Saturday, February 04, 2012


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 Quintqua, 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 to us.    
Everyone who has raised children close in age to each other, has experienced the opposite of today’s parable. When the little ones, who have not labored and have earned nothing, are given gifts, sibling rivalry manifests itself at its worst. If one receives a gift and the other does not, or if one child believes the other one has been given a better gift, the slight, the injustice, is immediately decried. The fact is that no gift was deserved; the gifts were given out of the goodness of a father or mother’s heart. But, this is not worth pointing out to the child who thinks that he was given the short end of the stick. He thinks he wants justice; but we know that justice would not exactly be welcomed, at least not in place of kindness.   
Here, in the parable, we have a problem that is very much like its opposite, that is, like the scenario I have just described. The laborers who had borne the heat of the day had every reason to expect that their reward would be greater than the latecomers. 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 for us the 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 earth.   
The symbol 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 like 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, Saint 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 done.”        
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. 


RC Cola said...

I understand your point, and it is a good one. We, by nature, must fall short of the two great commandments. However, it is not at all difficult to go above and beyond the commandments derived from the Big Two. Jesus also said that if we are asked to walk a mile, to walk two. Whether Christ's walk is infinitely longer doesn't matter. We were asked to walk one, and walking two is better. Straight from Jesus' mouth.

Example: The tithe is 10% and one gives 25%, that is above what is commanded. It is an act of supererogation. Whether it is pleasing to God or not...
Whether one is arrogant and impious then becomes a matter of discerning whether one presumes that he is buying himself an express ticket to Heaven because he is giving over and above required of him, or if one is giving the extra out of humility and service, mindful that giving 25% is still less than the 100% God has given us.
I don't think it would be fair to assign to all Romans the first motive, as Article XIV seems to do. Perhaps those who bought indulgences from Johann Tetzel could be painted with that brush, but certainly not all. To be fair, we could not assign the second, purer motive, to all, either.

I don't disagree with Article XIV, but it strikes me as missing half of the equation. Namely, the presumption of forgiveness. "Well, you know there really is no living up to the Two great commandments. So, God and I have an understanding. I sin, and he forgives me." Or, as an counter example to the one above, "I know the tithe is 10% but God doesn't mind of I give less. After all, what can I truly give to God that doesn't already have?"
OR how about the way people dress at church? "Oh, God doesn't care if I go to Church in a bikini top and hot pants. He's seen me naked." (Oh, yes, I have heard this and seen much worse.) If the Church condemns only supererogation while leaving "suberogation" (if I may coin that term) unchecked, then we invite a tolerant attitude toward sin. I think the Anglican Communion, especially TEC, is the Q.E.D. for my assertion.

"Suberogation" despite the grace bestowed upon us is the natural state of man. However, delighting in suberogation is not. We all ought to hate the fact that we come up short and cannot, especially under our own power, resolve the failure. I say it's better to try to out-do our fallen nature than to wallow in it. Whereas supererogation appeared to the Reformers as trying to add to Christ's saving work, suberogation completely ignores Christ altogether, except to use him as a "Get out of jail free" card. Again, TEC...Q.E.D.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

In what we are posting about the Articles, we are showing that they are meant to go together, and are divided into sections. I suggest reading our chapter on Article XIV. The overall meaning of Article XIV is not about specific acts, in the final analysis, but about right standing with God and on what basis.That is, only in Christ are we made acceptable and accepted.

Anonymous said...

From the net:

The Greeks began to anticipate the Great Lent by a lighter penitential pre-season prior to Lent. Saint Gregory the Great corresponded to this tradition and added three additional weeks of preparation prior to Ash Wednesday. These Sundays were called Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima Sundays - Latin for "seventieth, sixtieth, and fiftieth."

RC Cola said...

OK, I'll do that. I probably should have gone back into your archives for a lengthier treatment and clarification before commenting on Article XIV here.