Saturday, February 09, 2013

QUINQUAGESIMA or the next Sunday before Lent.

I Corinthians 13 * Luke 18:31-43

The word “charity” is generally rendered “love” in just about any other translation of the Bible. The King James use of the word “charity” is something that may be instructive, if we take advantage of it. After all, the Greek word translated here as “charity” is agape’ (γάπη), and in most places the King James Bible also translates it as “love.”

          One example is Romans 5:5: “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.” Notice, this love, agape’, is not just any love. It is the love of God. Well, if this is God’s own love, how can we be expected to have it ourselves? The answer is twofold.

          First of all, it is in the verse itself: “…the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. It is God’s own love, resident by grace, in the human heart. Second, as we continue to read, we see these words: “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 (vs.6-8).” God commends His love, once again, His agape’ (His charity, or if you prefer Latin, His caritas).

          This special love, the love of God, is given to us, that is made to grow within us, by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit also makes us understand this particular love by seeing it in the death of our Lord Jesus Christ. He had said, the night before His death, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).” It has been said before that Jesus showed something greater than mere human love, that is Divine love, by dying for His enemies. And, though I appreciate a measure of truth in that statement, I prefer to take it a step further. In the following verse Jesus said, “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you (v.14).” Yet, His death is once for all, for every human being, every sinner, who has ever lived (Hebrews 10:10, John 1:29, I John 2:2). That is, from the Divine perspective, everyone has been treated as a friend, even the worst enemies who were crucifying Him. That is what His cross and death were about, reconciling the lost and fallen world to God. To whatever degree you may have ever acted like an enemy of God, on the cross Jesus has treated you as if you were a friend; for He gave His life for you.

          To experience Divine love for others as a gift, as grace, planted within you, as the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22f) that grows within you, you need to receive the Holy Spirit. He alone can make this happen within your heart. It is more than natural love. It is supernatural love. In our Epistle reading this day, that most famous passage St. Paul ever wrote, we learn that this love is completely selfless, completely altruistic. It seeks nothing for itself. It endures everything, even the worst that people can do to you – and don’t we see that in Jesus as He forgave those who were crucifying and mocking Him?

          The reason charity “endureth all things” and “never faileth” is because it is God’s love. Faith works, love labors and hope endures. But, it is all because God’s children have the grace of God that comes only from the Holy Spirit “shed abroad in our hearts.” Without the Holy Spirit, you may love and love deeply. But, only with the grace that comes from the Holy Spirit, can you love perfectly. It is more than emotion; it is always giving. It doesn’t tire out when you come to the end of your own strength. Indeed, it may even begin there.

          And, as we have seen, you cannot understand this love unless you understand what Jesus did for you on the cross, when “He poured out His soul unto death (Isaiah 53:12)” to pay the full price for all of your sins. God commended His love to us, sinners, unworthy, indeed guilty before God, in that Christ died for us.

          How astounding are the words of St. Paul. To see them with fresh eyes, let’s look at some of today’s Epistle with the RSV:

“And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing (v.2).”

Remember these words from the sermon on the Mount:

“Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out demons? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity (Matthew 7:22,23) .”

          What do we learn from this? That even power to work miracles, even great knowledge and understanding, are no mark of a holy life. Since the Apostles went out and worked miracles, sent by Jesus to “every village and town” while He was with them on earth, we may be sure that Judas worked miracles too. It is no proof whatsoever of sainthood. That is because it is God’s work, not man’s. A holy person, a saint, cannot heal you by his own power anyway. And, evil men may still have the gifts and callings of God, even the power to work miracles (Romans 11:29).

          Then we look at these words from today’s Epistle reading (again let me use the RSV):

“If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing (v.3).” 

          Why is that? Well, if you understand anything at all about the Gospel, you should know that good works do not atone for sin. Who, not having the love of God shed abroad in their hearts, go to great lengths such as we read about here? Is it not those who believe that they can atone for their own sins? Is it not those who believe they can earn God’s favor? But you cannot earn God’s favor, and you cannot atone for your own soul, neither for that of anyone else (“They that trust in their wealth, and boast themselves in the multitude of their riches; None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him.” -Psalm 49:6, 7).

          One and only one atonement has ever been made. Every Old Testament sacrifice was a sacrament that would have meant nothing apart from Christ coming and fulfilling the whole Law, and offering Himself for sin. And, when you confess and repent, it is not atonement; you are not paying for your sins with penance. You can’t pay for them. Listen and hear the words again: “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Let those words sink down into your ears. Let them take hold in your heart. That, His death, is the only price that has ever been paid, ever could be paid, or, indeed, that we need to have paid, for our sins.

          So, of course, you “gain nothing.” Of course “it profiteth me nothing.” It cannot anyway, nor have we need of any such thing to be justified by God.

“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:8-10).”

          What then about good works that God has “prepared for us to walk in?” Are they not the fruit of love, of agape’ shed abroad in your heart by the Holy Spirit? Are they not the spontaneous response of a true believer, because you simply cannot do otherwise, and could not let yourself turn away? The person who acts from this love of God is not seeking to profit, not looking to gain, anything. Such a person knows how to depend on the Holy Spirit, and such a person is grateful always to God for the atoning death of Jesus Christ by which salvation has been freely given. So, such a person will always treat even “one of the least of these” as if he was serving the needs of the Lord Jesus Himself (Matthew 25:31-46).

          “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.” For, that is no less than the presence of God Himself, for “God is Love” – “God is agape’ (I John 4:8, 16).”  


Anonymous said...

Dear Fr Hart,
Was giving one's body to be burned considered an act of piety among the Jews?

Anonymous said...


I am wondering if you are referring to the worship of Baal? From the net: Ritualistic Baal worship, in sum, looked a little like this: Adults would gather around the altar of Baal. Infants would then be burned alive as a sacrificial offering to the deity. Amid horrific screams and the stench of charred human flesh, congregants – men and women alike – would engage in bisexual orgies. The ritual of convenience was intended to produce economic prosperity by prompting Baal to bring rain for the fertility of “mother earth.”

More from the net: The Israelites never abandoned the worship of Yahweh. They simply added the worship of Ba‘al to their worship of Yahweh (called syncretism). When crops were abundant, Ba‘al was praised and thanked for his abundant rain. It is in this context that drought had such impact throughout the biblical traditions. Not only was lack of rain a threat to survival, it was also a sign that the gods of the Ba‘al myth were unhappy. It is this context that the "contest" between Elijah and the prophets of Ba’al carries such significance. The issue is really who controls the rain, Ba‘al or Yahweh.

Further summation, from the net: The Israelites struggled with Ba‘al worship until the time of the exile, especially in the more agrarian areas of the northern Kingdom of Israel (also due to some degree to its official establishment as a state religion in the North for a time during the reign of Ahab and Jezebel, c. 850 BC). However, as Jeremiah makes clear, it was a recurring problem in the Southern Kingdom as well. Largely due to Jeremiah’s insistence that the nation would fall because of its lack of commitment to God exemplified in its dabbling in Ba‘al worship, the problem faded after the return from exile in 538. While there were traces of it later, Ba‘al worship was never again the problem that it was prior to the Exile. The Judaism that emerged after the exile in the reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah was passionately monotheistic, and has remained so ever since.

The above text by Dennis Bratcher.


Fr. Robert Hart said...

I think St. Paul may have been thinking of the kind of martyrdom described in II Maccabees.