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.
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