That thou being our ruler and guide, we may so pass through
Things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal.
(Collect, Trinity IV)
Trinity season is all about growth and fertility. And from the time of the Patristic Church until our own, in the churches which retain the ancient lectionary, the faithful have sought to grow from strength to strength, in the knowledge and love of God, as they seek to become participants in the life of the Holy Trinity. For traditional Christians, the core essence of the faith is found in the life that God the Holy Trinity shares with us. And the Scriptural lessons which we read for this Fourth Sunday after Trinity enable us to understand better how Jesus Christ encourages us to participate in God’s life so that passing through things temporal, …we finally lose not the things eternal. Our destination is Heaven and its character our glory.
So let us begin with today’s Gospel lesson. Jesus tells us to be merciful as our Father also is merciful. He encourages us to judge not, lest [we] be judged. To condemn not lest [we] be condemned. To forgive that we might be shall be forgiven. (St. Luke vi. 36, 37) Christ is trying to help us to see that we are most in need of God’s mercy, compassion, and forgiveness. And if this is true, then we had better not be preoccupied with other people’s sins, weaknesses, and shortcomings. We have plenty of spiritual work to do in our own lives, and if God’s Grace is to make good with us, then we had better be turning our censorious monitor away from others and onto ourselves. Judging other men and refusing to forgive them are generally accurate indicators of our having failed to see the gravity of our own sins and to feel the need for God’s merciful forgiveness and deliverance from them. Jesus likens it to spiritual blindness. Can the blind lead the blind? Shall they not both fall into a ditch? (Ibid, 39) Other men might be blind, but we are called by Jesus to see. Jesus longs to open our eyes to our sins and then to the forgiveness of God in Him that alone can overcome them. Jesus is the embodiment of God’s mercy and forgiveness. He longs to impart that gift to us, that being illuminated by it, we might help others to see and thus not fall into the ditch and away from God. So Jesus calls us to see ourselves, to take a moral inventory of our vice, to confess our absolute need for God’s Grace, and to embrace His forgiveness. Why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but perceivest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Either how can thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye? (Ibid, 41, 42) Are you blind to your own sins, Jesus asks each of us today? Do you not see that you need forgiveness as much if not more than anyone else? Thou hypocrite, He concludes, cast out first the beam that is in thine own eye, and then thou shalt see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye. (Ibid, 42) See yourself, take a good, long, and hard look at who and what you are, our Lord insists. Know that what you need, first and foremost are God’s mercy and forgiveness, His love and compassion without which nothing is strong, nothing is holy. (Collect: Trinity IV) And know too that if you are not healed by God’s forgiveness, you cannot participate in God’s life and extend it to others.
I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. If ye know these things, blesssed are ye if ye do them. (St. John xiii. 17) St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that the virtue of mercy is grief over another’s distress…and it regards misery for one to be pitied. (S.T. II, ii. xxx, 3) He does not mean grief or misery that involve any kind of condescendingly arrogant pity for others. What he describes is that loving mercy in Jesus Christ that has already grieved over fallen man’s distress and desires to touch him with God’s pity. Jesus Christ grieves over our sinful state and longs to have pitiful mercy upon all of us. So if a man has been forgiven his sins and is conscious of having been filled with the underserved and unmerited mercy of our Lord, he cannot help but be filled with thanksgiving for such a gift. Then he will wish and desire that all other men might be touched and changed by the very same love. Give, and it shall be given unto you. (Ibid, 38) God’s loving mercy intends to touch the penitent man in good measure, press itself down into his soul, be shaken together with the whole of his being, and to run over into all of his life. (Idem)
And yet, to be sure, it is not easy always to receive this gift. Good habits are hard enough to form in natural life, let alone in the spiritual life. They must be repeated over and over again until they fill us with goodness. But the acquisition of Divine virtue requires a pleading for supernatural Grace: Increase and multiply upon us thy mercy; that thou being our ruler and guide, we may so pass things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal. (Collect) And St. Paul tells us that it won’t become the habit of our lives without suffering. He says that, the whole creation groaneth and travailleth in pain together until now. (Romans. viii. 22) By reason of man’s sin, the creation no longer exists in glorious harmony with its Maker. Matthew Henry tells us that, There is an impurity, deformity, and infirmity, which the creature has contracted by the fall of man: the creation is sullied and stained, much of the beauty of the world gone. (M. Henry, Comm.) Man must come to see and know that though he was made to return and reconcile all of created reality to God, he has ruptured it selfishly and sinfully from his Maker. So he must discover that only by intense and determined spiritual surrender to Divine Grace can he be returned to God with the rest of creation. St. Paul reminds us elsewhere that, We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. (Eph. vi. 12) And because of it, we must keep our eyes on our Lord, laying aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, to run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews xii. 1,2). Only then will we begin to measure and value the suffering, which we encounter in this present time, as nothing compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. (Ibid, 18)
As we suffer to surrender to Jesus, He will both correct and discipline, and acclimate and habituate us to His virtue, that we might not only see Him now by faith but also begin to realize the transformative power of His mercy and forgiveness. Old Bishop Morse used to teach: To love is to suffer. Suffering the love of God to take hold of us means that the Divine forgiveness will saturate our souls and then overwhelm us with its ever-expanding intention to make [us] new (Rev. xxi. 5). A love too Divine for any human imagining or creation, and thus one unconstrained by finite limitations, will begin to approach us in Jesus Christ, who longs to conquer all sin in our lives. And that is just one side of it. On the other side, He has a work for us to do through His Holy Spirit. It isn’t anything grand, of course. God reveals Himself in and through all of creation in the simplest and most commonplace of ways. How is that? Well, He longs to share His love with us and express it in our every thought, word, and deed. As His love was made flesh in Jesus Christ long ago, He longs to make it flesh in us today. And this doesn’t mean that His love should be revealed through us in occasional and random acts of kindness only, or, even better, in more habitual and customary tithes and almsgiving. These are merely the necessary natural effects of a deeper love. He wants us to groan and travail in pain together for the salvation and deliverance of the whole of creation. Jesus teaches us that, Everyone that is fully taught shall be as his master. (Ibid, 40) Jesus as Lord has groaned and travailed in pain for the deliverance of all creation, and He desires that we should do likewise. Isn’t this strange? God wants to love His perfection into our lives through the heart of His Son. This means that Jesus Christ’s love must be so alive in us that we never cease to suffer in prayer until all men come to the knowledge and love of God. Thus, for as long as we live we must do all that lies within us to forgive and love in order to hope for the salvation of the world. The disciple is not above his Master. (Idem)
This is a tall order. But with God all things are possible (St. Matthew xix. 26). Jesus has become the merciful love and forgiveness of God in the flesh so that we may so pass through things temporal that we finally lose not the things eternal (Idem). Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. (St. John xv. 13) Christ has lovingly forgiven all of our sins and taken them into His death. We must then be dead to all sin, and most especially to the refusal to mercifully love and forgive all men. We must even pray that God’s mercy may come so alive in other men’s hearts that they will have pity upon us and thus assist us through their intercessory prayer. The sentiment is fittingly expressed in the humble petition of Pope Gregory the Great at the conclusion of his Moralia.
To great ones who can take pity on my weakness once they know of it, I open my heart to admit what they should forgive…I have not hidden my wounds and lacerations from [them]. So I ask that whoever reads my words should pour out the consolation of prayer before the strict judge for me, so that he may wash away with his tears every sordid thing he finds in me.