesus Christ’s Advent- His coming to us, in the past, in the future, and in the present. He came to us in the past in our flesh at the Incarnation. He will come to us in the future to judge both the quick and dead. He comes to us now through His Word by Grace and the Holy Spirit.
Jesus Christ came once for all in history in order to overcome sin, death, and Satan and to open the Kingdom of Heaven to man once again. Jesus Christ will come again to judge the quick and the dead at the end of time. But how do we embrace this hope of Christ’s coming to us now? How do we welcome His persistent coming, answering that knock at the doors of our souls, as Jesus comes to us once again to help us to get right with the Father through the Holy Spirit? Jesus knocks. We open. And we begin to see ourselves in relation to Him. He comes to call forth from us a confession of our sins. We look into ourselves and admit who we are, what we have done, and what we need. He comes to us, is silent and still. His appearance is glorious. He has ascended to the Father. We sing, Hosanna to the son of David; blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord. (Matthew xxi. 9) But we see His hands, His feet, and His side. We see ours sins and the price that Jesus paid for them. We remember that He was born to die so that we might live. Our souls are startled and disturbed with the sins that still so easily beset us in contradistinction to the love and compassion that comes to us yet again. We must awaken out of our spiritual sleep. We have tried to walk honestly as in the day, not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. (Romans xiii. 13), but we feel the impending sense of doom. It seems that theologically we know what He has done for us but really and truly, in our hearts and souls, we have failed to embrace His Grace.
So, what are we to do? Today we are called to remember that the process of Christ’s coming to us is no easy business. There is always the tension between who He is and what we have not yet become. Our Gospel reminds us that though we sing Hosanna to the Son of David, Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord, the same Lord who comes to us means business. He comes to knock at the temple of our souls in time present because He does not want to have to invade the temple of our souls in the future as He with the Temple at Jerusalem in time past. He desires to purge and to cleanse us. He intends to drive out and banish all false commerce, wrong thinking, wicked speaking, and evil living. In time present, He comes and He knocks. He allows us the choice of opening the door and welcoming His entry. In time present, He offers to make our bodies and souls the temples of His indwelling Spirit. In time present, He awaits our response to His Gracious Invitation for our future salvation.
Advent is all about Christ’s coming to us. He comes to us with that piercing eye that penetrates the condition of our souls. He comes to us to elicit a full and honest confession of who we are now because of what we have been in time past. He desires that we should identify our sins and give them over to Him. He longs to grasp them in His wounded hands to cast them into death. This we must do if we intend to have any part of His coming sanctification, redemption, and salvation.
Our Epistle this morning reminds us that Christ’s coming to us in Advent is serious business. Owe no man anything but to love one another. (Romans xiii. 8) If we shall be right with God, we must be honestly respectful of all others. We must keep His Commandments. Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. (Ibid, 9) To prepare for Christ’s coming, we must confess that we are all sinners in need of His salvation. This will enable us to know the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. (Ibid, 11)
Now is high time to awake out of sleep. (Idem) St. Paul exhorts us with urgency to cast off the works of darkness and put upon us the armour of light…that we may welcome the Lord’s coming love, and put…on the Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans xiii. 12, 14) The end of each day reveals that time passes quickly. The night is far spent, the day is at hand (Romans xiii. 12). This Advent let us open the door to Christ who comes and knocks. Let us welcome the coming of Christ’s loving correction and even chastisement, as He comes to purge and cleanse the temples of our souls. Let us allow Him to prepare us for a deeper sense of His coming at Christmas. If we don’t do this, we shall find sooner rather than later, that it will be…too late -too late, when we awaken to the fact that we had forgotten that we had forgotten Him.
After this I beheld, and lo, a great multitude, which no man could number
Of all nations and kindreds and peoples, and tongues, stood before the
Throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, palms
In their hands, and cried with a loud voice saying, Salvation to our God
Which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.
Today we celebrate the Feast of All Saints, and on this special day in the Church’s calendar we are called to reflect upon the meaning of this name for our common life together. With the Church Universal, we remember that great number which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and peoples, and tongues. (Idem) With Christians in all places, we thank God for the combined witness of so many different faithful people, called out from every culture and race, time and place, predicament and situation to blend their spiritual gifts for the glory of God and the salvation of the nations through one Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Teachers (Ephes. 4.11), Confessors, Doctors, Martyrs, Widows, Virgins, Kings, and Servants all comprise that glorious fellowship who with one voice forever sing Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and to the Lamb, because they became members of Jesus Christ’s Mystical Body long ago.
But in order to better grasp why we celebrate their lives today, first we should look at the definition of a Saint. Our English word Saint comes to us from the Latin sanctus, meaning holy, virtuous, confirmed, or set apart. The word in Greek is hagios, which, in the ancient sense, means full of awe, sacred, hallowed, and devoted to the gods. From our Epistle lesson for today, we learn that the Christian Saints were those who came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. (Rev. 7.14) So they are set apart because they were made sacred and hallowed by struggle, trial, and suffering.
Yet they were unlike their Greek and Latin pagan progenitors because their virtue was clearly not the result of good works and human effort. Rather, they opened their hearts and souls to that conversion and sanctification that comes only through the blood of the Lamb, shed by God’s own Son, Jesus Christ, once for all on Calvary’s Tree for the sins of the whole world. And what this means is that they were made holy, spiritually unique, distinct, and unlike all others because something happened to them, which had never before happened in the history of the world. In fact, what really happened to them is that rather than resting on the laurels of Greek Philosophy or even the merits of the Jewish Law, they opened their hearts to the God of Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ, they found that God was at work reconciling the world to Himself. (2 Cor. v. 19)
They were washed in the blood of the Lamb. What this meant was that as excellent as so many of them were by earthly standards and in faithfulness to the moral Law of the Jews and the Greeks, they were nevertheless sinners in need of a Saviour. Because they were so conscious of the sin that weighed them down and prevented them from ultimate and lasting union with God, they came to understand that God alone could save them from themselves. They were washed in the blood of the Lamb. With faith, hope, and love, they began to see that only God in Man, Jesus Christ, had taken on the problem of man’s sin, had overcome it, and had redeemed it. What they came to believe was that Jesus Christ alone had reclaimed human nature for God and had invited all men to share in the fruits of His accomplishment. And so, in some inexpressible way, His death on Calvary Hill would become their first step into the new life that He would offer to all of them. Christ’s all sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, in which He died to the world the flesh, and the devil innocently and without stain of any sin was thus made good. Through Jesus Christ, has become something radically new. Death now is good. Death is the first moment of new life. Christ’s Death to the sin, death, and Satan is now the pattern and model of Man’s Redemption and Reconciliation to God. This Death now constitutes the necessary first step out of corruption and into incorruption, out of sin and into righteousness, out of condemnation and into the forgiveness of sins. This Death is offered to us by Jesus who has become the forgiveness of sins in the flesh. And it is through His death and by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that all who turn away from earthly sin and the fear of earthly death can begin to die in a good and wholesome way to themselves as they simultaneously rise into the new life of Christ’s abiding virtue.
What this means, as our Gospel indicates today and history teaches us, is that the sinners began to become saints as they denied themselves, took up their cross[es], and followed [Jesus] (St. Matthew xvi. 24) through spiritual death and into new life. They became poor in spirit, knowing that they were powerless and in possession of nothing but sin and death, nothing of any worth coming from themselves that could ever make them any better. And so, trusting in the rich mercy of God in His Son, theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. (St. Matthew v. 3) They mourned over how their sins had earned their own spiritual death and spread such vicious infection to others, and so they are comforted. (Ibid, 4) They were meek and supple, humbled under the might hand of God (1 Peter ii. 5), knowing their limitations, now knowing that man is only and ever derived from God and dependent upon Him. And so, they inherited the earth (Ibid, 5) as the unmerited gift of Grace that began to make time and space forever new with the beautiful possibility of an abounding salvation that they had not earned and never deserved. They hungered and thirsted after righteousness, seeking first [God’s] Kingdom (St. Matthew vi. 33) and so were filled (Ibid, 6) with that spiritual bread from Heaven, even God’s own Word, His Son, Jesus Christ, bettering and perfecting them as they grow from strength to strength. (Ps. lxxxiv. 7) They [were] merciful, forgave every man his trespass against them (St. Matthew xviii. 35), and so they obtained mercy (Ibid, 7) as Christ the Forgiveness of Sins overtook their hearts. They [were] pure in heart or loved the Lord [their] God with all their hearts, souls, and strength and their neighbours as themselves (St. Matthew xxii. 37, 39) and so, now, they see God (Ibid, 8) They [were] peacemakers, and so their reconciliation with God through Jesus Christ made them the children of God (Ibid, 9), by welcoming others into the new birth that His peace creates. They [were] persecuted for righteousness’ sake…[were] reviled and slandered for [Jesus’] sake (Ibid, 10, 11), and so rejoiced and [were] exceeding glad…because they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name (Acts v. 41), for great is their reward in Heaven. (Ibid,12)
Together All Saints form a Communion or community of individuals who spent their lives trying to embrace and exchange the virtuous and godly life that the Beatitudes engender. They are the friends of Jesus as members of His Body, friends of one another, and our friends too. Together in communion and fellowshipthey are redeemed and sanctified, of one mind and one mouth glorifying God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans xv. 6) As Hans Urs Von Balthasar writes,
The Communion of Saints is a communion of open hearts, concerned only
with their common object, no longer preoccupied with the boundaries of the
‘I” and “Thou’. Since this dividing line has been pulled down, and the bastions,
once demolished, will never be re-erected, henceforth God’s salvation and His ultimate and conclusive love can be encountered only in the ‘We’.
(H. Von Balthasar: You Crown the Year…)
Purity of heart is summed up in the sacrifice of self for the sake of a Communion and Fellowship –the ‘We”, who are moved collectively as friends through the love of Jesus Christ that yearns at all times for the salvation of all men. In this Communion of All Saints, God’s gifts and treasures in the life of each Saint blend into one harmonious song as God’s desire is multiplied and expanded into the community of His love. With songs of praise this community forever receives His love; with songs of desire its members forever long that His love may continue to reach all men in all ages.
So today on this Feast of the Solemnity of All Saints we thank God for the Mystical Body of His Son and the blessed company of all faithful people. Especially we remember before God all those who rejoice with us, but upon another shore and in a greater light, that multitude which no man can number, whose hope was in the Word made flesh, and with whom we for evermore are one. (Prologue: Lessons and Carols) We are one with them in the desire that God will do with us what He did in them. We are called into the Mystical Community of Love that Christ generates out of them. With Cardinal Newman we remember that,
So many were the wonderful works which our Saviour did on earth, that not even the world itself could have contained the books recording them…Surely not even the world itself could contain the records of His love, the history of those many Saints, that "cloud of Witnesses," whom we today celebrate, His purchased possession in every age! We crowd these all up into one day; we mingle together in the brief remembrance of an hour all the choicest deeds, the holiest lives, the noblest labours, the most precious sufferings, which the sun ever saw. (Parochial Plain Sermons: 32)
Today so many Saints call us into the life that they live in and through Jesus Christ alone. Because they live and are not dead, their unceasing prayer is that we with them might be caught up in God’s His incessant desire for the salvation of all souls, the Mystical Civilization that Christ’s love forever longs to make. So let us love and follow their godly way, and make the Communion of Saints a point of our practice…being lovers of all good men, honoring them that fear the Lord and esteeming them very highly for their worth’s sake. Amen.
See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools,
But are wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.
(Ephesians v. 15, 16)
In this morning’s Epistle St. Paul exhorts the Ephesians and us to walk circumspectly. Circumspection comes to us from the Latin word circumspecere. It means literally to look around. St. Paul is urging his Greek audience look around before walking. Of course, St. Paul uses the word walk in a spiritual manner. By walking, Paul means moving through wisdom and prudence. We must think before we speak and act. We must look around; we must move cautiously. Otherwise, we turn into fools. Foolish men do not think before they speak. They are swift to speak and slow to hear. (St. James i. 19) They are immersed in what is around them. Consumed with the things of this world, what they see drives their senses and excites their passions. Fools do not look around and deliberate before they choose and will. Fools do not see the world in and for God.
We are not called to be fools but wise men. Wise men know not only that the world around us is full of temptations to covetousness and greed. Wise men see also that the world is not theirs. It is God’s world. Wise men see the beauty, truth, and goodness in the whole of the cosmos that they have not created and do not sustain. They are overwhelmed by the power, wisdom, and love of God painted onto the canvass of creation. They see also that creation can be known and used to better enable man to pursue God in leisure and at peace. Thus, wise men can learn how to redeem the time. With such a view of creation in mind, man can move on to redemption. Wisdom teaches wise men that they are fallen and in need of realignment with God. Wise men can come to believe that the eternally-begotten Son of God, who makes and molds, informs and defines all things, is the same Jesus Christ who longs to reconcile all men to God. Wise men see that creation is God’s, man is God’s, and that both can be perfected through Christ’s redeeming of the time.
St. Paul tells us this morning that we are called to be not unwise but understanding what the will of Lord is…and to be filled with the Spirit. (Ibid, 18) He means the Holy Spirit. But what is the nature of this filling? Paul Claudel describes it this way:
It is the Holy Spirit –ardent, luminous, and quickening by turns –who fills man and makes him aware of himself, of his filial position, of his weakness, of his discontent in his state of sin, of his dangers, of his duty, and also of his unworthiness and the inadequacy of everything around him. Through man the world inhales God, and through him God inhales the world….and continually renews his knowledge of it.
The wisdom of God is made present to us through the Holy Spirit. We come to know ourselves. We come to understand our need for Christ and His Sacrificial Death and our need for the ongoing work of His Resurrected Life. We come to see that the Holy Spirit desires to give us more than just wisdom or knowledge. Through the Holy Spirit, we can inhale God…and in the same Spirit, God inhales the world.
But how can we be inhaled by God and then inhale Him? It sounds strange to our ears. Claudel is using an image to picture how God intends to take us into His presence and how we should respond. You see, the Holy Spirit not only reveals the wisdom of God to us but also desires that such wisdom should indwell our hearts and change our lives. God does not need us but desires that we should be made right by His wisdom. We see another picture of the process in this morning’s Gospel Parable. In it, Jesus illustrates our end as a marriage feast that we should prepare to attend. The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son, and sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding….(St. Matthew xxii. 2) The king is God the Father, and He is preparing for the marriage feast of His Son, Jesus Christ, in the end times. The Son is the Holy Bridegroom, and He desires the Church to become His Bride. God, through the Holy Spirit invites all human beings to come to feast on His wisdom and His love. Through the Holy Spirit, God sends out invitations through His servants. Yet we read that they would not come. (Ibid) A second invitation is sent out. Perhaps this will establish the urgency of God’s desire to take us in or inhale us. But we read that those who were invited, made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise, and the remnant took his servants, and entreated them spitefully, and slew them. (Ibid, 5, 6)
The Parable really speaks first about those who are too busy to be inhaled by God’s Holy Spirit and then about those who violently reject it and so murder those who bring God’s gracious invitation. In response to their foolish obstinacy, we read that in the end times God the Father will send forth his armies of angels to destroy [the] murderers and burn up the city. (Ibid, 7) What we learn is that those who have no time for God’s wisdom, in the end, are the real fools. Those who cannot be bothered enough with God, who have better things to do, or who resent the presence of God in His creation as the only true redeemer, will be rewarded for their foolishness. They may be fair-weather Christians who are hot and cold, lazy pagans who are spiritual but not religious, or they may be card-carrying Atheists who, for whatever reason, hate God or even the idea of His existence. At any rate, not wanting to be inhaled by God, their desire will be rewarded, and they shall be exhaled, even forever.
But before we get too excited about what this means for us –since, presumably, we come to church to inhale God, we had better read the rest of the Parable. What do we find? God’s wisdom and love still alive in the hearts of His friends through the Holy Spirit. So, He sends them out again. Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage. So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests. (Ibid, 9, 10) Down through the ages, the friends whom God has inhaled are always carrying His desire to the nations. To the marriage feast, they bring in men and women who are both bad and good. They are sinners who are working the evil out of their spiritual lungs and welcoming good into their lives. They are not yet perfect but are human beings who are daily dying to sin and coming alive to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans vi. 11) These are honest men and women who come to Church so that Christ can wash away their sins and fill them with His righteousness. So far, so good. But what do we read next? And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment: and he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless. Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are called, but few are chosen. (Ibid, 11-14) What is this business about the wedding garment? It seems that in the end there must be a difference between the bad and the good who are members of Holy Mother Church. The bad are present but have not been inhaled by God. The good have. St. Gregory the Great tells us that this wedding garment is charity or the love of Christ offered to the Bride. Many come to church with faith, he says, but if they have not charity, they have not been inhaled by God through the Holy Spirit. (Hom. xxxviii) They do not embrace the wisdom of God’s love. Because they have not been inhaled by God’s love, they cannot inhaleit themselves. The wedding garment is that charity of God, clothing the heart of man, whose wisdom decrees that love received must love in return. Those who have faith and even hope but have not inhaled the love of God through the Holy Spirit cannot be saved because the essential nature of God’s wisdom has been lost.
My friends, we are called today to inhale God. Inhaling God means receiving his Holy Spirit. Receiving the Holy Spirit means surrendering all rights to ourselves (Oswald Chambers) and becoming that capacity, that receptivity which no longer offers any obstacles to the will of its Creator. (Claudel, 179). The “I” must die; we must lose ourselves, even our individual and narcissistic urges and callings, our attachments, everything that stands between us and God. Walk in love, the Apostle says, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour. (Ibid, 1) Christ has loved us; we are inhaled by God. Let us inhale Christ also. God’s wisdom is greater than man’s foolishness. In psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, we can inhaleChrist. God’s love inhales us, and we are invited to die and to rise. God’s wisdom is the love of Jesus Christ that inhales us through the Holy Spirit. As we are inhaled by the Holy Spirit, if we walk circumspectly, we shall conquer all sin and embrace all virtue. As we inhale the Holy Spirit’s love, our love for God will be converted into love for others. The love of God is the wedding garment. If we are not clothed with it, we can only stand to conclude that we have not inhaled God’s love. Or perhaps we have inhaled it withoutexhaling. The same conclusion must be drawn: we are not fully clothed with the wedding garment. God’s inhaling us is offered and we find the new air that we ought to breathe. God wants us and all others to walk circumspectly, to redeem the time, and in being inhaled by Him to catch others up into the breath and the wind of God’s love. God wants us to inhale others. Inhaling others will reveal that God’s wisdom is at work conquering our foolishness by loving our fellow men into being inhaled by God’s love also. Then, though our world may go to Hell in a handbasket, we shall have redeemed the time.
May it please thee that by the wholesome medicines of the
Doctrine delivered by [St. Luke], all diseases of our souls
may be healed…
(Collect: Feast of St. Luke the Physician)
Today we celebrate the Feast Day of St. Luke the Apostle. Saints Jerome and Eusebius tell us that he was the author of the third Gospel and of the Acts of the Apostles. In fact, if you begin with St. Luke’s Gospel, you will find that it leads logically and chronologically into Acts. In the Ancient Church, the two books were called one –Luke-Acts. We know that St. Luke was a Greek and was born in Antioch- the city where the followers of Jesus were first called Christians. He is first mentioned in history in St. Paul’s Epistle to Philemon, in his Epistle to the Colossians (iv), and finally in 1 Timothy iv. We learn from the Anti-Marcionite Prologue to the Gospel of Luke that he was a native of Antioch, by profession a physician. He had become a disciple of the Apostle Paul and later followed Paul until Paul’s martyrdom. Having served the Lord continuously, unmarried and without children, filled with the Holy Spirit he died at the age of 84. We know from Luke himself that he was not an eyewitness to the historical life of Jesus Christ and Holy Tradition tells us that his Gospel account is pieced together mostly from the memory of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In his Epistle to the Colossians, St. Paul does not group St. Luke with those of the circumcision, and so we judge that he was a Gentile. In the Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke speaks of St. Paul and his companions often using the third-person plural they. When he switches the first person plural we, we surmise that Luke has joined their company. St. Luke died in Boetia in central Greece, and his relics are now in Constantinople. He is the Patron Saint of bachelors, bookbinders, brewers, butchers, glassmakers, goldsmiths, lacemakers, physicians, painters, surgeons, and sculptors.
Because St. Luke’s Gospel and Acts are full of descriptive detail and precision, the Medievals venerated him as a painter. For they read that onto the canvas of the ancient world St. Luke had painted a series of detailed frescoes, beginning with the conception of St. John Baptist and Jesus Christ, continuing with the earthly mission, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord, and culminating in the Pentecostal Descent of His Holy Spirit into the new life of the Church, which he found most fully expressed in the life of St. Paul.
In addition, with the skill and care of a surgeon or physician, St. Luke carefully observes and records the spiritual sickness of the pagan world that Christ dies to save and then rises to heal and sanctify through His Earthly Body, the Church. So, he points us to that final restoration to God the Father that Jesus Christ longs to accomplish through us. This reconciliation is the spiritual ingathering of fallen and sick humanity into the hands of God’s Loving Physician who heals, sanctifies, and saves his spiritual patients. St. Luke the Physician describes how Christ the Surgeon confronts the cancer of man’s sin and through His suffering and death heals all men of it. Out of death, Christ will raise up a new body for man –His own, through which all men who believe can find the spiritual health that leads them home to Heaven.
And it came to pass in those days, that he went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God…And he came down with them, and stood in the plain, and the company of his disciples, and a great multitude of people out of all Judaea and Jerusalem, and from the sea coast of Tyre and Sidon, which came to hear him, and to be healed of their diseases; And they that were vexed with unclean spirits: and they were healed. And the whole multitude sought to touch him: for there went virtue out of him, and healed them all. (St. Luke vi. 12, 17-19)
The Lord, whose history St. Luke unfolds, is the Eternal Healer, the Great Physician, and the Heavenly doctor who comes down from His throne of glory to apply a surer remedy and lasting cure to man’s sick sinful state. His records include the healing of the physically sick or handicapped, the mentally tormented and possessed, and the outcasts and forgotten. His clinical mind describes the nature of man’s spiritual sicknesses and records the healing balms and treatments that Jesus will apply either through six Miracles or eighteen Parables that are not to be found in the other Gospels. On the whole, if we were to generalize, we could say that St. Luke has a firm handle on man’s multifarious forms of suffering and of Jesus’ incessant desire to cure them all. In the parables of theProdigal Son, the Good Samaritan, the Lost Sheep, Dives and Lazarus, the Publican and the Pharisee, with seven others, we find illustrations of suffering and humility that supplicate mercy and forgiveness in the healing power that Christ brings. In the six miracles unique to Luke’s Gospel –the Healing of the Ten Lepers, the Widow of Nain’s son, the Ten Lepers, the Centurion’s servant and two others, we find the affliction and anguish that alienate man from God, and then of Jesus’ loving determination to forgive, heal, and save.
Thus, we have an exhaustive record of Jesus the Good Physician in St. Luke’s Gospel. Now, how does this apply to us today? St. Luke’s writings are all about how human life begins, continues, and ends in its encounter with Jesus Christ. His history of Christ does not end with Christ’s Ascension back to the Father. In fact, if the truth be told, the meaning of Christ’s life only really begins as St. Luke continues his story with The Acts of the Apostles. For it is then that Christ begins to take up new life in the Body on earth that He will form out of the hearts and souls of all believers. St. Luke shows us that Jesus Christ has only just begun the work of our redemption. That work commences from Heaven and down to Earth as Jesus Christ comes alive in all believers through the indwelling of the Holy Ghost.
But we all know that it is not easy to become members of Christ’s Body, the Church, and aim for Heaven. St. Luke reminds us that the Pharisees of old, the religious men of Jesus’ time, murmured against His ministry while he was still on earth. Why does [He] eat and drink with publicans and sinners? (Luke 5:30). Jesus’ response to religious people in all ages is this: They that are whole need not a physician: but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. (Luke 15: 31,32) Christ comes into the world to heal sinners of a spiritual sickness called sin. The Church should always be a hospital for sinners en route to salvation. The Church must be the place where Christ’s Good News and Word made flesh are preached over and over again, until Christians confess that they are always sick and in need of a physician. (Idem) Religious presumption and pride only spread the contagion of sin, postponing or forsaking the inevitable need for that spiritual healing without which we cannot be saved.
St. Luke invites us to discover the hard truth that we Christians are sick and diseased inwardly and spiritually. Romano Guardini reminds us that Christ did not come to be a social worker who eradicates world poverty or a physician who cures men of every bodily ailment. Christ was always about much more than that. Guardini writes, Christ saw too deeply into suffering. For the meaning of suffering, along with sin and estrangement from God, was to be found at the very roots of being. (How Christ relieves our Sufferings) Hidden deep and concealed beneath our conscious lives are the bleeding inner wounds of our broken inner selves. Our true inner selves are alienated and estranged from God. Christ healed the sick of his own day because they were ostracized from society because their illnesses were judged to be punishment for sin. The sick and maimed felt that their sicknesses had exiled them from God’s mercy. Jesus takes their weakness and turns it into an occasion for them to become models and patterns for all who should be forgiven and thus returned to the road of salvation. To Jesus, those who had been deemed furthest from God’s gift of redemption now became the instruments and tools of the character that leads to salvation. [If a sick man] approached him in an open-hearted, petitioning state of mind, the power simply proceeded from Him to do its work. (Idem) The sick man was asking to be healed so that he might reenter the spiritual community. Depression, melancholy, and loneliness had cast a pall over the sick man’s life. But all of this was brought to Jesus with the hope that Jesus could heal the body and, more so, the soul. Jesus will use earthly illness and its healing to establish the model for the character that seeks out spiritual healing for the spiritual illness of sin.
Long ago Christ the Word of God came into our midst. Never once did He forget the meaning of His mission to all men. Christ came to take on the predicament of human suffering caused by sin. He is the doctor and He is the cure. In the last analysis, suffering for [Christ] represented the open road, the access back to God-at least the instrument which can serve as access. Suffering is a consequence of guilt, it is true, but at the same time, it is the means of purification and return. (Idem)
St. Luke embraced that same Great Physician, Jesus Christ, who was alive and well in the life of St. Paul. From pages of his Acts, he shows us how St. Paul and others endured the healing and spread the cure to the nations of the world. This is the healing of God’s Great Physician. Christ took the sufferings of mankind upon Himself. He did not recoil from them, as man always does. He did not overlook suffering. He did not protect Himself from it. He let it come to him, took it into his heart…. Christ's healing derives from God. It reveals God and leads to God.... By healing, Jesus revealed Himself in action. Thus, He gives concrete expression to the reality of the living God. To make men penetrate to the reality of the living God-that is why Christ healed. (Idem) There is no sin which Christ cannot cure, there is no pain which He cannot relieve, and there is no sadness which His joy cannot conquer, provided we, with St. Luke, seek out His remedy for our sin.
THERE was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon;
and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not;
neither was their place found any more in heaven.
(Rev. xii. 7)
Today we celebrate our Patronal Feast. A Patronal Feast refers to the Patron for whom certain chapels, churches, basilicas, or cathedrals are named. Our Patrons are St. Michael, who happens to be both a Saint and an Angel, and all the other Angels. St. Michael has the added distinction of being the Commander in Chief of the Angelic Host. So, he and his company of Angels surround and defend us in this Church.
Of course, since the time of the Reformation, Protestant-minded people have been made nervous by the Angels since they sense that their mediatorial vocation is frighteningly close to that of the Saints. Being defined by small portions of their Bibles only, they live in fear of Popish plots and thus inoculate themselves against the help that God intends should come from the Angels and Saints. They say that Jesus alone is needed when the truth of the matter is that Jesus -the everlasting Word of God, has always been at work in the lives of Angels and Saints and longs to come alive in us also! We do well to remember that God the Father sent the Angel Gabriel to pave the way for Jesus Christ’s conception and birth. And then at His Transfiguration, He called Saints Moses and Elijah down from Heaven to reveal a conversation which Jesus had with them concerning the Redemption of the World. From what the Bible teaches us, Jesus is always at work in the lives of all who in Him have died to themselves and come alive to God the Father. In so far as He indwells His creatures, they share in His goodness and truth. Thus, we believe that there have ever been Angels and Men in whom Christ is alive so completely that they are with Him already in His Kingdom. Michael and the Good Angels have never parted from Him. And if Moses and Elijah were translated to Heaven, I dare say that the Blessed Virgin, St. Joseph, the Apostles and the Faithful in all ages have already taken their rightful place in Christ’s reconciliation of time with eternity as members of His Mystical Body.
So let us contemplate the Angels. Angels are intellectual substances. The word angel comes to us from the Greek aggelos, and it means messenger, envoy, or one who is sent. They do not have bodies but are pure spirits. Angels, like everything else that God has created, are made good. Those Good Angels who figure most prominently in Scripture are Michael and Gabriel. Then there are hosts of anonymous angels who visit the Shepherds prior to Christ’s birth and celebrate with them after, who minister to Jesus after His temptations in the wilderness, are with Him in last days of His bitter agony, assist at the Resurrection, and then prepare the Apostles at His Ascension for Pentecost. Angels liberated both Peter and Paul on two separate occasions from prison. And in general, as Richard Hooker says, even now in us they behold themselves beneath themselves, see what we share, and hope that we might join them and resemble God. (E.P. i. iv)
But from Scripture, we know also that some of the angels rebelled against God and His goodness at the moment of their creation. Out of pride and then envy they treacherously embraced darkness. And so, as St. John tells us in this morning’s Epistle, There was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. (Rev. xii. 7-9) Most commentators say that St. John is speaking of the original warfare that erupted when the Angels of Light realized what some of their companions had done. Those who rebelled became the Angels of Darkness, imaged by St. John as the Dragon and his army of bad angels. St. John reminds us that the origins of sin and evil emerge from these rational, free-willing angelic creatures who chose to reject God. St. Augustine tells us that the origin of sin is found on the First Day of Creation. And God said, Let there be light, and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: And God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. (Gen. i. 3,4) God had already made the heavens and earth, and then He made light. But this is not physical light that God created since He had not yet made the sun and the moon. St. Augustine insists that this must be the spiritual light or the light that is the life of the angels that God has made. God did not create the darkness but divided the light from the darkness. Augustine tells us that the darkness which hovered over the deep must be an image of willful ignorance and bad-will that characterize the bad angels’ willful rejection of the eternal Light of God that informs all of creation. Because the good angels are wholly informed by the Light of God, they are called created light and their lives constitute the first spiritual Day. The bad angels are called the darkness and so are banished to the everlasting spiritual Night in alienation from God’s Light. (D.C.D. xi, xii)
Sin is a spiritual problem. It originates with the pure angelic spirits who reject God’s rule and governance. Sin is borne out of envy and pride. St. John tells us that the bad angels envied God’s wisdom and love and resented His power. Not content with being derivative creatures whose illumination depended always on the Light of God’s Power, Wisdom, and Love, the bad angels rather wanted to be God. Looking away from God, they looked to themselves, and in that moment became spiritual darkness. Self-absorption is always and ever darkness because it refuses to find its meaning in the Creator’s Light. Thus, the bad angels become a community of bad faith, ill will, and deception.
Michael and his army of Good Angels are everything that God intends for them to be. They fought against the bad angels and banished them from Heaven. The Good Angels embrace God’s Light alone and cannot endure the presence of the malevolent ill will and darkness of Satan and his peers. Those angels whose future and destiny belong to God receive and return His Light and Love without ceasing. Because they are the first Created Light, in and through them we find the meaning and truth of all creation. They are the Created Light that illuminates the creation. In them, we find a pattern of perpetual obedience to God’s will in heaven that we should imitate on earth. They are moved and defined by God’s Word alone. They embrace Christ the Word and His Redemption for fallen humanity. When the Word is made flesh in us, they surround us with Heavenly protection and assistance.
Michael is the Chief of All the Angels, and his name means he who is like God. The Greek Church refers to him as Arcistrategoς, or the General Commanding Officer. Having cast Satan and his minions out of Heaven, Michael and his army desire without ceasing to frustrate their power on earth. As Christ’s ministering spirits, they are His true friends, and so their vocation is to visit us with the protection and care that they receive from Christ. The Pseudo-Dionysius, a 6th Century Syrian monk, tells us that Angels have three functions. They carry purification, illumination, and unification to us. (Hier. Coel. ix. 2, op. cit. Danielou; The Angels and Their Mission) From Jesus Christ they bear the purification of our souls, the illumination of our minds, and union with our Heavenly Father. They intend to surround and defend us so that Christ may work His redemption into us. The desire of the Holy Spirit moves them to bring to us what Christ hears from the Father. What they see of the Father, in the Son, and by the Spirit they share with us as that Divine Desire that should stir us to adoration and imitation.
Today as we honor and venerate St. Michael and All Angels, with them we know that as there was war in heaven, there will be war on earth until the Second Coming. Nothing that is good and true can be won or retained without a struggle. The good must always hold their heritage at the price of ceaseless vigilance. He who would attain and keep truth and prove himself faithful to it must be prepared to engage in constant battle…Every attempt to make earth more in harmony with heaven will be challenged. (The Christian Year in the Church Times, p. 274) Michael and his Angels reveal to us the victory of God’s first Created Light over darkness in Heaven. The pattern has been established in Heaven and it extends from God’s Heavenly throne to His earthly footstool. Their vocation or calling is to strengthen us in our war against the powers of spiritual darkness in high places. They lend us their unceasing submission to God with courage. Their labor is God’s work and it will endure as long as time remains for the salvation of souls before the Second Coming. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
William Blake reminds us that, It is not because angels are holier than men or devils that makes them angels, but because they do not expect holiness from one another, but from God only. This holiness alone will dispel and scatter all manner of darkness making us into the children of the Light. (1 Thes. v. 5) In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us that we must become as little children.Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (St. Matthew xviii. 3,4) The angels are the first Created Light. They are the first offspring and children of God who depend upon Him wholly and completely for their safety, goodness, and happiness. They lend their childlike wonder, awe, wisdom, and love of God to us. So, with the poet:
How oft do they their silver bowers leave,
To come to succor us that succour want!
How oft do they with golden pinions cleave
The flitting skyes like flying pursuivant,
Against foul fiends to aid us militant!
They for us fight, they watch, and dewly ward,
And their bright squadrons round about us plant;
And all for love, and nothing for reward;
O why should Heavenly God to men have such regard!
(Fairie Queene: ii, vii, 8)
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!
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 although commonly spoken is rarely remembered. And 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 more often than not lazy or slothful in relation to our spiritual well-being. God hears in order to give, and what He gives is more than either we desire or deserve. The weakness of desire is entirely on our side. In desiring Him more, we shall begin to receive the pure gift of His mercy and the intensity of its approach.
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 just prior to the portion of the Gospel that we have read this morning, 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 morsels or fragments of that healing power that she knew could cure her demonized child. She was not a Jewish supplicant 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) But the response which 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 the morsels and fragments of holiness that He carried into the world the devil would be expelled from her tormented daughter. So, the faith of a Gentile pagan realizes that she is rewarded with a gift that she desired but did not deserve. Her desire revealed a deep sense of God’s presence in Jesus which ran clean contrary to what the Jews should have desired also. Desire is love and love led the Syrophoenician woman to the light, which is the knowledge of God in Jesus Christ.
And now this morning we encounter a Jewish man who cannot so much as express his desire, let alone think about what he might or might not deserve. His friends, however, express his desireand so join in the acquisition of the gift 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 Chosen People, in the environment of religious folk, and yet here we find a man who symbolizes and embodies 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. (Jesus always takes people where they are, and then leads them into healing and new life.) And so we read: And he 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. The noise, the commerce, and the talk of the Jewish world threatened Jesus always. They had forgotten the silence of the wilderness which should have been at the forefront of any Jew’s understanding of the Word that saves men in a radical isolation from all other gods. 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, (Trench, The Miracles) This man needed to encounter God, in Jesus Christ, for the very first time.
With St. Paul, We are not sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; [for] our sufficiency [comes] from God. (2 Cor. iii. 4) My Grace is sufficient for thee. (2 Cor. xii. 19) The journey will be long, and He never promised that it would be easy. But if we desire and seek God, knowing that we have been deaf to His Word and are thus dumb because cannot hear so that we might speak, we must become babes in the hands of our Loving Saviour. We read that He put his fingers into his ears, and he spit, and touched his tongue…. (St. Mark vii. 33,34) The difficulty involved in opening our ears and mouths to God’s healing is hard business. Jesus must share with us His hearing and His speaking. Thus, He places His fingers into the deaf man’s ears and touches His tongue. The basic and elementary nature of the actions is all significant for healing. 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 and belief that a blessing is immanent. Christ always comes to us where we are and makes use of what we have to lead us into deeper healing and sanctification. The man is a babe in Christ. Like a newborn babe, he sees and feels before he can hear and speak. Before the man can hear and speak, he must see and feel, with wonder and awe, the approaching God who will open his ears and unloose 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)
Through His human nature, Jesus will identify Himself with the fallen condition of man. Having cured the man of his physical handicaps, He can now call the man to the pursuit of his spiritual good. Now the man can be taught what he should truly desire –the healing of his soul, which comes only by way of deepest sighing and groaning for what God alone can give. 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) And so, as the Venerable Bede teaches us, [Jesus] looks up to Heaven to teach us that 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, in our own or our neighbours’ miseries (Ibid, 2). Jesus sighs or groans to show us that we must with deepest inward longing and desire ask the Lord to open our spiritual ears and unloose our spiritual tongues that so stubbornly and obstinately refuse to hear and speak of the truth that He brings. Jesus sighs or groans because He desires us more than we desire Him, and He longs to give to usmore than we either desire or deserve. (Collect)
The words of other men have initiated the miracle, but to become conscious of the power of God’s Word, we must come to know 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) Within our souls we are conscious of 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 of ourselves, we begin to become conscious of the horror and shame of the past lives we have lived. Our consciences are afraid and seared; they quiver and tremble before the presence of God. We become almost as nothing. Thus, we realize, in the presence of God’s Word, Jesus Christ, that we need those good things which we are not worthy to ask. (Collect) We do not deserve to hear, and yet God desires to open our ears. We are ashamed to speak, and yet He slowly but surely gives us those words that can praise His Visitation.
So, we read next that Jesus saith unto him, 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. Jesus speaks the Father’s Word. The man now can both hear and speak. The deep impression of God’s heartfelt desire for his salvation now opens his heart to follow Jesus.
The miracle concludes: And he charged them that they should tell no man….(Ibid, 36, 37) The new miracle will take time to perfect. We must, without any fanfare, bragging, or boasting, patiently endure how God’s Word gives us the words sufficient for a deeper relation to Him. Jesus comes to welcome all men onto the journey of faith which He redeems and perfects. Now the difficult path to salvation must begin. Perhaps, we are deaf to God’s Word in Jesus Christ. Perhaps, we cannot speak of His truth. As Pope Benedict has said 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, so as to enable us to live to the full our relationship with God and with others. (Benedict XVI: September 9, 2012) Ephphatha, Jesus says, or Be Opened. Jesus longs to open our ears to the Word that He hears from the Father so that we too might exclaim He hath done all things well: he maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak. (Ibid, 37)
And when Jesus was come near, He beheld the city, and wept over it,
Saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day,
the things which belong unto thy peace! But now they are hid from
(St. Luke 19. 41, 42)
Many commentators, reading the lines which I have just rehearsed, form their interpretations of them based upon the literal reading of the Biblical text. So, they conclude that Jesus is weeping over an immanent and future destruction of Jerusalem, which came in the year 70 A.D. when Tiberius Julius Alexander sieged and sacked the city at the behest of the Roman Emperor Titus Flavius Caesar Vespasianus Augustus, destroying the Second Temple. Titus reportedly refused to accept the wreath of victory saying, there is no merit in vanquishing a people forsaken by their own God. The history of the sack of Jerusalem resulted in a diaspora or exile for the Jewish people which was not reversed until the establishment of the State of Israel in 1949.
But the meaning runs far deeper for the Church Fathers who chose the readings that we use today. To them the spiritual meaning is always the preferred, for this is what moves our spiritual lives, here and now. However, far from denying and discarding the literal and historical truth of the verses, they insisted rather that what Jesus said and did, in time and space, is given to us as an illustration for our spiritual nourishment and growth. In the words that we read today, we find the Fathers of the Church pointing us to a deeper apprehension of their use for our spiritual pilgrimage. We read that Jesus…wept, and thus, today, we must find significance in His tears.
Origen of Alexandria, the great 2nd Century Church Father, 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 they that mourn’, He also wept over the city. (Origen: Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers: iii, p. 341) St. Cyril of Jerusalem writes this: For 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 Fathers remind us that the Son of God made Man reveals and expresses God’s love and desire for all men’s salvation. As Man, God’s own Son urges us to shed tears, to mourn, and to weep over sin -our sins and the sins of others. This is how we must respond to our failure to embrace and cherish God’s love for us and His desire that we should wage war on our sins so that His virtue might come alive in our hearts and souls. In sum, the Fathers call us to consider our own salvation and how we failed too often to make a better use of the gifts that He gives to us for the sake of our ultimate joy and felicity in Heaven with Him.
Jesus in His own day wept over a faithless and hard-hearted Jerusalem. Jesus then blesses the virtue of tears. Blessed are they that mourn. (St. Matthew 5. 4) Of course, remembering that Jesus is God and Man, we might have trouble disentangling meaning from mystery. If He is indeed God, we know that God does not cry, shed tears, mourn, or express any kind of regret. God Himself is perfectly the same yesterday, today, and forever. (Heb’s xiii. 8) Given such, He is pure Love, Joy, Felicity, and Wisdom. Technically speaking, because God, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning (St. James: I, 16), it seems quite strange that God’s own Son weeps and mourns over Jerusalem.
And yet, mysteriously emanating from Jesus’ heart, there issues forth in the Son of Man a translation of God the Father’s Love that we can understand and cherish. Tears reveal a contradiction. What mother and father have not shed tears when their children fall or fail? What parent does not mourn when his son or daughter’s life contradicts the expectation of excellence? Jesus elucidates for us the Love of God the Father in the face of our willful and stubborn continuance in sin. His tears reveal that God the Father is not apathetic and uncaring but passionately desires that we might turn from our sin and return to Him. When the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive. (Ezekiel 18. 27) God’s Love made Flesh, Jesus Christ, reveals to us a Loving Father who yearns and longs for us to embrace His goodness and excellence! Through Jesus’ tears, Love responds to man’s rebellious spirit and mourns over what man chooses in place of God’s Love. Jesus knows that an obstinate heart shall be laden with sorrows; and the wicked man shall heap sin upon sin (Ecclus. iii. 27) Jesus feels our rejection of God’s Love. Jesus feels also how we stubbornly ignore and neglect the Love that He brings to us. A stubborn heart shall fare evil at the last; and he that loveth danger shall perish therein. (Ibid, 26) Jesus desires that we might take his tears as a trigger and catalyst for realizing and receiving God’s Love for us. With the prophet Ezekiel, Jesus knows that with repentance and tears, we can turn back to God. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. (Ezekiel 36: 26, 27) The tears of Jesus reflect and reveal God’s desire and passion for our salvation. Jesus weeps because He knows what we are bringing upon ourselves and He knows what we are losing by forsaking God’s Love. Blessed are they that mourn. (St. Matthew v. 4), Jesus insists.
The Love of God the Father is alive in the heart of Jesus Christ. Today, we experience that Love as what always mourns over our separation from Him. With the Church Fathers, we are challenged to see how our sin moves Jesus to tears. Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted. Let us then pray for tears and true mourning over our sins. Let us mourn over our obstinate refusal to experience the Love of God revealed in the tears of Jesus. Let us shed tears over our careless neglect and indifference to God’s Love. Let us mourn over our unfaithfulness.
But let us do more. True Love weeps over sin and then turns on it with righteous indignation. No sooner do we read that Jesus…wept than 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) If we appreciate Jesus’ tears, we must also know that, through Him, God expresses His Love in wrath against our sin. From our mourning let us proceed to righteous indignation. But rather than directing it against the outside world around us, or even against corruption and cowardice in the churches, let us direct our righteous wrath against ourselves, declaring veritable war on the demons and spiritual powers that so easily entice, distract, and draw us from Jesus’ visitation. Let tears and righteous indignation combine to destroy anything that separates us from the Love of God in Jesus Christ. God made us to grow and share His spiritual gifts, as we read in this morning’s Epistle. And this cannot happen until we have identified and conquered the demonic vices that inhabit our own souls. We cannot hope to be spiritually changed if we are still carried away by dumb idols (1 Cor. xii. 2) as St. Paul warns us today. God intends for the Holy Spirit of His Love to come alive in us and drive away all false gods from our lives.
Jesus is the Love of God in the flesh. He cares for us. Will we accept this Love today? Will we allow this Love to redeem us? Jesus wept over the destruction of Jerusalem because in it He saw the ruination of the human soul. But His tears did not stop Him from saving us. Out of the rubble of man’s sin He would raise up sons and daughters to God. Perhaps Jerusalem, and by interpretation, the soul, must be ruined and brought to death before it can find new life. Jerusalem is fallen. We are fallen. But, as St. Gregory says, God visits the wicked soul at all times, through his teaching, and He sometimes visits it by means of chastisements, and sometimes through a miracle, that it may learn the truths it did not understand…and moved by sorrow return to Him; or may, overcome by His Kindness, become ashamed of the evil it has done. (Sunday Sermons, iv. 344) Thank God for this and Rejoice! O Clap your hands together, all ye peoples: * O sing unto God with the voice of melody. For the Lord is high, and to be feared; * he is the great King upon all the earth. (Ps. xlvii. 1,2), the Psalmist exclaims today. Let us mourn, so that we may rejoice. We mourn, we repent, we turn to God, and He changes us, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye…. (1 Cor. xv. 52) Christ has died, Christ is risen. God is gone up with a merry noise, * and the Lord with the sound of the trump. (Ps. clvii. 5) Christ weeps over us that we may repent. Christ reveals God’s wrath against all sin and declares war on our sin so that He might finally conquer it on His Cross. With the renewed Love of His Resurrection, He longs for us to rise up and embrace the gifts of His Holy Spirit. Christ, the Love of God, is with us and for us. Let us let Him have His way within us today that we may rebuild the Jerusalem of our souls, and thereby reveal the city of God’s salvation to others.
Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.
(1 Cor. x. 12)
Last week we spoke about the Divine Providence of God and how we ought to be intent upon ordering our lives with the Divine Wisdom. This week we remind ourselves that His Wisdom is dead to us if it is not always God’s way of making good out of a bad situation. We must think about God’s always making good because the Christian journey is all about our ongoing assimilation to the goodness that Jesus Christ brings into the world. It is out of a bad situation because we are always in danger of forgetting that we are sinners who are always too capable of becoming worse. That God desires always to make us good and then better means that He intends to work His Word and Wisdom into our fallen state in order to save us. And for this work to be what God begins, continues, and finishes in us, we must always and honestly confess that we are in a bad situation so that we might turn and desire to be made better by His Grace.
Of course, some people would maintain that what I am recommending amounts to an insurmountable task for the common lot of men. If we cannot admit that we are in a very bad situation, then there isn’t much reason to desire what would make us better. Objectively speaking, of course, such is a recipe for disaster in any realm of life. The painter who doesn’t need and desire to paint a better picture won’t! The farmer who has no need or desire to raise more and tastier vegetables in a more efficient way won’t. The doctor who stops looking for cures for diseases will only ever prescribe medication management. So too, the Christian who doesn’t think that he needs to be made better will never see God’s Kingdom! For, when we are driven by our own reason and the limited natures, sooner or later we settle for less because we have ceased to believe that we can find more. What I am trying to say is that we are made for God and our hearts ought to be restless until they rest in Him. The Christian believes that man is made to know and love God forever. But he knows also that he cannot do any good thing without [God]…and that only by [Him] can he be enabled to live according to [His]will. (Collect Trinity IX)
Yet, many Christians fall into trouble when they fail to surrender their bad situation to God’s Grace. St. Paul reminds us of this danger in this morning’s Epistle. He gives us the example of the ancient Jewish people whom God had delivered from bondage and slavery to the Egyptians. He tells us that, all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and did all eat the same spiritual meat; and did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ. (1 Cor. x. 1-4) The clouds and the sea reveal to us the natural and spiritual limitations of fallen human nature. Fallen human nature, as experienced by the Ancient Jews, is limited and dragged down by the demands of the body and sensual temptations. Fallen human nature is constrained and held back from the clear vision of God’s Word, Jesus Christ, and so must move forward under the cloud of unknowing until the Incarnation. In faith, the ancient Jews must move forward, acknowledge their sinful alienation from God, and repent. In faith, the ancient Jews must hope also for the fulfilment of God’s loving salvation that would come to them at last in Jesus Christ. The clouds and seas reveal man’s powerlessness and yet at the same time God’s Grace that stirs the ancient Jews to hope for the promise of a much, much better situation.
And yet what do we read next? But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness. (Ibid, 5) And why? They did not discern the spiritual meaning and purpose of the clouds. They did not unlearn their old natural and earthly ways. They thought that God was merely freeing them from temporal slavery and servitude to an earthly enemy. So, they fell into indulging the old bad situation of their sinful condition. They began to murmur, moan, groan, and complain, wondering all the while why God had delivered them from earthly slavery into what must have seemed a much worse earthy situation. Their obsession with earthly comfort then turned to lust, idolatry, and fornication. God fed them in the desert and the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play. (Ibid, 7) God began to make good out of a bad spiritual situation by calling them to become a spiritual people whose ultimate hope should rest in their coming salvation. They did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ. (Ibid, 4) St. Paul tells us that the ancient Jews were fed spiritually by the Word of God, or Christ the Rock. He warns us that if like them we should tempt Christ we too shall fall and be destroyed. Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. (Ibid, 12)
The ancient Jews were not mindful about how God was leading them forward through faith and hope into a much better spiritual situation. In this morning’s Gospel Parable of the Unjust Steward, Jesus teaches us how to move from a bad earthly situation into a much better spiritual one. In it, Christ tells the tale of an earthly businessman who had misused money lent to him by a wealthy creditor.
The creditor summons him to his office not only to dress him down but to fire him. He says, 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) And without missing a beat, perceiving the storm clouds looming above, the earthly underling thinks fast: How can I make good out of this very bad situation? What shall I do? for my lord taketh away from me the stewardship: I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed. I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses. (Ibid, 3,4) The unjust steward is proud, but he is also prudent. He knows that he can never repay the loan to his boss. Yet, he is determined not only to survive but to thrive. If the big boss won’t have him, he’ll at least respect him for having the wisdom and prudence to become a little boss. And more than that, he will not only make good out of a bad earthly situation for himself but for the big boss’ other debtors also. He’ll go into the debt-consolidation business! 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. (Ibid, 5-7) The long and short of it is that the big boss is impressed. It is not clear that the big boss had much hope in ever recalling any of his loans, and so he praises the earthly prudence with which his steward has secured this financial settlement. And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely…(Ibid, 8)
Jesus concludes the parable by saying that the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light. (Ibid, 8) Of course, Jesus tells the parable not to commend unjust stewardship. What is most instructive in the parable is the prudent due diligence and determination that can be found in the earthlysteward’s detection of the clouds and the need to reform and redeem his life in their shadow. Jesus suggests that unjust or fallen earthly man is often wiser than his spiritual counterpart when it comes to discerning the clouds and making the best out of bad situations. Like the unjust steward, we are in a bad situation, in that we can never repay our Lord, our spiritual creditor, what we owe Him. Like the unjust steward, we are unjust by reason of our spiritual negligence.
Monsignor Knox asks, Who is the Unjust Steward?...He is you and I and every one of us; we are all, as children of Adam, unfaithful servants who have been detected in our delinquency. By rights…we have forfeited every claim. (Pastoral and Occasional Sermons, p. 170) Under the clouds of our fallen existence, Christ insists that He cannot feed us until we identify with the unjust steward. We resist the comparison. But if we are honest, we know that we are tempted to be like the unjust steward with his unrighteous mammon. St. Paul reminds us there hath no temptation taken us, but such as is common to man. (1 Cor. x. 13) Perhaps the unjust steward is more common that we admit. Jesus says, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations. (St. Luke xvi, 9) Are we not all, by nature, the friends of the mammon of unrighteousness? Unjust mammon is that earthly treasure that is a friend to all men because we have some need of it to live. And the temptation to hoard and love money are common to man. Hoarding or loving it can only make us worse and never better! But perhaps we can use the temptation to make us all the more industrious and prudent in our pursuit of that better spiritual mammon that Christ the Rock has in store for us. God is faithful, who will not suffer [us] to be tempted above that [we] are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that [we] may be able to bear it. (1 Cor. x. 13) With prudence we shall discover that the way we escape and bear the temptation is by sharing the mammon of unrighteousness with all other men. The unjust steward helped his friends. So, why can’t we? Then, when we fail, or when we die, they -the poor and needy whom we fed because Christ the Rock has fed and clothed us spiritually, shall welcome us into everlasting habitations because we have allowed God to make the best out of our bad spiritual situation. (Idem)
O God whose never-failing providence ordereth all things
We concluded last week’s mediations with an exhortation to that zeal that turns back to and to accept with meekness the Engrafted Word that is able is save our souls. (St. James i. 21) Having learned that the Divine desire for all men is that they faint not, but rather feed continually on the living Word of God, we opened our souls to the ongoing nutriment that overcomes sloth. We prayed fervently that the love of God might, graf in our hearts the love of His name, increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness, and…keep us in the same. We prayed that the same providence that ordereth all things in heaven and earth, might rule and govern our lives zealously. Its actualization, we learned, would depend upon our willful desire and longing for its ongoing and effectual operation.
But what is this never-failing providence that we pray should overcome things hurtful to our pious zeal? Providence comes to us from the Latin providentia, and it means looking or seeing into. In former times the word was used to describe God’s knowledge of all things –past, present, and future, in the eternal now of His perfect vision. Some theological controversialists used it to defend the Divine nature against the claims of others who maintained that God can and does change His mind. The doctrine of Divine providence insists that God knows the present condition of all created life in all ages and simultaneously. Perhaps a simpler way of putting it is that nothing ever has or ever will escape His all-penetrating gaze and censorious vision and knowledge. Nothing escapes God’s seeing and knowing, because his never-failing providence orders all things in heaven and earth. Whether men acknowledge it or not, God’s thinking of all things is present to and determinative of everything that ever has, does, or will happen. What happens in the universe is subject completely to God’s will at all times. Even evil itself –a rejection of God’s Wisdom and Will, much to its own rage and resentment, ends up having meaning only in relation to God!
We might find this view of Divine providence not a little bit intimidating. The all-seeing eye of God, the surveyor and judge, might startle and frighten us. This is a good and healthy spiritual thing! Post-modern, materialistic Christians have become too used to treating God like the conceptual aider and abettor of temporary healing and earthly comfort. They gather and fancy presumptuously that God’s chief role and function in the universe is to overcome any physical or material impediment to human happiness and comfort. Of course, what they have forgotten is that familiarity breeds contempt. Spiritual familiarity –that tendency to presume upon God’s approval of our present choices and habits, betrays an arrogance or hubris that can never admit of the need for God’s Grace and His promise of salvation. The so-called Christian who has become overly familiar with God, uses Him as a tool and instrument for fulfilling human desire over and against the Divine Will.
Such a spiritual disposition is not, of course, one that God intends for us to embrace. God does indeed see and know all things. His ever-present gaze sifts, weighs, and measures the devices and desires of [all human] heart[s], or the intentions and motives of men’s hearts and their voluntary choices. Not only does He see, but also He knows; not only does He know, but also He judges and discerns where men’s voluntary choices situate them in relation to His Divine Love and Wisdom. God is nothing if not fair. St. Paul reminds us: Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. (Gal. vi. 7,8) What we will to think, say, and do shall, in the end, be summarized perfectly as what is one with or alienated from God’s love…forever.
What we should want, then, is for the Divine Wisdom to bring us to the knowledge and love of God forever. First, we need to discern or come to know God’s vision for all things and how He intends for them to be used. What I mean is that we should discover the forms and natures of created substances. Next, we must learn how to use them appropriately. St. Paul reminds us this morning that we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. (Romans viii. 12, 13)Providence, again, is the vision or knowledge by which God the Spirit enlivens, orders, rules, governs, informs, and defines created life. It is the Divine Wisdom which we must discover and perfect as knowledge becomes virtue in our everyday lives.
The author of this morning’s Old Testament lesson tells us that man best begins to open up to it through the fear of the Lord. All wisdom cometh from God and is with Him forever. (Ecclus. i. 1) We ought to fear God’s wisdom because it alone leads us to fulfill God’s intentions and purposes. An acorn is made to grow into an oak tree. Fire rises and burns. Water fertilizes to grow or cleanses to purge. Man is made to know the natures of all things and to return them to God through Love and Wisdom. Through knowing God’s Love or Wisdom, we come to will the Good. The fear of the Lord is that healthy state that admonishes and cautions us before we make any rational decision. Whoso feareth the Lord, it shall go well with him at the last. (Ecclus. i. 14) The fear of the Lord is a salutary reminder that we ought to use the creation only in God’s service now so that it may go well with us in the end. It is a salubrious sense of God’s omnipresent vision and desire for us. For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones. (Isaiah lvii. 15) The fear of the Lord engenders that humility of heart that wills the good. The fear of the Lord is to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate. (Prov. viii. 13)
God’s providence is His Divine Wisdom. St. Thomas, quoting Aristotle, says it belongs to the wise man to order….The name of the absolutely wise man, however, is reserved for him whose consideration is directed to the end of the universe, which is also the origin of the universe. That is why, according to the Philosopher, it belongs to the wise man to consider the highest causes.(SCG i. 1) The wise man rules his earthly life through the perfection of intellectual virtue. The wiser man knows that it belongs to the gift of wisdom to judge according to the Divine Truth. A man judges well what he knows. (Eth. i. 3, ST, ii, ii, xlv. 1) Divine Wisdom has become incarnate in the life of Jesus Christ. Christ the Word of God has borne the burden of human sin, lifting it from ignorance into knowledge by Divine Wisdom and lifting into righteousness by Divine Love. Wisdom made flesh now, as always, desires to rule and govern our lives. It teaches us that we should be debtors not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. (Romans viii. 12). Rather, the Divine providence intends that we should be illuminated and liberated by Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Cor. i. 24), remembering that if we through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, we shall live. (Romans viii. 13) Mortifying the deeds of the body is the means to a higher end.
In this morning’s Gospel, the wise man is compared to a good tree that bringeth forth good fruit. (St. Matthew vii. 17) The good fruit are the virtues that grow up out of a body tamed by the soul that serves the Spirit. Ιf the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you. (Ibid, 11)
In the face of Divine Wisdom, we must ask ourselves this morning these questions: Do I habitually acknowledge the never-failing providence that orders all things in heaven and earth? Do I fall down before God because my creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life depend upon His providence? Do I desire that His Wisdom might enter my soul and crucify all things hurtful that distract and delay my adhesion to His will? Do I remember that I was born to be a child of God’s omnipotent Wisdom through the fear of the Lord, seeking, knocking, and asking? As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. (Romans viii 14) The Spirit of Wisdom cries How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity? and the scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge? Turn you at my reproof: behold, I will pour out my Spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you. (Proverbs i. 21-23)
Today’s lessons do not merely teach us about vision or even willing a limited good. William Law reminds us that we are not the Christians that Christ intends because it is neither through ignorance, nor inability, but purely because you never thoroughly intended it. What we intend is moved by what we know and love. So, we pray, We humbly beseech thee to put away from us all hurtful things, and to give us those things which are profitable for us….(Collect, Trinity VIII) God knows that we are surrounded by wolves in sheep’s clothing. They intend to keep us focused on spurious earthly plagues that have all the potential to possess us as false gods. But Christ intends that we become the good fruit of the spiritual harvest that His Word alone yields in our souls. Our destination is Heaven, and if we hope to reach it, we must embrace His Spirit with zeal and prudent application. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.
O God who hast prepared for them that love Thee
such good things as pass man’s understanding…
(Collect: Trinity VI)
Trinity tide is all about growing in the knowledge and love of God; it is the green season, and in it, we focus on God’s spiritual harvesting of fertile virtue in our souls. The green vestments and Altar hangings of the season encourage us to pursue the fecundity of spiritual love with hope. We are being readied for things whose goodness, truth, and beauty exceed our wildest imagination. Yet the promised vision hinges upon our loving God above all things. The Divine Lover will reward our love for Him if we intend above all to be taken into His embrace. Our spiritual passion must be focused upon obtaining the Divine promises. Pour into our hearts such love toward Thee, that we, loving Thee above all things, may obtain Thy promises, which exceed all that we can desire. We love God above all things because we long to be rewarded with what His love has intended for us all along.
But the virtue of loving God is not easily attained. Last week, as St. Peter and his fellow Apostles obeyed Jesus by letting down their nets for a draught of fishes and found themselves the beneficiaries of supernatural power, they surrendered themselves to the radical otherness of God in Jesus. So, with a deeper fear of the Lord, their faith in Jesus was stirred to forsake all and follow Him. (St. Luke v. 11) For, they were being caught up in Christ’s net. Slowly but surely they began to die to themselves as they began to love Him who loved them with the Love He receives from the Father. To be loved inspires a potential response. As the Apostles were touched by the love of God in the heart of Jesus, they would then begin to return the same love.
But if we are going to learn how to love God above all things, we had better begin with obedience, the fear of the Lord, and faith in God’s promises. Christ says to us today that except [our] righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, [we] shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. (St. Matthew v. 20) The righteousness or justice of the ancient Jews –of the Scribes and Pharisees – is the law of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Jesus makes it clear that the observance of this law reveals a primitive spiritual posture that is bent on resentment and revenge. The man who practices this law thinks much too highly of himself and all others as the servants of his self-importance. It judges men and then rewards or punishes according to the measure of self-interest. It elevates human justice as ultimate and final. And, as Romano Guardini reminds us, so long as we cling to this human justice, we will never be guiltless of injustice. As long as we are entangled in wrong and revenge, blow and counterblow, aggression and defense, we will be constantly drawn into fresh wrong. (The Lord, p. 81) Think about it. We expect to receive what we mete out. We reward good and punish evil, and we feel that we have in some way advanced the cause of justice in the world. That we have never given much thought to how God sees the situation is evidenced in our over-inflated egos, exaggerated and embellished hurts and wounds, and destructive identification of injustice done to us with some kind of cosmic event. We think that we have won a victory for justice when in truth we have become the unwitting victims of an unending cycle of sin. Vengeance is mine. I will repay, saith the Lord. (Romans xii. 19)
Jesus goes on to locate the origin and cause of our inadequate love and exaggerated hate in the soul. Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: but I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.(Ibid, 21, 22) By reason of our fallen spiritual condition we naturally love those who love us and hate those who hate us. We love those less who do not love us enough and hate those more who hate us passionately. We judge their inadequate love to be hate and we respond in kind or worse. And while there may be just cause for righteous anger in certain situations, Christ seems to imply that this is all the more reason to love with greater passion in the interests of helping an offending brother out of his sin and into righteousness. This is what God wants. Yet because of our own insecurities, we respond with, Raca or Thou Fool! The Biblical Scholars tells us that Raca means worthless or empty one. So, Jesus says that the man who is angry with his brother and not the cause (Idem), is in spiritual trouble. Jesus says that what happens is that the sinner and not his sin has become an object of retaliation and retribution. What has happened is that the offending party has been elevated to the status of a worthless and empty false god. If we hadn’t made him into a false god, we would treat him with that love and hope that Jesus has for all men.
Jesus teaches us that the real threat to loving [God] above all things is inward spiritual insecurity and fear. Anger or wrath shields them by deflecting any challenge or contest. What is feared most is the illumination of God’s truth through the power of His love. When one hates another man, he ceases to hope for that man’s conversion and salvation. He judges his enemy –if he even is an enemy, because he has never felt the healing power of God’s mercy in his own soul. He is afraid to be touched by God’s love. He forgets that his soul is always desired by God for healing and transformation. Because he is afraid, he finds God’s love too daunting to accept because its conditions are too burdensome.
However, if God’s merciful curative love begins to touch and change human life, as it did with the Apostles, there is hope that it will grow into the discovery of God’s promises. It must be embraced passionately and with all due diligence. All potential threats to its growth in the soul must be abandoned with all haste. Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother …Agree with thine adversary quickly…lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. (Ibid, 24,25) What imperils the growth of God’s love in our hearts is our condemnation of other men. The angry pursuit of earthly justice elevates human injury to the level of Divine importance. Human justice may yield limited vengeance against an earthly enemy, but what does it harvest? A crop of self-satisfaction that quenches the spiritual discovery of those good things as pass man’s understanding…and the promises that exceed all that we can desire. What is lost is the needful and merciful love of God which longs to lift the accuser and accused above their division and difference and into His loving intention for all. Anger makes [a man] smaller, while forgiveness enables him to grow beyond what he was. (Cherie Carter-Scott)
Jesus teaches us that if we long for such good things as pass man’s understanding, we need God’s compassionate love as the only curative and corrective that can heal and save us. We must bring to death anything and everything that impedes the progress of our loving God above all things. We must admit, with Dr. Jenks, that we have foolishly and wickedly forsaken the fountain of living waters, to hew to ourselves broken cisterns, that can hold no water; shutting our hearts against the love of our chiefest good…preferring trifles and vanities of this present time; and the satisfaction of our own foolish and hurtful lusts, above God and His love, which is better than life itself. (Jenks, Prayers…168)
So if we would embrace God’s love, we must agree with our adversary quickly. (Idem) This is the testing ground for our love. On it God sees whether we truly are aiming to love Him above all things. Agreeing with our adversary quickly means that we ought to listen quietly and calmly to those who have something against us. It encourages us to lift our enemy up into the heart of God and to pray for rather than judge him with a harsh word or violent affection. Geoffrey Chaucer tells us that the remedy for anger is gentleness and patience. Gentleness is a posture of goodwill that quashes impulsive rash rage in order to discern our enemy’s sickness and pray for his cure. Patienceendures our enemy’s spiritual illness out of love for his salvation. Both gentleness and patience are virtues that come out of the heart of Christ who loves God above all things. Christ enlarges His heart to welcome us into His loving. His gentleness and patience enabled His love to go to the Cross for us. But His love does not cease to flow back to God and out to all men in His death. His love is that Divine gentleness and patience that rises up into Resurrection and Ascension and then descends once again into Pentecostal fire. It loves God above all things and loves God in and for all things. It seeks what is above in order to penetrate and convert what is below. Because it is always returning to its source, it can bring good out of evil, right out of wrong, and love out of hate. This is the love that exceeds our intellect’s imagination. It is the love that we find at the Cross. St. Paul reminds us that if we embrace this love, we shall be dead unto sin and alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans vi. 11) This is the love of the Crucified One, who died unto sin once, so that we might live unto God through Him.
Of course, Christ doesn’t force His love upon us, and we mustn’t force it upon others. It is enforced only through law and order when the most wicked of men must acquiesce through tough love. But we must pray for them, regardless. Divine love must be desired so that its nature can be cherished. And so long as we do not agree with our adversary quickly, we merely postpone its discovery and thus forsake its effects.
…The people pressed upon him to hear the word of God…
(St. Luke v. 1)
Are you spending your life pressing upon [Jesus] to hear the Word of God? (Idem) And if you are, what good has it done you? Do your neighbors recognize the Word of God made flesh alive in your souls? Or does your Christianity involve only an institutional identification that has made others think no further than this address or location? Jane is a quaint gal. I believe that she goes to that Anglican Church near the Mexican restaurant. Perhaps you come to this church and hear the Word of God on Sundays. Does your religion travel with you out of these doors? St. James tells us, Be ye doers of the Word, and not hearers only. (St. James i. 22)Are you doers of the Word or hearers only? Hearing is one thing; doing is quite another. Today we are invited to press upon Jesus to hear God’s Word so that hearing it we might then obey. Obedience will be the key to the door of doing God’s Word.
Prior to this morning’s Gospel Lesson, Jesus had been thrown out of His home town of Nazareth, barely escaping with His life. No prophet is accepted in his own country. (St. Luke iv. 24). So, He travelled into Capernaum where His Word was both authoritative and effective. In Capernaum, Christ had cast a demon out of a possessed man, he drove a fever out of Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, and had cast unclean spirits out of many others. Finally, He had retired to a desert place to recuperate in prayer.
Next we read that Jesus moved down into the fishing village of Genesaret, thronged by a mob of people who would hear the Word of God. That the crowd was now determined to hearGod’s Word is a sign that they are awakened to the spiritual power and love beneath and behind the signs and wonders that He performed. To see Christ alive and at work in the lives of common men compels seekers to hear God’s Word and to follow Him into another dimension. Because the crowd was so large and pressed upon Him so earnestly, Jesus entered into one of the ships, which was Simon’s, and prayed him that he would thrust out a little from the land. (St. Luke v. 3) If we would press upon [Jesus] to hear God’s Word, we must allow the Word to thrust out a little from the land. (Ibid, 3) The land signifies the established world of human reason, commerce, and busy-ness. The business of the land is characterized by that clamor, confusion, hustle, and bustle that always accompany man’s obsessive pursuit of earthly ends. Christ must thrust out a little from the land in order to be freed from those earthly distractions that compete loudly and selfishly with the Word of God that all people must hear.
But notice too that our Gospel image provides us with an image of two kinds of people that are involved. First there are the people who must be content to remain on the shore to hear God’s Word, and then those whose hearing will yield to obedience. Of course, Christ intends that both groups should be caught up in His net as spiritual fish, eventually, as Archbishop Trench reminds us, but the Apostles must be converted from hearing to doing first so that later they could become fishers of the other men for Christ. So, Saint Peter in particular, and then Saints James and John who were with him in the boat, represent the fish that are first caught up into Christ’s net. The people on the shore represent the fish that will be caught on land once the Apostles return from having been culled from the deeper waters of Christ’s spiritual sea. Each group signifies the different stages of hearing and doing that characterize man’s nearness and distance from God in Jesus Christ.
Next, we read that both the fish out of water on the land and the fish out of water in the ships hear the Word of God preached by Christ. One group is invited to hear and then to launch out further onto the sea through obedience. Simon, like his fellow fishers on land, has had a long, unsuccessful night of fishing. Matthew Henry tells us that One would have thought this should have excused them from Christ’s sermon; but it was more refreshing and reviving to them than the softest slumbers. (Comm. Luke V) The people on the shore would hear Christ’s preaching, but they did not have the same determination to procure the refreshing and reviving that it must bring. The fishermen on shore washed their nets and went to bed. The Apostles would turn from their failure and fatigue not only to hear the good Word that Christ would speak but also to discover its power through obedience. Obedience perfects hearing. When Christ had left speaking, He said unto Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught. And Simon answering said unto Him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing…(Ibid, 4,5) The Apostles worked hard to catch their fish, but Christ always has a better work for them to do since earthy aims at worldly ends always fail. With the same industrious zeal that made them try their hand at good fishing, they would turn to Christ for succor. Christ would take their perseverance and passion and inflame it anew with His plans for them. For though Peter’s natural gifts might falter and fail, he entrusts himself to Christ with hope for another kind of gain. Nevertheless, at thy Word, I will let down the net. (Ibid)
And when they had this done, they inclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net brake. And they beckoned unto their partners, which were in the other ship, that they should come and help them. And they came, and filled both the ships, so that they began to sink. (Ibid, 6,7) The miracle stops them in their tracks in different ways. Peter, James, and John call on their partners to pull in the haul of fishes that caused the boats to sink. James and John are silent and speechless. Peter alone will respond with the whole of himself. When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord. For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the draught of the fishes which they had taken: and so was also James, and John, the sons of Zebedee, which were partners with Simon. (Ibid, 8-10) St. Peter is overwhelmed by the power of God that he finds in the Person of Jesus Christ. Nature’s creatures which had refused to fall for the fishermen’s skill were now jumping to obey the Lord’s command. No natural need, no natural alarm accounts for this unanimous tendency amongst the fish; drawn by an unseen force, they forget their favorite pools…and all head one way. The Lord of Nature has bid them come. (R. Knox, Parochial Sermons, Ignatius, p. 501) Both Christ’s rule and nature’s obedience elicit Peter’s dramatic fall. Archbishop Trench describes Peter’s realization: The deepest thing in a man’s heart…is a sense of God’s holiness as something bringing death and destruction to the unholy creature. (Miracles, 102)
The crowd on the shore heard the Word of God from Jesus. The fish heard the Word and rendered themselves wholly submissive to the Lord of all creation’s intentions for the Apostles. The natural world yields to Christ’s power and St. Peter imitates their devotion. Father Mouroux reminds us that man must realize that [he] is dust and ashes before his God, that however much he abounds he is always a poverty-stricken thing hanging on the Divine Mercy, and however much he may be purified he is still a sinner face to face with Holiness. (The Meaning of Man, p. 217) The fish only and ever hang upon the Divine Mercy for their existence. Nature’s creatures yield to the Maker’s power. Peter falls down and joins his friends –the dying fish. Peter must die spiritually in order imitate the dying fish. Peter is a fish caught up into the net of Christ.
Yet it is Christ's will that this death which Peter, James, and John begin to endure should be turned into new life. Again, with Archbishop Trench, they find themselves in a state of Grace, in which all the contradiction is felt, God is still a consuming fire, yet not any more for the sinner, but for [his sin] in the presence of God…[whose] glory is veiled, whose nearness…every sinful man may endure, and in that nearness may little by little be prepared for the…open vision of the face of God. (Idem) Jesus says, Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men. (Ibid, 10) Peter, James, John, and the other Apostles are called to become fishers of men. But not before they fall down and die to their former selves. What they must see at once is that God’s Word’s made flesh alone can bring them out of death and into new life. The Word heardmust be obeyed.
So what does it mean to be caught up as spiritual fish into Christ’s net and to become fishers of men?
We read at the conclusion of our Gospel that when the [Apostles] had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed him. (Ibid, 11) Our Gospel tells us that the Apostles became not only hearers of God’s Word but doers also, and doers because they became obedient to Christ. Forsaking all means doing what Christ the Word commands.Forsaking all means beginning to die to the old man and coming alive to the new. Our doing must include not fearing harm if we follow that which is good, since happy shall we be as we suffer for righteousness’ sake, not being troubled because we are sanctifying the Lord in our hearts. (1 Peter iii. 13,14)
In closing, let us remember that the Word of God can flourish and bloom [only if] it is welcomed; it can act [only if] it is activated, [for] all the infinitude of its power comes from the adoring passivity in which it lies open to God. (Mouroux, p. 217) The Apostles could have returned to fishing for fish to become rich. Instead, hearing of God’s Word in Jesus Christ drew them out of the deep waters of sin and death to become doers of the Word through obedience in Christ’s Net of salvation. We pray in our Collect today the course of this world might be so peaceably ordered so that we can embrace Christ the Word in all godly quietness. Today’s world is noisy with violence and sin. There isn’t much peace. We must, nevertheless, make time for that godly quietness that helps us to find ourselves as fish out of water in the presence of Christ the Word who will make us into fishers of men once again.
Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.
(1 St. Peter v. 6,7)
Trinity tide is all about participating in the life of God the Holy Trinity. In the season of Trinity, we are exhorted to return to God the Father, through Jesus Christ the Son, and by the effectual sanctification of the Holy Ghost. What we are invited to participate in is nothing short of the eternal dynamism of the Triune God. This eternal dynamism was intended for us in our creation. Man was created to live in and through the Father alone, by obeying His Word, through the indwelling of the Spirit. But man can find God, know his Truth, and walk in His Way, only by way of that humility. Humility alone teaches us that we are lost and about to be found by Jesus the Good Shepherd.
But in Adam because of sin all are lost, fallen, and have died to God. In Jesus Christ alone can all be found, purified, and made of worth to God once again. To do so, we need to discover the humility that conquers the pride that makes us the children of Adam. Prior to the Fall, Adam possessed the virtue of humility. The virtue reveals what we know and how we can will the good that God intends for us. St. Ambrose tells us that this morning’s Gospel helps us to begin to acquire both.
In the teaching of our Lord which preceded [today’s] Gospel reading you learned that we are to put away all carelessness, to avoid conceit, to begin to be earnest in religion, not to be held fast to the things of this world, not to place fleeting things before those that endure forever. (St. Ambrose: Exposition of the Gospel)
St. Ambrose teaches us to be careful about holy things, the things that matter and lead to our salvation. He tells us to avoid conceit since an overinflated sense of self-satisfaction will inflate us with a pride that forgets God’s nature as our Creator and Redeemer. He tells us to be earnest in religion because we must pursue that humility that situates us under the mighty hand of God. The things of this world cannot save us. They are creatures and yield only impermanent satisfaction. We must set our mind’s vision and our heart’s affection on God’s desire to find and redeem us.
So, we must find ourselves to be in the company of those who are without conceit and pursue Jesus in earnest. Today, we read of the publicans and sinners who draw near to Jesus to hear Him (St. Luke xv. 1) because they have a greater need for what Jesus offers. They have been rejected by the religious people of their day. The publicans were Jewish tax-collectors working for the Roman overlords. They were judged as traitors by pious Jews. The sinners in Jesus’ time were marked out by the religious establishment, the pharisees and scribes, as notorious livers –drunkards, prostitutes, and lepers. They had little reason to be arrogant with conceit and thus draw near to Jesus to hear Him because He finds them and longs to save them. Jesus finds the publicans and sinners because they were ripe for conversion. They seemed most open to what moved Jesus because He did not condemn them but wanted to help them. They knew that they were lost and they knew that Jesus desired to find them.
But no sooner do we find Jesus communing with the publicans and sinners, than we find thatthe Pharisees and Scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them. (St. Luke xv. 2) More often than not, religious people think that Christ is for other people, for the notorious livers that live on the outskirts of their goodness. They pride themselves in being right with God because they do good works and are self-satisfied and contented with the level of goodness they possess. Externally and visibly they give off the appearance of a goodness that they want neither questioned or challenged. Thus, they measure themselves in relation to others and conclude that they are good and others are not. We do this also. Listen to Thomas Merton:
I have what you have not. I am what you are not. I have taken
what you failed to take and I have seized what you could never
get. Therefore, you suffer and I am happy; you are despised and I
am praised, you die and I live; you are nothing and I am something,
and I am the more something because you are nothing. And I thus
spend my life admiring the distance between you and me…
(The Seeds of Contemplation, pg. 33)
Such is the spiritual condition of those who cannot identify with today’s publicans and sinners. When men live in this way, they have lost all sense of their own sinfulness. They do not know that they are lost because they measure themselves not by Jesus but by others. They behave like the Scribes and Pharisees because they are filled with spiritual pride. Thinking that they are moving up in the world, they are really straying down and away from God like lost sheep. They forget that they are the sheep of God, always in danger of erring and straying from His ways. They ignore the words of Jeremiah: Hear the word of the Lord, O ye nations, and declare it in the isles afar off, and say, He that scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him, as a shepherd doth his flock. (Jer. xxi. 10)
Identifying with the publicans and sinners is a good way to begin our journey into the life of God the Holy Trinity. Only those who are broken, despised, abandoned, and forsaken by their fellow men can know and feel the need for God’s saving power. Jesus uses today’s two parables to show us the nature of our spiritual condition and His remedy for it. In the parable of the lost sheep, Jesus shows that He has compassion on those who have foolishly and unwittingly ended up being spiritually lost. Sin is oftentimes an ignorance. (Trench: Parables, p. 288) St. Paul tells us that he was once a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did itignorantly in unbelief. (1 Tim. i. 13) How often have we sinners fallen into sins that we thought were forms of goodness or remedies to an already too painful life? How often do we settle for a good that is less because have not believed that Jesus the Good Shepherd intends us to have so much more than the righteousness of the scribes and pharisees?
In addition, how often do we mistake our sin for lesser goods never realizing that we are precious sheep in the Heart of a Loving God who sends His Good Shepherd to find us? How often do we forget that He longs to find us because we are made in His Image and Likeness? How often have we thought that we have no value, meaning, or worth? How long is it before we discover that we are made to be a royal people whose very natures are minted in the treasury of a great King? How long is it before we discover that we are like the lost coin of a woman who lights a candle, sweeps the house, and searches diligently until she finds it? (Ibid, 8)
Jesus spake these parables to publicans and sinners because they were nearest to the Kingdom of Heaven. They are closest to His Kingdom because they know that they have erred and strayed foolishly from God’s ways. Jesus knows that they feel lost and that they sense that they have no true meaning and worth. He knows them and so lovingly moves out to find and redeem them. Their fellow men have ostracized and demeaned them. But now they find one who will do all that He can to find them and bring true value to their lives. He will enter into their dark sadness and loneliness. He will not stop searching for them even if it costs Him His own suffering and death. He will find them and save them even from the Cross of His Forgiveness. This Good Shepherd would lay down His life for His sheep. (St. John x. 15)
Are we publicans and sinners? We can discover their humility only when we realize that we are lost and need to be found. St. Bonaventure, the great 13th century Minister General of the Friars Minor, wrote this of his founder, the great St. Francis.
From [St. Francis’] entrance into religion even
unto the end he loved and cherished humility. Humility compelled
St. Francis to leave the world.
Humility drove him in beggar's garb through the streets of Assisi.
Because he was humble, he served the lepers. For the same reason,
when preaching he made public his sins. His humility caused him to
ask others to upbraid him for his faults.
St. Francis came from an upper-class merchant family in Assisi. He became a notable warrior for his city-state. He was taken prisoner and was held captive in prison for a year. In prison he became sick and his conversion began. At last he was returned to the comfort of his family home. Still he was sick in body, unsatisfied in soul, and restless in spirit. His family’s riches could not comfort and relieve him. He had to leave their world. So, he began to walk the streets of Assisi only to find in the gutters of the city the beggers and lepers whom the good Christians of Italy had forgotten and forsaken. There he found the lost sheep of the Jesus Christ. There he found those who had been judged to be without value. He who was lost found the lost. He who was without value found God’s treasure of great worth. In them, he saw God’s Image and Likeness. In all humility, he fell down before Jesus. In the ecstasy of joy, through his new friends Jesus had found him and began to redeem him. In the lepers, publicans, and sinners, he began to find the righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and pharisees. Then, he repented and believed. They ministered to him and he ministered to them. Then, as G.K. Chesterton has said, expecting nothing, he found everything. Jesus the Good Shepherd had found His sheep. Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth. (Ibid, 10) So, as we pray today’s Collect, let us likewise live out St. Peter’s teaching of humility by taking hold of Christ’s care for us in the power of the Trinity that the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you. To him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.
And so, we love Him because he first loved us. (1 John 4. 19) 19)
Trinity tide is all about the moral life rooted in the vision of truth that we see in God. Today I will speak about the friendship of God and man. Throughout the seasons of the liturgical year you and I have been illuminated progressively by the knowledge of God so that we might come to find friendship with Him. If Eastertide might be called the season of vision and knowledge, Trinity tide is one of moral activity. To know God through vision, as He reveals Himself in the historical life of Jesus Christ, is not enough. Vision is knowledge, but knowledge for the Christian is also Truth that bears fruit in the good life.
We find our vision of God in Jesus Christ. The knowledge of God in Jesus Christ is what we have been working through from Lent to Ascension Tide. We have come to the knowledge of what God thinks like, sounds like, and acts like in the Sacred Humanity of Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. What we see in Jesus Christ is the Wisdom, Power, and Love of God the Father perfectly at work in the human life of Jesus. St. Paul tell us, For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich. (2 Cor. viii. 9) St. Paul hopes that we might find the knowledge or vision of God in His Son that [our] hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgement of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ; in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Colossians ii. 2-4) St. Paul teaches us that Jesus Christ sets aside the treasure and plenitude of His Divine state in order to become poor for our sakes. The Wisdom, Power, and Love of God are the only treasure that ought to interest every earthly man. Jesus possesses this treasure forever as the only-begotten Son of the Father. He has always intended that it should be what moves us most in all of our lives. Adam was made to be moved and defined by this gift of invaluable worth. Jesus returns it to us by becoming poor in relation to Heaven so that we might become rich in the experience of everlasting joy and felicity because we can come to know and love God forever in His Kingdom. How does Jesus become poor? He takes on our frail, weak, suffering human nature. He takes on our sin and subjects Himself to it. He reveals how the Omnipotent Word of God made Flesh responds to sinful man’s attempt to mock it, deride it, torture it, and kill it in Man. He reveals how, as God’s Word in the Flesh, He will die to all earthly knowledge and covetousness to conquer it. He subjects Himself to His own Law when he said, What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light: and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops. And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. (St. Matthew x. 27, 28)
In this morning’s Epistle, St. John reminds us that no man hath seen God at any time (1 John 4. 12). But he tells us also that God is love. (Ibid, 8) God is one who desires and longs for, seeks out and finds a common ground of friendship with us in Jesus Christ our Lord. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4. 10) So, we love Him because he first loved us. (1 John 4. 19) God is Love, and that Love is expressed in His Word. His Word is His Son. His Son not only creates, orders, defines, governs, beautifies, and harmonizes all of creation, but He also comes to all men whom He has made in order to redeem and reconcile them to Himself. To know this is to begin to see how the Word of God made flesh in Jesus Christ became poor for our sakes. St. John tells us that every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. (Idem, 7,8) In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. (1 John 4. 9) And here is the operative difference between those who live naturally in and through the world and us. God sent His only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. The knowledge that we have and the truth which we confess is nothing short of new life, life in communion with our Heavenly Father through the Son by the real and present operation of the Holy Spirit. Our knowledge of Jesus Christ is meant to form a new moral character in our lives as we follow Jesus back to God the Father.
And yet we cannot have any of this until what we know that we must follow Jesus from poverty into the riches and treasures of His Kingdom. In other words, we must make an act of will that surrenders completely to Jesus Christ by forfeiting and foregoing all rights to ourselves. God is Love, and He loves us in and through His Son. This Love who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. (Philipians ii. 7,8) We can be like most men of the world, good enough, but loving and living only for the here and now. They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them. (1 John 4. 5) We can be like Dives - the rich man in today’s Gospel, who was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day, (St. Luke xvi. 19) whose was rich in earthly things, lorded it over others, and cared little for that deeper Mercy and Love that stoops down to lift up the poor and needy of this world. Or if we are rich like those who are full of tongue and weak of mind (R.Hooker, E.P., i. viii. 2), we might be like Dives in another way - perhaps we count ourselves rich spiritually. We feast sumptuously on Christ’s Body and Blood each week, we pay our tithes and live fairly moral lives, and count ourselves blessed, hoping all the while that this might earn us our salvation!
Being like Dives or the rich man may mean that we are either material or spiritual hoarders. In this morning’s Gospel, Dives walked over Lazarus, who was laid at his gate, full of sores and desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. (Ibid, 20, 21) The literal interpretation of Dives’ moral character was that he was uncompassionate and parsimonious with his earthly treasure. The spiritual interpretation is that Dives could have cared less for the spiritual welfare of this poor beggar Lazarus who found love only from the dogs [who] came and licked his sores. (Ibid, 21) In either case Dives did not know God, love God, or love His neighbor. Friendship with God too great seemed too costly a price to pay for a man who was possessed with earthly treasure. So, in the end, his soul is parched and tormented forever because he rejected the knowledge of God and the love that it necessarily implies. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; and in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. (Ibid, 22,23) Dives might have known God, but his knowledge had not been converted into Love of God or his neighbor.
Unlike Lazarus, who had nothing here but longed for the more that only God can give, Dives is left with the dried fruit of a narcissistic arrogant self-love that rejects God’s offer of loving friendship with man. Had he received the Love of God in Jesus Christ, he would have emptied himself of his riches in order to stoop down and lift up those who were materially and spiritually destitute. St. John tells us this morning that If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? (1 John 4. 20) If a man does not love his brother whom he has seen with his natural eyes, then he does not know God’s love for everyman. With Dives, we shall find ourselves in Hell forever where there is a great gulf fixed…an eternal separation, a yawning chasm, too deep to be filled up and too wide to be bridged over. (Trench, Parables…)
Today we come to know about the friendship of God and Man in Jesus the Word of God, who lives out the Summary of the Law: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, soul, strength, and mind. And thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. In the Love of Jesus, we find the Father’s rich spiritual treasure come down from Heaven to all of us. This Love that became poor in the flesh for us alone can make us right with God and rich with His treasure. Through our knowledgeof God’s Love in Jesus Christ we must become poor, so poor that in Jesus we die to the world, the flesh, and the devil. Thus, we must know that if our neighbors are poor materially, they will be forever vexed with anxiety over earthly things -ironically enough, like Dives. Without the Love of God and neighbor, with Dives we shall find ourselves in a state of eternal spiritual poverty. And so in today’s Collect we pray, O God…because through the weakness of our mortal nature we can do no good thing without thee, grant us the help of thy Grace, that in keeping of thy commandments we may please thee both in will and deed. As elucidated so beautifully in our Epistle and exhorted so plainly in our Gospel, let us share God’s love for us and love poor neighbor, welcoming him to join us in pursuit of Heaven’s treasure. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. (1 St. John iv. 16)
As the briefest liturgical season in the Church Year, Ascension-tide lasts only ten days. We believe that on the fortieth day after Easter Christ ascended to the Father. Ten days later the Holy Spirit was sent into the womb of the nascent Church on the feast of the Pentecost or Whitsunday. So we have but a few days to examine the significance and meaning of the Ascension for us.
The Ascension is Jesus Christ’s return to the eternal state that He shares, as Son, with the Father and the Holy Spirit. In the Ascension, Christ returns our human nature back to its origin with God the Father so we might begin again to obey God, honor God and, finally, glorify God. In the simplest of terms, Christ the Son of God, in a Resurrected and Glorified state, returns human life to communion with God the Father. Each thought, word, and deed, every motivation and inclination towards God are now reconciled with the Father. In turn, every act of Grace that enables us to love, obey, and serve God is given to us as Christ returns to us in the Holy Spirit.
Faithful man had been yearning to ascend back to God since the time of Israel’s primordial Fall. But he found himself in the midst of a godless and idolatrous people. There is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee: for thou hast hid thy face from us, and hast consumed us, because of our iniquities. (Is. lxiv. 7) Sin had enslaved the ancient Jews; Man was unable to return to God what he had taken from him. What did man take from God? Man took the obedience he owed God. Man took the honor he owed God. Man took the potential glory that he was destined to share with God. And so the prophet cries out for the forgiveness of sins sufficient to return man to God. But now, O Lord, thou art our Father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand. Be not wroth very sore, O Lord, neither remember iniquity forever: behold, see, we beseech thee, we are all thy people. (Ibid, 8,9) Acknowledging his sin, and the collective wickedness of his people, the prophet faithfully cries out to God for deliverance and salvation. Israel may have unmade herself, but God can and will fashion her anew if only she lifts up her eyes unto the hills from whence cometh her help.
With Psalmist, the prophet is powerless to fight against spiritual powers that have the advantage over him. O help us against the enemy, for vain is the help is man. (Ps. lxiv. 12) So, his heart ascends up passionately within as he soars up to sing the song of faith. O GOD, my heart is ready, my heart is ready; I will sing, and give praise with the best member that I have. Awake, thou lute and harp; I myself will awake right early. I will give thanks unto thee, O LORD, among the peoples; I will sing praises unto thee among the nations. (Ps. cviii. 1-3) From the ground of his soul the fire of faith envelops, informs, and consumes his heart. The music of the spiritual lute and harp call him up into the song of praise and thanksgiving. He thanks God anticipatorily for what he believes and trusts shall shortly come to pass. For thy mercy is greater than the heavens, and thy truth reacheth unto the clouds. Set up thyself, O God, above the heavens, and thy glory above all the earth; That thy beloved may be delivered: let thy right hand save them, and hear thou me. (Ibid, 4-6) Deliverance comes only from above. The glory that can be man’s reward once again must come from God’s right hand.
Christians believe that what Isaiah reached out and hoped for was the Incarnation of God’s right hand Man, even His own Son. What was desired from above has come down to the earth in the Mission and Ministry of Jesus Christ, God with us and for us. The Word of God’s promise that was held in faith and embraced in hope then was made flesh and dwelt among us. (St. John i. 14) And yet the chief purpose of His Incarnation was that man’s human nature might once again become a living sacrifice, wholly acceptable unto God. (Romans xii. 1) Man was made to live above Himself, conformed to God’s will, and always to become clay in the hand of the potter.
But in Christ, we are not only called to become clay in the hand of the potter but also placed into his kiln. We are called not only to be refashioned but also to be redeemed. This cannot be done until Christ takes us into the fire of His sacrifice, the fire that destroys all sin and death. His suffering and death constitute the necessary first moments in man’s return to God. His suffering and death are the kiln in which the Potter is firing up the clay for new life through a Sacrifice that will begin on earth and ascend up into Heaven. As Paul Claudel writes, Jesus Christ, the Man-God, the highest expression of creation, rises from the depths of matter where the Word was born by uniting with woman’s obedience, toward that throne which was predestined for Him at the right hand of the Father. From this place He continues to exercise his magnetic power on all creatures; all feel deep within them that summons, that injunction, to ascend. (I Believe…159) God’s Son was always called by the Father into Ascending Sacrifice. Throughout the whole of His life, He suffered and died to Himself as He mounted and ascended in heart and soul back to God. Since the time of His Ascension, He has called all men to do the same through the Sacrifice that He shares with us. When the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, He shall testify of me. (St. John xv. 26) From His Ascension seat in Heaven, the Son of God sends His Spirit to lift up our hearts back to the Father, beginning here and now.
But before the Holy Spirit’s descending fiery love begins to enable us to be made one with the offering of our humanity back to the Father in Jesus Christ, we must find ourselves in Christ’s ascent back to the Father. Our eyes must follow diligently the flame of fiery love that lifts and carries Christ back to the Father. Bishop Westcott reminds us that we are meant to penetrate to the passion of the ascending Jesus. We are encouraged to work beneath the surface of things to that which makes all things, all of us, capable of consecration. Then it is, that the last element in our confession as to Christ’s work speaks to our hearts. He is not only present with us as Ascended: He is active for us. (Sermons…) Christ’s Ascension is what stands over and against all other things as high above all other things. True Sacrifice calls us away from the mundane and into the heavenly. Austin Farrer describes the movement nicely:
WE are told in an Old Testament tale, how an angel of God having appeared to man disappeared again by going up in the flame from the altar. And in the same way Elijah, when he could no more be found, was believed to have gone up on the crests of flaming horses. The flame which carried Christ to heaven was the flame of his own sacrifice. Flame tends always upwards. All his life long Christ's love burnt towards the heart of heaven in a bright fire, until he was wholly consumed in it, and went up in that fire to God. The fire is kindled on our altars, here Christ ascends in fire; the fire is kindled in the Christian heart, and we ascend. He says to us, Lift up your hearts; and we reply, We lift them up unto the Lord.
In the ascending flame, our desire must tend upwards and burn towards the heart of heaven in a bright fire. We pray that the flame of our own sacrifice might become one with Christ’s so that the fire of God’s love might lift us into the Heaven of His new life. We pray we shall lift our hearts up unto the Lord because in the blazing fire of Heaven’s light we are beginning to see that the truest offering of man to God is found in Christ’s Ascending Sacrifice. Old earth-bound habits, customs, and ideals must be burnt up in the surpassing power of God’s Grace in Christ’s ascending heart. Christ, who now sits at God’s right hand, intercedes and pleads for us. Christ longs forever to share the Sacrifice of His Ascended Life with us so that our love might burn towards the heart of heaven in a bright fire, and be wholly consumed in it.
St. Peter tells us this morning that the end of all things is at hand because Christ has returned all of creation to the Father. We must be therefore sober, and watchful unto prayer. (1 St. Peter iv. 7) Our minds must be drawn back to the same Jesus who has taught us in parables, astounded us with miracles, rebuked us in love, and called us forward to the Cross of His Passion. The life of Christ has always been one Sacrifice that Ascends back to the Father because man is made for God. We must have our conversation with Christ in Heaven, to love His appearing, and to be dissolved into His love. (Jenks, 352) We must pray that we may feel the powerful attraction of Christ’s Grace and Holy Spirit, to draw up our minds and desires from the poor perishing enjoyments here below, to those most glorious and everlasting attainments above where Christ sits at the right hand of God. (Idem, Jenks) The poet would have the passion of Christ’s Ascending Love bring us through death, resurrection, and into Ascension Life.
Lord, when the sense of thy sweet grace
Sends up my soul to seek thy face.
Thy blessed eyes breed such desire,
I die in love's delicious Fire.
O love, I am thy Sacrifice.
Be still triumphant, blessed eyes.
Still shine on me, fair suns! that I
Still may behold, though still I die.
Though still I die, I live again;
Still longing so to be still slain,
So gainfull is such losse of breath.
I die even in desire of death.
Still live in me this loving strife
Of living Death and dying Life.
For while thou sweetly slayest me
Dead to my selfe, I live in Thee.
(A Song: Richard Crashaw)
For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned
unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.
(1 St. Peter ii. 25)
In this Joyful Eastertide, we are called to become members of Jesus Christ’s Resurrected Body by embracing the forgiveness of sins in our lives. In so doing, we must acknowledge that the forgiveness of sins is really a two-edged sword meant to divide us from both sin and wickedness in our own lives, and also from sin in the lives of others. With regard to the first, we were bidden to receive the forgiveness of our own sins. With regard to the second, we were urged to translate the forgiveness of sins received into acts ofcompassion, pity, and mercy for all others. All this was given to us that we might become habituated to what it takes to live in and through the Resurrected Christ.
And, yet, what is so helpful about the Church’s selection of readings for this Joyful Eastertide is that she does not pretend that this new life we seek is easy. This might strike many people with surprise since this is Good Shepherd Sunday. Most people think that Good Shepherd Sunday ought to be about Jesus the kindly, caring, and gentle herdsman who forever seeks out His lost sheep. And while this might be true in one way, in another way it tends to ignore the expectations that Christ has of us, once we have returned to the sheepfold.
For, Christ has demands and conditions for the sheep of His fold of the members of His Body, the Church. As we become His sheep, Jesus Christ and the Good Shepherd’s expectations of us become clearer.What the sheep of Christ look like and what the Good Shepherd expects of them are illustrated in this morning’s First Epistle of St. Peter. St. Peter is describing unjust or unmerited suffering. He writes his letter to the newly formed churches in Asia Minor, many of whose members are servants or slaves. We don’t know the specifics of individual cases, but we surmise that Christian slaves are having a hard time with the forgiveness of sins. Their particular struggle involves the mechanics of dealing with Masters who are punishing them unfairly and tyrannically. St. Peter is keen to identify with their pain and suffering since he thinks it will bind them more surely to Jesus Christ and thus enable them to embrace the healing power of the Good Shepherd in their hearts and souls.
With specific reference to their perplexing dilemma, he says, Servants,
be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward. (1 St. Peter ii. 18) If he were writing as an earthly-minded pagan man, whose notions of justice and equity are always measured by an earthly standard, we should judge his advice to be hard-hearted and full of cruel cold comfort. But St. Peter is not writing as a pagan and so his chief interest in not with earthly liberation and social justice but with Divine and lasting spiritual liberty. He writes as a member of the Body of Christ, and so he continues, For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps. (1 St. Peter ii. 21) St. Peter does not pretend in any way that such a spiritual response to earthly wickedness is easy. For, as Monsignor Knox reminds us, St. Peter remembers, too, how he followed in his Master’s footsteps, when Christ was led away to be crucified. (R.K.: The Epistles and Gospels, p. 125) He is only too conscious of the radical injustice done to his Master, Jesus Christ, and of his own powerlessness and then fear in the face of it. When he had been sitting by the fire in the cellar of the High Priest’s palace, he was surrounded by slaves. Here were those who were shackled by other men. Here was he who was shackled and enslaved to his own fear, cowardice, and impotence. He responded to evil by retreating desperately into this protective cellar to protect himself. The slaves who surrounded him were in chains because of other men’s evil. Peter was afraid of the same evil that bound the slaves. Yet, his slavery was self-imposed and voluntary, the just reward and punishment of his own terror and pusillanimity. Peter had become a slave to a far more cruel master than any earthly slaveholder. He feared imminent death by reason of association with Jesus. And because he was guilty of denying Jesus before the cock had crowed, he feared judgment. He remembered that guile was… found in his mouth, that when reviled, he reviled…again, and that when he suffered the accusation that he was one of Jesus’ friends, he threatened his accusers. (Ibid)
But now in today’s Epistle, St. Peter speaks from the standpoint of the forgiveness of sins. Christ has forgiven Peter for abandoning and betraying Him. He calls him into the new life of Resurrection. So, he exhorts all slaves who suffer unjustly to forgive their oppressors and masters also. Christ suffered for our sakes…who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: who when reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not; but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously: who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. (Ibid, 22- 25) St. Peter became a sinful slave to the evil of this world voluntarily.
The slaves St. Peter addresses are the hapless victims of other men’s wickedness, and yet they are in danger of being possessed spiritually by the evil that oppresses them also. Both Peter and his hearers were slaves, but they are now invited into true spiritual liberation through Christ who is the forgiveness of sins, the Resurrection and the Life. The slaves are given a great opportunity not only to follow Christ themselves but also to prick the consciences of their masters, Christian or pagan, because they can become emissaries and ambassadors in bonds to the forgiveness of sins and Christ’s Resurrection. What they can reveal is that they have been made free by Jesus Christ and are truly the sons and daughters of the living God –whose Love in them can conquer all manner of wickedness because the evil of other men must never be an excuse for vengeance. True freedom is found in Jesus Christ. There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy…(St. James iv. 12)
This obedience to God requires that they forgive the sins of others, endure grief, suffering wrongfully…take it patiently…[because] this is acceptable with God. (Ibid, 19, 20) St. Peter is inviting the slaves to see that the Saviour has suffered unjustly and has borne the burden of all men’s slavery to sin on the Cross of His Love. Like Christ, they must forgive those who are the cause of their suffering. For Christ is interested in all sinners –both slaves and free men! Where His indwelling presence is put to the test is when men suffer wrongfully and innocently. If He – the perfect model and example of the unjustly tortured, punished, and crucified Slave, can forgive, then so too must all they who would become members of His Resurrected Body. In fact, Jesus said, If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you…if they have persecuted me, they will persecute you…. (St. John xv. 18, 20) For Christ bare our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness. (Ibid, 24) Again, with Monsignor Knox, Christ’s wounds are healing stripes, and His death produces, of its own efficacy, a new death and the beginning of new life in us. (Idem) So the slaves and the slaveholders are invited into the new life of the Resurrection, which demands that all sin should be overcome with love as forgiveness, faith, and hope. For ye were as sheep, going astray, but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls. (Ibid, 25 The deepest impression of Christ’s transformative love must be embraced by all kinds of sinners.
St. Peter shows us that all men are the slaves of sin and need to be incorporated into the Resurrected Life of the One who has become a Slave for us all. And this Slave is the Shepherd and Bishop of [our] souls. He calls Himself the Good Shepherd in this morning’s Gospel, for He is the Shepherd of Souls who voluntarily becomes God’s Slave because, as He says, He giveth His life for the sheep. (St. John x. 11) So the Good Shepherd can be identified with the Slave who is employed solely and completely for the good of two Masters –His Father and His sheep! He even lays down His life for His sheep because it is the only way that His Father’s Love can become a true Slave to their condition, bear its burden fully, and then break its chains through the power of innocence that becomes the forgiveness of their sins. But even beyond this, He longs to become our Slave even now. He is forever the Father’s willing and happy Slave. Now He longs to serve us as God’s slave. He, who is only and ever the obedient revealer of His Father’s Wisdom, Power, and Love, longs to infuse all men with the Spirit’s liberating Grace. He desires to feed us with God’s Goodness in order to free us from our slavery to sin. He alone is the Slave who knows our need and meets it. He is the Slave whose service alone can conquer and overcome our sinful condition. He alone is the Slave who must become our Master.
Jesus goes where He is sent. He comes to us. Will we allow this Slave to do His work for us? Like all good slaveholders, we don’t think we ought to pay a Slave. But if we would employ this Slave, we shall begin to see God’s love alive in His heart serving us. If we would keep this Slave, we must allow Him to help us where we need Him most. We need Him most in the hard work of conquering our sins. Funnily enough, we need this Slave to become our Master. Jesus is our Slave. The slaveholders of history should have seen Jesus in their earthly slaves. If they had, they would have freed them and thanked them for leading them to God through Jesus! Jesus alone is the true Slave and Master. Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd who can help us to endure grief, suffer wrongfully…and patiently be buffeted for the good. (Idem) Then we can begin to become His sheep, following the blessed steps of His most holy life, and ourselves becoming Slaves to others, following the Commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves, with St. Peter and all the Saints.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons