Although all be offended, yet will not I.
(St. Mark xiv. 29)
We ought to remind ourselves that our membership in the mystical Life of Christ is no easy business. To become a tried and true member of the life of the Crucified One takes time, practice, the development of spiritual discipline, and an ongoing surrender to the Mind of Christ that longs always to remold and remake us. One thing that we learn about the spiritual life today is that membership in the life of Christ requires vigilance, acuity, or alert. Of all the virtues that protect and defend the spiritual life, the need for watching and waiting is of preeminent importance. Watching and waiting demand, of course, stillness and silence as we face our demons and overcome them with the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. To be vigilant means to be awake, circumspect, alert, cautious, and ready for whatever the devil may throw our way. And what we ought, at all costs, to be prepared for is the devil’s determination to lead us into the sin that separates us from Jesus Christ -our way, truth, life that leads back to God the Father through the Holy Spirit.
The supreme act of sin is illustrated for us today in the freely will choice of Judas Iscariot. Because Jesus refused to become Israel’s political liberator from Roman domination, Judas sells Him for thirty pieces of silver. One tradition has it that Judas orchestrated his Master’s arrest so that Jesus might be provoked at last to use His Divine Power to banish the Roman occupiers and to put down the Jewish Sanhedrin, whose comfortable cohabitation with the Roman occupiers was viewed by many as malicious betrayer. Judas wanted Jesus to reveal His Divine power once and for all in the interests of Israel’s temporal and earthly restoration. But, Jesus would have nothing to do with such an earthly passion that was possessed by life in the City of Man. So Judas betrayed His Master. Later he will repent. despair, and hang himself.
Today we are called to be vigilant against the temptation to provoke Jesus Christ to meet our earthy needs by overcoming our earthly suffering and sorrow. We are called also to be vigilant against demanding Divine intervention when we have not done our part in conditioning our lives to the operation of Divine Grace. So we are called to be awake to the fact that Jesus Christ does not come to us to ensure the prosperity and peace or the comfort and enjoyment of this life in this world. Jesus Christ came to die for the sins of the whole world, and in so doing to bring that old, limited, fallen human nature, alienated from God, to death. In His death Christians find the first beginnings and stirrings of their own death –death to the world, the flesh, and the devil. Today we ask ourselves, How have we betrayed Jesus Christ in our lives? Have we sold Him for next to nothing, and thus betrayed Him because we pursue earthly and temporal peace, comfort, accommodation, happiness, and contentment? Have we betrayed Him because we will not allow Him to reign as King Supreme from the soil of our souls and so to guide our footsteps to His Kingdom?
In a similar vein, we must be on guard against that kind of relationship with Jesus Christ that depends upon another kind of earthliness. That would be the demand for bodily, physical, and sensory ecstatic or transfiguration moments. Holy Week teaches us that our relation to God hinges upon suffering and death. Our spiritual state in relation to the Father, through Jesus Christ, and by His Holy Spirit, can never be measured solely by the body’s feelings, sensations, emotions, and passions. It is good for us to experience Him at a distance and almost as absent at times so that we might contemplate His glorious power, wisdom, and love. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. God often seems to be far away and removed from our senses because He wants us to learn to fear and obey Him out of spiritual love. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the holy is understanding (Prov. ix. 10) The fear of the Lord is that awesome apprehension of the One upon whom all life and salvation depend. The fear of the Lord engenders that poor in spirit self-knowledge of powerlessness and utter dependence upon God for both being and redemption. The fear of the Lord moves a man to ponder, wonder, study, explore, and investigate the ways of God.
This is the fear of the Lord which St. Peter had forgotten throughout Christ’s Passion because he feared men. Because of it, his rash, enthusiastic, even premature determination never to be offended by Jesus Christ came to naught. Not only does he eventually abandon Jesus, but he even denies ever having known him. An overly enthusiastic, impulsive, compulsive, and impetuous relation to Jesus Christ is very dangerous indeed. The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. (St. Matthew xiii. 20, 21) Faith that is not rooted and grounded securely in the fear of the Lord and obedience thrives temporarily and then dies a swift death. It is, more often than not, unpremeditated, unrestrained, and unthoughtful. It reveals superficial religion, too close to the immediate gratification of the body, to pain and pleasure, to fear and trepidation, to the changes and chances of this fleeting world. It is unstable and uncertain, and in the end, with St. Peter, is as easily swayed to deny the Lord as it was to defend Him heroically to the end. It is rash and not grounded in the silence and stillness that contemplate God’s nature.
Today we must ask ourselves, How have I denied Jesus Christ? How have my thoughts, words, and deeds denied any familiarity or acquaintance with the Suffering Servant and the Lord of God’s Love? How have I talked the talk but refused to walk the walk up to the place of Love’s new birth on Calvary Hill? How have I failed to accept that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and that obedience to His will through Grace leads to true understanding?
Let us pray today for vigilance. Couldest thou not watch one hour? Watch ye and pray lest ye enter into temptation. The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak. (St. Mark xiv. 37, 38) Let us pray for the fear of the Lord, obedience to His commands, and a determination to follow Him silently and conscientiously, to watch, see, and learn what the Lord of Love will do for us from His Tree of New Life. Amen.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons: