The Gospel: Luke 14:16-24
When I say that the Church year reflects these two tables of the Law, I draw from the First Epistle of St. John, which is read on these first two Sundays after Trinity. Remember what we read last week, from the chapter that follows today's Epistle: "We love him, because he first loved us. " (I John 4:19) That is what the first half of the Church year teaches us in detail. We begin by looking ahead, focusing on the day when Christ will come again in glory. On the first Sunday of the Church year we see that his coming will be like a refiner's fire, seeing his cleansing of the temple with a view to the last day and his coming to judge the quick and the dead. Then, soon after that, we are told the story of God's great love on Christmas, when the babe, the world's redeemer first revealed his sacred face. We are then reminded all throughout Epiphany that he went about doing good, healing all who were oppressed of the devil. In Lent we enter with him into his fasting and discipline, and prepare to follow him to Gethsemane, and then to his trial and death.
At that point we see the greatest manifestation of God's love.
And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:5-8)
St. Paul tells us the same thing that St. John tells us, and also reminds us that the Holy Spirit makes this a reality in our own hearts. Our love for God is only possible because he first loved us, and gave his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
The first half of the church year draws most of our attention to what God has done for us in his Son, Jesus Christ: It is summarized by a hymn:
O Love, how deep, how broad, how high,
how passing thought and fantasy,
that God, the Son of God should take
our mortal form for mortals' sake.
For us baptized, for us he bore
his holy fast and hungered sore.
For us temptations sharp he knew,
for us the tempter overthrew.
For us he prayed, for us he taught,
for us his daily works he wrought,
by words and signs and actions thus,
still seeking not himself but us.
For us to evil men betrayed,
scourged, mocked, in purple robe arrayed.
He bore the shameful cross and death,
for us gave up his dying breath.
For us he rose from death again;
for us he went on high to reign;
for us he sent his Spirit here
to guide, to comfort and to cheer.
All glory to our Lord and God
for love so deep, so high, so broad;
the Trinity whom we adore
forever and forevermore!
(Text: Thomas á Kempis; tr. Benj. Webb, J.M. Neale, alt.)
"We love him, because he first loved us."
Now, after Pentecost, we enter into Trinitytide and the emphasis turns immediately to the second table of the Law, as we saw last week in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, and as we heard in the Epistle: "Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit." (I John 4:11-13) Our love for neighbor also comes from the same love of God manifested in Jesus Christ, manifested most visibly on the cross where he died for each of us-love you must learn to take personally, as St. Paul took it personally, saying with him "...the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me." (Galatians 2:20) Your charity, grown as the virtue of perfection in your heart by the Holy Spirit, is love that begins to take root and grow only because you know that the Son of God loved you, and gave himself for you.
That produces love for God, and produces love for your neighbor. In this opening of Trintiytide we see that we cannot love God if we do not love our neighbor.
We love him, because he first loved us. 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 bath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also. (I John 4:19-21)
And so, today's Epistle:
Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him. Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. (I John 3:15-18)
This is practical, and speaks of love that acts spontaneously, because it is a reality always present. Though St. John's words make us think of practical, earthly necessities (and the Church has always emphasized ministry to the poor concerning their practical needs, including medical needs), we must remember that John expressed his love most clearly by preaching the Gospel, and writing to the end that we would believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.
The first generation of Christians faced rejection from many of their fellow Jews, and at the same time they came to see that the Gospel is for all nations, and so began including Gentiles in the Church as God had foretold and as Christ commanded. This began when St. Peter went to the house of Cornelius, and then, in time, it became the ministry of St. Paul more than any other, to take the Gospel to people who had formerly been thought of as unclean, so much so that no Jew could enter their houses. This tells us that taking the Gospel to those who are outside is a great act of love in itself.
This is from today's Gospel in the 14th chapter of Luke:
Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind. And the servant said, Lord, it is done as thou hast commanded, and yet there is room. And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled. For I say unto you that none of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper.
Evangelism is a duty, an act of charity that we owe our neighbor; it is a manifestation of love. If we are to evangelize seriously, love for neighbor must be our motivation rather than simply a need to grow our churches. Yes, the Master wants them to come into his house. But this is not to fill pews, collect more money, or keep up with the churches that have more members to boast of.
The Master wants his house to be filled, and the emphasis is on the feast. The emphasis on the feast speaks of the "Marriage Supper of the Lamb," a reference to eternal joy for those who are raised to immortality on the Last Day. Nonetheless, the use of a feast in the parable should also draw our attention to the Blessed Sacrament. One very real part of our duty to our neighbor, born of the love of God shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, is to invite people to come in. That invitation is to "taste and see that the Lord is good." (Psalm 34:8) This presupposes that we help them to true faith in Jesus Christ so that they may be full members of his Church.
Contrary to the way some modern Evangelicals think, evangelism is not finished when someone "accepts Jesus." A person needs to be baptized, filled with the Holy Spirit, and to taste of the Master's Supper, the Blessed Sacrament of his body and blood. Evangelism, properly understood, requires the ministry of God's word and sacraments.
Nonetheless, one ministry everybody has is contained in those words we heard: "Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled." The Holy Spirit who dwells within you gives gifts that enable and empower each of you, in ways so varied that no one could know them, to be a witness that Jesus Christ is Lord, and the Savior of the world. Love has to be your motivation for helping others come to know him.
"And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself."