II Corinthians 6:1-10 * Matthew 4:1-11
Friday, March 07, 2014
II Corinthians 6:1-10 * Matthew 4:1-11
A new kind of Pelagianism captured the imagination of twentieth century clergy. Pelagius was
first- sadly not last- heretic, and he taught that man was not really
dead in trespasses and sins by Adam's transgression. His doctrine was that one
could pull himself up by his own bootstraps, and become holy by sheer will
power. Never mind everything Britain
wrote about the weakness of the flesh. Never mind the words of Jesus: "Ye
are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this
world."1 Because they had embraced, essentially, a quais-Unitarian view of
God, they were unable to accept the Gospel. St. Paul
To accept the Gospel you must come to a very simple recognition of fact: Life is not a test. Those who teach, in the name of religion, that life is a test, and at the end you get a passing or failing grade, will never understand the portion of the Gospel according to Matthew that we read this first Sunday in Lent. Like Pelagius of old, his modern followers cannot see that Christ came in the fullness of his divine nature, taking our finite and mortal human nature into his uncreated eternal life. They cannot see that He reached down and saved us from sin and death, that His cross and passion were the sacrifice by which we receive forgiveness of sins, and that He was raised again for our justification; that only by His cross and passion, and glorious resurrection and ascension, are we given life and immortality. They cannot see that He did for us what we could not do for ourselves. Life is not a test; it is a shipwreck. Christ did not come to prepare us for a test; He came to rescue us, to pull us out of the sea of sin and death and place our feet on solid ground. If life were a test we would all get an "f" and be cast into Hell. But, the Gospel is this: "For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved."2
So, the message of today's Gospel is not, "imitate Jesus: if he could do it so can you." Yes, try to imitate Jesus the best you can by doing always what pleases the Father. But, when, not “if” but when, you fail, confess your sins and be forgiven. This is one area in which you cannot imitate Jesus, for he had no sins to repent of. We have no power in ourselves, of ourselves, to save ourselves. The temptations of Jesus in this passage from Matthew are strange to us. They exist on a higher level than the carnality we must wrestle with. I have never been tempted to use divine power to turn stones into bread. Have any of you? I have been tempted to eat when I was fasting, and tempted to satisfy the body in ways that are outside of God's will; but, never to turn stones into bread. We need to examine these temptations in light of what they were for Christ, and in light of what they mean for us. Two things that come to our aid are from
. One is the line, "There hath
no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who
will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the
temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it." 3
The other is, "But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if
through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the
gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto
many." 4 St. Paul
With these passages in mind, let us think of the temptations Christ endured, first in terms of their meaning in his life, and then what they mean for us. Always remember this; Christ being holy and sinless was not a fallen creature. He was the Word made flesh, the fullness of the Godhead dwelling bodily among us, fully God and fully man. It was not the fullness of His divine nature shrunken down into humanity, but the raising of human nature into His infinite Divine Person. For us, the temptations that come are common to man. To the holy, righteous savior, born of a virgin by the Holy Spirit instead of the seed of a fallen man, He is the pure and perfect man. These temptations we read about in this chapter of Matthew were not common to man, in one sense, but were common to man in another sense.
The first temptation was this: "If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread." The temptation was to use His Divine power in a way that was foreign to his very character as God. In everything we see from creation, God always used his power to make, that is, to give. Everything is grace, including life itself. The creation of life, including human life, met no need of God, for God has need of nothing.5 All of God's creative work was from His love, by which love He gives, seeking nothing for Himself. 6 The Son of God came into the world because of God's immeasurable love, with the intention of sharing the humility of a creature, and suffering the death of the cross as the Atonement, that which no sinner could make either for himself or as a ransom for his brother (as we see in Psalm 49:6,7). The will of God foretold by the Prophets, that Christ rose again on third day, was for our sakes; by His resurrection He meets our greatest need, the gift of eternal life to save us from the full power of the grave. With mighty signs and wonders He went about "doing good, healing all who were oppressed by the Devil."7 But, here, in the desert wilderness after forty days of fasting, He was tempted by the Devil to use miraculous power for Himself. But, that creative power had only been used in charity, that is agape- the love of God.
The second temptation was to throw Himself down from the temple, that is, to put the truth itself on trial. It is this temptation that demonstrates the cunning of Satan in his misuse of the very scriptures themselves. Notice how he misquotes the Psalm, taking it out of its context that teaches us not to fear death as an ultimate power, so that its meaning is reduced to something no bigger than this mortal life. Notice too the addition of three words not in the real Psalm: "lest thou strike thy foot against a stone" becomes, in the Devil's mouth, "lest at any time thou strike thy foot against a stone." At any time? The condition is taken away, and the promise misstated.
This temptation was to place the word of God on trial, and to do so by using an arbitrary and false measure, one forbidden by the Law itself, namely, testing God.
The final temptation is subtle indeed. "The devil taketh Him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth Him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; and saith unto Him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me." It is the plan of God that all nations serve and obey Christ when he comes in His kingdom 8. When He comes again in glory, this will happen, and will happen in a way far beyond our present ability to perceive. Understand the nature of this temptation for what it was: This temptation was to avoid the cross. That is why we see this echoed in Christ's words to his own Apostle Peter. Remember one day, as we read later on in the Gospel According to St. Matthew, when the Lord predicted his coming suffering and death, that Peter, "…took Him, and began to rebuke Him, saying, 'Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee.' But He turned, and said unto Peter, 'Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.'" 9
The temptation was to arrive early at the goal by abandoning the Father's will, by avoiding the suffering and death which alone could reconcile man to God without any compromise of His holiness, and which in making sacrifice also shows the seriousness of our sins to change us morally. Retire early, avoid the suffering, do not take up the cross. Such a decision would have been to turn away from the Father indeed.
In fact, there was no danger that Christ would yield to this. But we see important things for our own edification. The book of Genesis describes the Fall this way:
"And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat." 10
Look at these three things: 1) Good for food. 2) Pleasant to the eyes. 3) Desired to make one wise. Compare this to the words of
: St. John
"Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever." 11
Compare the two lists: "Good for food" to "the lust of the flesh." We forget that the lust of the flesh is not only sexual lusts and passions, but also all other things that drag us away from God because of their direct effect on the desires of the body. This includes abuse of sex and of food, but also the abuse of drugs and alcohol that destroys lives and families. And, beyond the obvious, read the fifth chapter of
's Epistle to the Galatians about "the works
of the flesh" that are the opposite of "the fruit of the
Spirit." It includes as sins, works of the flesh, occult observance and
heresy, and other things. St.
Compare "Pleasant to the eyes "with "the lust of the eyes." Remember the words of
"for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not
covet."12 The lust of the eyes is what Jesus spoke of when He said that it
is the sin of adultery to look on a woman to lust after her. He was simply
driving home the point already in the Law of Moses, in the tenth Commandment:
"Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, etc."13 The lust of the
eyes is never content with the gifts that God has given, and is the opposite of
that love that "seeketh not her own." It wants more, even if your
neighbor is deprived or diminished. The lust of the eyes does not give thanks
to God for what He has given, but finds fault with Him for not giving to our
impossible satisfaction. As the writer to the Hebrews put it, "Let your
conversation be without covetousness; and be
content with such things as
ye have: for He hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee."14
Giving in to the lust of the eyes is like drinking seawater. It never
satisfies, and indeed, each drink of the seawater (that is, saltwater) only
makes one thirstier and thirstier, leading to death by dehydration, and only
after madness. St. Paul
Compare "it was desired to make one wise" to "the pride of life." Pride requires an illusion. The truth makes a man humble. The truth is the very opposite of Pelagianism; for the fact is, you cannot go one day without committing sins if only in your thoughts. The truth is, you cannot keep your own soul alive. The truth is contrary to "Motivational Seminars," which teach the sin of pride a thousand different ways. Every day, in every way, it is not getting better and better, no not at all. You are aging, and as your eyes fail, and your hair gets gray or falls out, and your skin wrinkles, you are reminded that the body is subject to the uncleanness of death 15. This is part of the Fall. Pride says life must be a test, and we can pass it. Humility says, "God I have earned no better than an 'f', that is, everlasting damnation. Save me from sin and death." A man trying to stay afloat in a shipwreck has no time to impress anybody; he must, with the humility that realism brings, accept salvation from his rescuer. Pride neither bears a cross behind the Lord, nor accepts the grace given through Christ’s cross.
Christ overcame the things that are in the world. "The world" in this sense, that has only these three sinful categories, is best described in the first chapter of John's Gospel: "He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not." The world is fallen into the state of not knowing its Creator, even in his Incarnation.16 This season of Lent, learn the humility to take seriously these three enemies: The world, the Flesh and the Devil. Learn to fight the temptations used by the Devil through "the things that are in the world." Jesus used the scriptures, the sword of the Spirit; so, you need to know the word of God, to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest it.17 The disciplines of Lent are useful indeed. Fasting is a way to humble our souls before God,18 and giving is a way to show gratitude to the Lord.
Let us have a holy Lent, knowing that without him, we can do nothing.19
1) John 8:23
2) John 3:17
3) I Corinthians 10:13
4) Romans 5:15
5) Acts 17:25
6) I Corinthians 13:5
7) Acts 10:38
8) Psalm 2
9) Matthew 16:22, 23
10) Genesis 3:4-6
11) I John 2:15-17
12) Romans 7:7
13) Cp. Exodus 20:17 to Matthew 5:28
14) Hebrews 13:5
15) See my sermon for Trinity XVI.
16) John 1:10
17) Ephesians 6:17, in context.
18) Psalm 35:18
19) John 15:5
Wednesday, March 05, 2014
In its emphasis on mortality and guilt, Ash Wednesday offers a two-fold remedy to what ails society. That is, to what ails society because of the prevalent deception that is in the air, and is, like most unthought-out yet strongly held opinions, caught like a virus. Only someone with a Christian mind understands why the thought of our death and our guilt brings comfort. But then, this also suggests why only the Christian can, in the end, be truly happy...Read more at this link:
Dear brothers, I know that the altar Missal, used by so many Continuing Anglicans, has many blessings of the ashes, and for many it seems like the way to start the service (though I simply cannot say, "We who here make atonement..." No we don't! Even the RCs don't translate the Latin that way. Christ made the One and Only Atonement). Well, bless the ashes as many times as you want, though I think once is enough, and doesn't tire out your congregation. That's just my opinion.
But, whatever you do or don't do, for Heaven's sake use A PENITENTIAL OFFICE FOR ASH WEDNESDAY. In the American Book of Common Prayer it begins on page 60. It actually gives the congregation a way to pray that is designed for just this very day. They get to join in and pray, and enter into the spirit of Lent, something that helps meet their true need.
Well there you have my two cents worth; a radical idea indeed, actually using the Book of Common Prayer and letting the people pray along. Try it, you'll like it.
Saturday, March 01, 2014
Saturday, February 22, 2014
II Cor. 11:19-31 * Luke 8:4-15
The Gospel and the Epistle appointed for this day blend well together when we consider the patience of
. He endured all things that could
come on anyone, and so brought forth fruit an hundredfold. When he began his
walk he turned away from the cares and riches and pleasures of this life. In
time of persecution he did not fall away; and in his case the time of
persecution was lifelong until his death as a martyr. Instead of complaining
that God was terribly unfair in leading him through fire and water, he gave
thanks that he could suffer with Christ. Paul saw his own sufferings as leading
to good, especially emphasizing how God used those very trials to further his
evangelistic mission as an apostle. Through those sufferings Paul was able to
reach people with the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and his salvation. St. Paul
He said as much in another epistle, writing to the Church in
"But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel; So that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places; And many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear (Philippians 1:12-14).”
In today's epistle, the long list of things he endured was not written down for the sake of boasting, but to establish that he had credentials that his critics did not have, namely certain false apostles and teachers who were troubling the Church in
That is, he was not waxing rich or gaining status in the world, and was not
living in luxury. To choose to continue with his life of persecution and
danger, and great discomfort, instead of going back to Tarsus and profiting
from his family's tent-making business (no doubt as suppliers to the imperial
army), was a proof that his service was genuine. For that reason, and that
reason alone, he wrote those words to the Christians in Corinth, that they
would hear him and turn away from the false teachers, whose teaching the
Apostle condemned in the strongest terms, in this part of the same chapter from
which today's Epistle was taken: Corinth
“But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him (II Corinthians 11:3,4).”
It matters very much indeed who you allow to serve as your pastor, teacher and guide. Our own separation from the Episcopal Church was due to this very problem, a false gospel, another Jesus, and another spirit which we did not receive (that is, not the Holy Spirit, He that we received in our Confirmation). And our continued separation is due to the fact that their errors have remained uncorrected, and have gone from bad to worse. One of their clergy came here to gain “clients” from this congregation, for some new age type of self-improvement program called “coaching.” He told me that “coaching” had helped him to, as he put it, “evolve.” He offered as his example that he had recently driven up to
to do his first ever blessing of a same
sex “marriage.” I told that priest that he had not “evolved,” but had backslidden
and fallen away from Christ. Maryland
is telling the Corinthian Christians that some ministers are called into their
vocation by Satan, not by God. St. Paul
“For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works (vs. 13-15).”
In case anyone thinks this whole thing is all about what prayer Book we like better, or what kind of liturgy pleases us, let me make something very clear: The issues are of eternal consequence, not simply matters of taste. Furthermore, with eternity in mind, it is necessary to be in the Church where the true Gospel is taught, where the pure Word of God is preached and valid sacraments are duly administered, whether everything is to our taste or not. It is not about satisfying our emotions (which satisfaction may come or not come) but about eternal life with Christ, as opposed to being lost.
It is in the context of
St. Paul telling those
ancient Christians in
that they needed to follow him, and reject the false ministers of a false
Gospel, that he reminds them of his own sufferings and persecutions. I have
quoted a few parts of the same chapter that lead to the Epistle appointed for
this day. Let me remind you of a little bit of it: Corinth
“Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not? If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is blessed for evermore, knoweth that I lie not.”
So, once again I want to quote these words from another epistle, the Epistle to the Philippians.
"But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel."
God has allowed us our own portion of suffering. So, here is how to think about difficult times: God will use the seemingly unhappy time to further the Gospel. If you will remain faithful, some day in the future you will be able to look back at that time, and what will have followed, and say with St. Paul, "The things which happened unto me (or to us) have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel." That phrase, "the furtherance of the gospel," speaks of the evangelistic mission of the Church. It is a time to increase the level of your own commitment, not to be discouraged. Accept it as a challenge, take it as an opportunity, and embrace it as an adventure.
I suppose also that none of us has ever attended church in a catacomb, sneaking there before sunrise to avoid being captured and executed by the authorities for the crime of being a Christian. And, in many lands, the persecution goes on. Anyone who needs a nice church building, a bell and organ, and stained glass windows, in order to feel like they are in church, would have had quite a problem in the time of persecution, roughly 250 years between Nero and Constantine. Most of "Our fathers chained in prisons dark" did not, in time of persecution, fall away. But others did, of course, fall away. Those who fell away had not received the word in the good ground of a sincere heart.
By the standards of the world, we live in luxury. And, as far as suffering goes, ours has been light. But now, embrace the opportunity that lies ahead. Remain faithful, increase your own level of commitment, and let everybody out there know that the
and well, alive because Christ is risen from the dead: Well, because the Holy
Spirit is with us in all his power. In the time that lies ahead, you will
discover the gifts He has given you, gifts that some of you had not known
before. You will know a joy that comes only by working together with God. And,
you will see that whatever things that have happened to you will have fallen
out to the furtherance of the Gospel. Church
of Jesus Christ
Saturday, February 15, 2014
I Cor. 9:24-27 * Matt. 20:1-16
We begin the Pre-Lenten Season today. This may be a confusing time for some who have been in more modern "up-to-date" churches that no longer observe this time. However, the Penitential season of Lent, which will start on Ash Wednesday, is so important that we prepare for it with these next few weeks of the “gesimas.” Septua, Sexa and Quinqua, that is, seven, six and five weeks before Palm Sunday and Holy Week. It seems like the very opposite of the times in which we live, very counter to this era of indulgence, that we take the Penitential season of Lent so seriously that we prepare for it by the Pre-Lenten season. But, we need to see that our sins and weaknesses are to be taken seriously, and what we learn from today's parable in the Gospel, teaches us that only in light of our true need, the goodness and mercy of God comes across to us.
The Epistle reading says that “In a race all run, but one receiveth the prize.” The Gospel reading ends with “Many are called, but few are chosen.” This teaches us not to presume upon the grace of God by willful sinful living. The over all message of both readings teaches us to receive the grace of God.
The laborers who had borne the heat of the day had every reason to expect that their reward would be greater than the late comers. When they saw that those who had worked but one hour were receiving what was, by the standard of that time and place, a full day’s pay, they assumed that the owner of the vineyard was loose with his money, that he paid by a higher standard than was normal, and that they would be paid more. This was only logical, and so it seemed to them, fair.
To bear the heat of the day is to live the way
Saint Paul describes. It is to work hard to
obtain mastery over oneself, over everything that leads to sin and that slows
us down in the race. It is no easy thing. To labor in the vineyard speaks of a
life dedicated to God, and of dedication that is tied into a life within the
Church that involves the development of the virtues, especially of charity. It
is a life of service, and of witness as part of the Church and her mission to
reach the lost. None of this is to be taken lightly.
However, the parable reminds us that our salvation, wrought for us by Jesus Christ, was not something we earned. Whatever works and goodness we might achieve, the forgiveness of our sins is not earned by our own efforts. Neither can we do those extra meritorious things beyond what God requires. Article 14 speaks to the limits of what we can do:
"XIV. Of Works of Supererogation.Voluntary Works besides, over and above, God's Commandments, which they call Works of Supererogation, cannot be taught without arrogancy and impiety: for by them men do declare, that they do not only render unto God as much as they are bound to do, but that they do more for his sake, than of bounden duty is required: whereas Christ saith plainly When ye have done all that are commanded to you, say, We are unprofitable servants."
It is not possible to do works of supererogation. You and I cannot do what God requires, let alone do more. You are commanded to love God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength, and your neighbor as yourself. Even when we have grown in virtues, even if we live the life of holiness as saints, even if we receive signs like the stigmata or visions and revelations of the Lord, our salvation is a gift, and something we cannot obtain by our own efforts. Christ earned it for us and bought us back from sin and death by the full, perfect, sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction of Himself once offered. We were under sentence of death because of sin, eternal separation from God. The one Who was Himself without sin bore our sins in His own body on the tree of the cross. He made there the one and only Atonement.
He is the Lamb of God with His cross, upon which he took away the sins of the world and made the atonement, the covering- the Kippor- for us. This was not even our idea, let alone our accomplishment. The dove with the olive branch comes from the story of Noah. When Noah left the
Ark he made his offering, and God was
pleased with the sacrifice and promised not to destroy man from the face of the
The symbol of the dove in Genesis is that of reconciliation with God. This reconciliation was made for us by God, by the Person of God the Son in the flesh, in His sinless human nature, in the likeness of our sinful flesh, dying as an offender upon the cross for the sins of the whole world. Pilate wrote the accusation over His head- "Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews." But, in his Epistle to the Colossians,
Paul tells us that the real accusation over Christ’s
head was the entire Law of God. That Law that He alone kept perfectly; and so
His death was the death of the just for the unjust, the sinless One for the
sinners. He was the One for the many, to make those rendered guilty by one
man’s offense righteous. We are saved by the perfect obedience of the One, by
Christ Who gave Himself up for us with the words, “Not my will, but Thine be
What we are given, we are given by His goodness, not by our deserving. It is all by grace.
A good confessor always reminds the penitent that the forgiveness of sins is given because Christ died for us. The act of penance does not earn the forgiveness, and, in fact, penance is done after the Absolution. Rather, penance is meant to strengthen and reinforce repentance and amendment of life, to direct the mind and heart towards God.* Do you know why the “Comfortable Words” follow the General Confession and General Absolution in our liturgy? Well, I can think of three reasons:
1.To make clear that the forgiveness of sins is real
2.That it is the gift of God to us through Jesus Christ
3. and as a light and general penance.
Whatever you feel you deserve, we are going to make the Confession of sin in a few minutes. The day’s pay is being given, not because of your labors but because of Christ’s labor on your behalf. And, the gift of Absolution that is given is the same for everyone who believes and with a true heart repents. We are unprofitable servants, and what is given to us is due to His goodness.
* For more thoughts on penance, click on this link.
Saturday, February 08, 2014
The Gospel reading which we hear on this fifth Sunday after the Epiphany (or in most years, on the 25th Sunday after Trinity) is one of two or three parable using the symbols of the sower, the good seed, the obstacles to its progress, and the certainty of a good harvest. Another “seed/sower” parable we will soon read on Sexagesima Sunday. You may find it on page 121 in your Prayer Book.
In the parable before us today, we see a picture of the church as a mixed multitude (usually more mixed than multitudinous) of “wheat and tares.” The sower (who is Christ) has sown good seed, but an enemy (who is the devil) has tried to spoil the crop by sowing bad seed which sprouts into weeds.
From its very inception, the Church, as the people of God, who profess faith in Jesus Christ, has been a mixture of the faithful and faithless, the weak and the strong, the zealous and the indifferent, those who persevere and those who fall away, those whose presence is a blessing to the Body and those who mostly make trouble. It was ever thus, from the time of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5) and Euodia and Syntyche (Phil. 4:2). The Church has always been full of imperfect people. This is why the Church was created in the first place, to be a refugium peccatorum, a place where sinners are welcome
But ultimately, a separation of wheat and tares, a division of the true and false members of the Church is bound to come. The Prayer Book selection sadly does not include our Lord’s explication of his own parable, wherein He said, “Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age. The Son of man will send his angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom, all causes of sin and all evil-doers… there men will weep and gnash their teeth (Matt 13:42)." We should note how frequently our Lord spoke of eternal damnation in very graphic terms.
Even with this dire and dreadful certainty, the chief message of this parable is that our business as servants of the householder is to wait patiently until the harvest, when the angels will be sent to make the separation finally and for ever.
But in the meantime, it is not for us to take matters into our own hands. We do not yet know who are the wheat and who are the tares, and we are under a commandment not to make any preliminary assessments. It is only for us to make sure that we are not weeds spoiling the crop, praying that we may be good seed, bringing forth a good harvest. LKW
Friday, February 07, 2014
Any sermon on today’s Gospel really ought to include the Lord’s interpretation of His own parable:
“Then Jesus sent the multitude away, and went into the house: and his disciples came unto him, saying, Declare unto us the parable of the tares of the field. He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear (vs. 36-43).”
The plants that are called tares are very much like wheat in appearance, but they lack the nutritional properties of wheat. You can’t eat from these weeds. However, it is very difficult to distinguish with the eye between the tares and true wheat.
When the oldest of my sons was only about six or seven years old, he created his own superhero, one who fought against crime. He told me that his superhero would see the bad guys and kill them. I decided that I ought to teach him principles of law and justice, so I asked a hypothetical question: “Tell me, David. How does he know who is a bad guy just by looking at him?” I saw that he was thinking very hard, as his forehead became wrinkled and his eyes half closed in a squint. Finally, he answered: “He has really good eyesight.” I saw that my attempt to teach a lesson about "the presumption of innocence" until proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, was possibly not getting through
And, as we know, the destruction of the ungodly was not the reason why Christ came; He came to call sinners to repentance, as a physician comes to heal the sick. He came not to judge the world, but to save it. He would, as the Lamb of God, take away the sins of the world by going to His cross to pour out His one oblation of Himself once offered; the full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world. Before that time, He would go about “doing good and healing all who were oppressed of the Devil.” He did not call down fire from heaven upon the Samaritan village that refused Him, as the sons of thunder bade Him to do; He told them they knew not what spirit they were of, for the Son of Man had come to save men’s lives not to destroy them.
In the Old Testament, the worst of the kings of
was Manasseh. He practiced
idolatry, even the offering of children to Baal, filling Judah with innocent blood, which the Lord
would not pardon two generations later. Now, here was a tare that deserved to
be uprooted. It is safe to judge, even within the limits of our own human
understanding, we can be certain that he was beyond all hope of
redemption-can't we? Jerusalem
He was captured and taken into captivity. But, while being held captive, he humbled himself and repented of his sins, and besought God. The Bible says that God forgave him, and restored him to his throne in
. Here we read it, in II Chronicles
33:12, 13. Jerusalem
“And when he was in affliction, he besought the LORD his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, And prayed unto him: and he was intreated of him, and heard his supplication, and brought him again to
kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD he was God.” Jerusalem
No, the Lord does not uproot the wheat in order to destroy the tares. Consider what it would mean if He did. Look at
. If ever there was a tare that deserved
uprooting, it was the persecutor of the Church, Saul of Tarsus. He had been confident
in his own righteousness as a Hebrew of Hebrews, a Pharisee who was, as
touching the Law of Moses, blameless. And, the crowning virtue of his
righteousness was his zeal that he demonstrated by persecuting the Church. When
the Lord Jesus appeared to him, as he approached the Damascus Gate, and was
knocked to the ground, Saul learned that his crowning achievement of
righteousness was actually the great sin of persecuting none other than Messiah
Himself by persecuting His people. What had been in Saul’s mind the seal and
mark of his own righteousness, was in reality a filthy rag, a grievous sin.
And, at the same moment that he was being made aware of the enormity of his
guilt, he was being shown mercy, called from the darkness of ignorance and sin
into the light of Christ, and to the righteousness that comes by faith in Him.
It is no wonder that this whole theme would dominate the message of what,
today, we call Pauline theology. And so it is, this one-time enemy of the
Church became Saint
the Apostle. Saint Paul
Ah, but if the tares were to be so soon uprooted, then we would have had no
. Saint Paul
In the 1960s an obstetrician named Bernard Nathanson performed thousands of abortions. Furthermore, he was one of the people who started the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL). But, his mind began to resist his own propaganda as his conscience caught up with him. Later he would write, “I came to realize that what I had presided over was thousands of deaths.” Eventually, he wrote Aborting America, and became one of the greatest advocates for the pro-life cause, a defender of the rights of unborn children to be spared, to be allowed to live. Bernard Nathanson was an Atheist, and a mass murderer of unborn children, all in the name of “safe and legal” abortion, a hired assassin under the guise of medicine. If ever there was a tare that deserved to be uprooted, this was the man. We would be safe to judge him so, would we not?
But Christ does not deal with us as our sins deserve. Today Bernard Nathanson is a believing and devout Catholic, and he has saved countless lives by speaking out against abortion, adding a voice that contains thorough authoritative scientific knowledge.
You see, we cannot tell the tares from the wheat, because every saint is a redeemed sinner. If the tares were to be uprooted, none of us would live to repent; the Great Physician would have no sinners to call to repentance. God’s world would be clean and neat and orderly again, and His righteousness vindicated. But, His love did not allow that. Instead He did the very messy thing of coming into the world in the Person of His Son. The Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, took our created nature into His uncreated Person, our temporal nature into His eternity. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” “going about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the Devil,” using His power on earth to forgive sins and giving this power unto men, not dealing with us as our sins deserve, not breaking a bruised reed or quenching a smoking flax. He removed our guilt by removing our sins, and that by bearing them in His own body on the tree of the cross, the Lamb of God slaughtered as our Passover. And, having released us from sin, He freed us from death by rising on the Third day and making Himself seen by witnesses, his chosen martyrs – witnesses - of the resurrection. They, in turn, yielded up their lives to give us the assurance of hope, that we might know of their certainty that they saw Him alive again after His resurrection.
He does not root up the tares lest he root up the wheat with them; for we must come to the knowledge of Christ in order to be freed from sin and death.
Those who believe are “the elect of God, holy and beloved” (as
wrote in the Epistle for today).
Is there - if I may dare use the word - discrimination to be made between wheat
and tares? Yes. We should have a holy fear of God, for on the Last Day at the
final judgment, the wheat will be divided from the tares, and the judgment will
be rendered. Those who have refused to believe and have clung to their sins
will be sent away. Saint Paul
But for now, thank God for His wisdom. For only with His foreknowledge could we know the wheat from the tares; and that foreknowledge is His alone; we cannot share it. He knows a repentant Manasseh, a
the Apostle, a Bernard Nathanson
champion of the unborn. He alone knows the wheat from the tares. This is
something that perhaps even the eyes of angels may not see. Saint Paul