The Misfortunes and Punishments of the Wicked
From the Gospel: St. Luke xix. 41-46d
Thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side. (St. Luke xix. 43)
THE Lord in these words predicts the adversity which was about to destroy the vain prosperity of this world, about which three things are to be noted.
(1)The universality of the adversity itself: They shall compass thee round.
The ancient city of Jerusalem is a symbol for the earthly city that is made to be redeemed. Originally it was established to be an example and pattern to every ‘city of man’ that is made by Lord to be the entry way and stepping-stone into His Kingdom, the City of God. But the earthly city of Jerusalem forsook this its great calling and vocation. Literally in A.D. 70 Titus Flavius Caesar Vespasiānus Augustus would compass Jerusalem round about and destroy the Second Temple. Thus the Diaspora of Jews would commence. Literally and spiritually speaking, the children of God are surrounded now on every side by the evil that they have been worshiping for some time. Those who worship false gods, mammon, the things of this world, even religion and spirituality for their own selfish ends, will be surrounded by the enemy and will be destroyed. God merely gives to us what we want. If we are unfaithful, disobedient, and recalcitrant, we shall be surrounded by His absence. Our willful rejection of His salvific nearness means that the Devil and his friends will begin the process of our damnation.
(2) The multiplicity of the punishment which there will be in it. And they will keep thee in on every side. The multitude is the cause of the keeping in.
When we abandon and forsake God and His will, various demons and false idols rush in to fill up the spaces, which we have emptied. We cannot escape because we have turned our backs on God and His messengers. We are not forced to do this. We make a decision or an act of will in favor of ourselves, and then we open ourselves up to what best advances and enhances a form of happiness and joy that is bereft of God’s will. ‘We are looking for love in all the wrong places.’ So because we medicate against facing our sorry selves and God, we find ourselves in the good company of a multiplicity of gods whose gravity and weight drag us down into our bodies through the soul and away from the spirit. The multiplicity or multitude is an allegorical image for the diversity of sins, and the rational logic that moves us progressively downward from one into the other. Just as God has given to the human mind the rational capacity to move from one virtue to another, so he allows also the rational capacity to move from one vice to the other. Man seldom stops at one, since, though he has abandoned God, he nevertheless is never severed from his inmost incessant desire and passion for happiness and joy. Man has a natural desire for knowledge and for happiness. This passion is not eliminated because man is fallen. Fallen man merely pursues knowledge and happiness selfishly, and because he can never be satisfied with what the demons or false gods offer, he moves from one sin to another.
(3) The eternity of the same adversity. They shall lay thee even with the ground. That is, they will destroy wholly, so that no one will be able to be liberated.
In the end there is the threat here of a final judgment, at which time those who have indulged the spiritual sins of the earthly Jerusalem shall be past all hope. This is a warning for those who are called to repent and return to the Lord while there is still time remaining to them in their earthly lives. So though the Jerusalems of fallen man may be destroyed, in their exile they may still turn back to the Lord. If they do not repent, they shall be beyond spiritual help. If they remain in their spiritual Jerusalem and continue to worship the false gods, they shall not be saved. What Christ seems to encourage here then is for them to flee the Jerusalem of rebellion against and disobedience to God and to find room and space for confession and contrition. Anyone who lives in and for an earthly city and its gods will be laid to the ground and destroyed if he does not rise up and seek those things which are above, in the City of God, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of the Father. (Col. iii. 1)
When man worships the creation rather than the Creator, he is swallowed up, enveloped, determined, and moved by false gods. The earth or nature then defines a man, and man is rewarded only with temporary, impermanent, and fleeting goods with their respective promises and satisfaction. If the image be allowed, here we find the earth’s spiritual vengeance on the man who worships her and not the God whom she worships. In some allegorical sense then the earth or nature wreaks retribution and revenge on a fellow creature who has taken himself out of God’s good rule and governance, order and arrangement, and intended harmony for the cosmos. So the earth shall cover and bury the sinful man.
(2) From water, which shall suffocate them. The water of the sea shall rage against them, and the rivers shall run together in a terrible manner. (Wisdom v. 23)
The water shall drown and suffocate the sinner. He will not be able to breathe because he shall be immersed in what he worshiped. He shall not be able to come to the surface because he has chosen to be defined and moved by the waters of the flood, the waters that completely form and mold sinful man, and waters that cover the whole earth in a flood of God’s justice and judgment.
(3) From the air which will lighten against them. Then shafts of lightning shall go directly from the clouds as from a bow well bent ; they shall be shot out, and shall fly to the mark. (Wisdom v. 22)
The same man will be hit by lightening and shall be destroyed for refusing to live in the light of Christ. The lightening shall be aimed at the sinner because he refused to obey God. And thus a continual sense of being hit by the lightening shall characterize the sinner’s life in Hell. The sinner has chosen to live without God’s life, light, and love. The sinner has chosen to live in an ongoing death, darkness, and despair. But he will be reminded of the goodness that he has rejected, being startled and struck continuously by a the spiritual hit of lightening from God to remind Him of his lost love and true happiness.
(4) From fire, which shall consume them. A fire goeth before him and burneth his enemies round about. (Ps. xcvii. 3)
God’s mercy is experienced as justice for those who reject Him. The fire burns His enemies round about. The fire is that unconsumed and perpetual burning that the sinner feels as He endures God’s mercy negatively. God’s mercy allows him to reap his own reward. His reward is the unending pain of separation and division from mercy as forgiveness, sanctification, and salvation.
(5) From the sun, moon, and stars, which shall hide themselves from him. The sun and the moon shall be darkened, and the stars shall withdraw their shining. (Joel iii. 15) So shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven. (St. Matthew xxiv. 29)
The unrepentant sinner shall live in spiritual darkness. The greater light that ruled the day and the lesser light that ruled the night, created lights given to men to feel after God and find Him, are now withdrawn. Now too the spiritual lights to which they pointed are gone. Man can no longer search out God in spiritual day or in spiritual night. He cannot find God in time of joy or in time of sadness. He cannot search out or find God naturally or spiritually. He is rendered blind to the light and darkness that could have saved him. He sees only that he has no light by which to return to his Maker.
(6) From the saints, who will condemn them. Ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (St. Matthew xix. 28)
The Saints can no longer have any commerce with sinners. They judge the wicked simply by having become what God has made them. Their judgment is the summary of God’s justice, which decrees that a man is where he is because he has been rewarded with all that he has wanted. ‘Now Lazarus is comforted but Dives is tormented; And beside all this, between Heaven and Hell there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from Heaven to Hell cannot; neither can they pass to Heaven, that would come from Hell. (St. Luke xvi. 25, 26)
(7) From the Lord Jesus Christ, Who will judge them. Then shall the King say unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed. (St. Matthew xxv 35, 41)
Self-willed alienation is separation and division from God’s Word, God’s everlastingly begotten and only begotten Wisdom, Power, and Love for man. Sinners shall be judged by God’s expressed Wish, Desire, and Intention for His people, made flesh in Jesus Christ. Sinners will be condemned by the Word made Flesh that is the only way, truth, and life under heaven, through Whom a man might be reconciled to God.
(8)From the angels, who will carry them into Hell. The Son of Man shall send forth His angels . . . and shall cast them into a furnace of fire. (S. Matt. xiii. 41, 42)
The Angels assist in Christ’s judgment. Christ entered Hell once, to lift the Saints into Heaven. The Angels now assist Christ in escorting His enemies into Hell.
2. On the second head, the eternity of the adversity it is a momentary thing which delights: it is an eternal thing which crucifies.
For those who reject God’s good will, the eternity of adversity delights momentarily in time and space. All false gods bring impermanent and temporary pleasure. The delight is not lasting, and thus it is pursued in a multiplicity and variety of ways throughout the course of earthly existence. What was pleasurable in this life turns into an eternal thing that crucifies a man forever. The eternity of adversity’s delight becomes unending crucifixion to true delight.
My friends, today let us acknowledge that we have lived in the earthly Jerusalem worshiping false gods for long enough. Let us humbly return to the Lord, ‘setting our affections on things above and not the things of the earth. For we are dead, and our life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall we also appear with him in glory.’ (Col. iii. 2-4) So let us repent us of all our sins. Let us desire the healing forgiveness and mercy of our Saviour. Let us leave the earthly Jerusalem behind and begin to live above ourselves in the Heavenly Jerusalem, God’s City, whence emerges only sanctification and deliverance from all earthly and spiritual enemies of the Lord.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons