Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 18)


Matthew 22:34-46; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; Deuteronomy 10:12-21

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

“What does the LORD your God require of you?” Now, there’s a question that gets down to brass tacks. But, isn’t that what you’ve desired, a straight-forward, no-holds-barred, just-tell-me-what’s-expected-of-me-so-that-I-can-do-it sort of statement? “Just tell me what I need to do, Lord, and I’ll do it!” Well, ok then, here you go: Fear the Lord your God. Walk in all His ways. Love Him. Serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD. Thus saith the Lord. Do this, and you will live.

Now, perhaps some of you think that sounds pretty good? You hear this Law and think that you size up pretty well, especially when you compare yourself to some of your neighbors, co-workers, friends, and relatives. And, to be sure, the devil will pump you full of pride and will encourage those thoughts. Well, as one of my seminary professors has infamously said, “You know not the Scriptures or the power therein!” That is to say, you know the letter of the Law, but you do not know its spirit. You are like the Pharisees, who must continually whittle down the Law to make it more do-able and contrast yourself against others to improve the image of your performance. But, there’s a bit of a problem with your way of thinking. The Law of God expects and demands absolute perfection, in thought, word, and deed. Doing some of the Law or even most of the Law earns you only damnation and hell. God is not partial and He takes no bribe.

On the other hand, perhaps you are all too aware of how you fall short of the expectations of God’s Law. You know that you don’t do it or keep it, and, even though you try, you fail, daily. Then, the same devil will attack you and accuse you so that you despair of forgiveness, believing there is no hope for your salvation. What, then, are you to make of all this? “Damned if you do; damned if you don’t?” Yeah, that’s pretty much it, if you insist that your righteousness is achieved by your works according to the Law.

You see, the Pharisees asked Jesus a Law question because they wanted to justify themselves according to the Law: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” “Let’s narrow down those Ten Commandments, indeed the other 603 (613 total) in the Torah as well, to just one, one that we can say we do and that others don’t.” Jesus knows their hypocrisy, the Pharisees know very well that the Great Commandment of the Law is to love God with absolutely everything that you are, heart, soul, and mind, and that the other side of that commandment is to love everyone as you love yourself. In fact, everything in the Law and the Prophets, the entire Hebrew Scriptures, which we call the Old Testament, hangs upon this Great Commandment – Love. Love God and love your neighbor, always, perfectly, without failing, in thought, word, and deed. That is the summation of the Law.

But, the Pharisees were too wrapped up in the Law for them to love. Since the Law was so impossible to do, they had to continually diminish it and sub-divide it to make it more do-able. The result of this is that they neither fulfilled the Law of God, nor did they truly love God or their neighbors. That’s why Jesus directs them away from the Law and points them, instead, to the Gospel. Jesus asks the Pharisees a question: What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he? The answer the Pharisees gave was the standard one from the popular understanding that the Messiah would be an earthly king descended from the line of David. Thus, Jesus points them beyond this understanding to a mystery saying, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet’? If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” The question is this, “How can David’s Lord also be David’s son?” This is a profound mystery, but it is the key that unlocks the messianic prophecy as well as the key that unlocks the shackles of God’s holy Law.

David’s Lord is God. David’s son is a descendent of his lineage. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is at once David’s Lord, since He is God, and the son of David, born of the Virgin Mary of the house of David and adopted by Joseph of the house of David. Jesus is the Son of God and the Son of Man; He is David’s Lord and He is David’s son. This truth we sing at Christmas: Son of God and Son of Man. This truth we confess in the Athanasian Creed: He is God of the substance of His Father begotten before all ages, and He is Man, born from the substance of His mother in this age. Perfect God and perfect man, composed of a rational soul and human flesh; equal to the Father with respect to His divinity; less than the Father with respect to His humanity. Although He is God and Man, He is not two, but one Christ. Jesus is the key because He is the divine link between the two Great Commandments. Jesus is God in human flesh, come as our neighbor, to be loved as we love ourselves. And, Jesus is God in human flesh, come as our neighbor, that God could love us as a neighbor as Himself. Jesus is the fulfilling of both tables of the Law, righting out relationship with our neighbor and righting our relationship with God.

Thus, Jesus is also the love of God poured out for us loveless sinners, the love that conquers death, the earnings for our sin, in His own sacrificial, substitutionary, and atoning death. Jesus is Love, thus He is the fulfilling of the Law. He has set us free from the shackles of the Law so that we may do it freely and without fear or coercion. And, He has sent us His Holy Spirit so that we are not lacking in any spiritual gift. There is, therefore, no need to pare down God’s Law to make it more manageable, for it has been fulfilled in love; there is no need to ask “Who should I love? And, to what extent? And, how often?” for there are no quotas and there is nothing to lose, while there is everything to gain. Love God, and love your neighbor, freely, recklessly, and with utter abandon, for you are beloved of the Father, in the Son, and with the Holy Spirit.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.


Anonymous said...

Hi Jon,
I have just stumbled upon your blog site and loved what I have read so far. You are obviously somewhat more learned that I am so I look forward to delving more into where you are coming from. In the mean time I have set up a similar blog site with perhaps similar hopes so please feel free to pop over, digest, tear apart, agree etc. Thanks for your work so far,


Fr. Jon M. Ellingworth said...

Hello Matt! Great to hear from you! I'm pleased that you've found my blog useful and I wish you blessings upon your own spiritual conversation / blog / pilgrimage sort-of-thing ;->

My hermeneutic (interpretive tool) for the Holy Scriptures is simply Christ: What does this passage, story, narrative, book, etc. say to me about Christ? Everything in the Old Testament points to Christ, and everything in the New Testament flows from Christ and reflects upon Him and His work. As John writes near the end of his Gospel: These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His Name.

More specifically, I continue to reflect upon what the Incarnation truly and fully means for us. Quite literally, the Incarnation changed everything. When Jesus says "Your sins are forgiven," prior to healing, it is the reality, presence, and power of the Incarnation (the Word of God made flesh) that makes it so. In the Incarnation, Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus, our forgiveness and eternal healing, in Christ, is a done deal so that the physical healing is merely a sign of the spiritual reality; even if the physical healing is not granted, that does not change the spiritual reality. Same thing with the people Jesus raised - Jesus IS the Resurrection and Life; our victory in Christ over death and the grave is a done deal, right now! Nothing can change that, not even our physical death, for in Christ it has become nothing more to fear than going to sleep at night.

On another note, I love the title of your blog. The Torn Veil is indeed a powerful sign and image. But again, what does the torn veil say to us about Christ? Do you know any Greek? John 1:14, the Incarnation, in the Greek literally says "The Word became flesh and TABERNACLED amongst us." That word TABERNACLE is the same word that is used in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) for the Tabernacle in Exodus and Leviticus. The OT Tabernacle was the Real Presence of God amongst His people. There the glory of God was present amongst His people, behind the veil, in the Most Holy Place. In the Incarnation, the Word of God, the Glory of God, TABERNACLED in the flesh and blood body of Jesus. Moreover, John records that after Jesus' death on the cross, the Centurion pierced His side (the veil of Jesus' flesh). And, out of the side of Jesus comes the atoning blood and the cleansing water.

Wanna go farther and deeper? How is the piercing of Jesus' side like the piercing of Adam's side, the removing of a rib, and the fashioning of the woman Eve? From the side of Jesus is brought forth His Bride, the Church, in atoning blood (Holy Communion) and cleansing water (Holy Baptism).

What a wonderful, mysterious, and amazing journey we've been invited to join in! The beautiful thing about Divine Mystery is that you can never exhaust it, it simply brings you in deeper and deeper.

Blessings in Christ, my friend! I look forward to dialoguing more with you!