TRINITY IV – Dominus illuminatio mea
Introit: (Ps. 27) The Lord is my light, and my salvation, whom then shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life, of whom shall I be afraid? When mine enemies pressed sore against me, they stumbled and fell. Ps. Though an host of men were laid against me: yet shall not my heart be afraid.
Collect: O God, the protector of all that trust in thee, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: increase and multiply upon us thy mercy; that, thou being our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal. Grant this, O heavenly Father, for Jesus Christ’s sake our Lord. Amen.
OT Lesson: Thus saith the Lord God: Ye shall be named the Priests of the Lord: men shall call you the Ministers of our God: ye shall eat the riches of the Gentiles, and in their glory shall ye boast yourselves. For your shame ye shall have double; and for confusion they shall rejoice in their portion: therefore in their land they shall possess the double: everlasting joy shall be unto them. For I the Lord love judgement, I hate robbery for burnt offering; and I will direct their work in truth, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them. And their seed shall be known among the Gentiles, and their offspring among the people: all that see them shall acknowledge them, that they are the seed which the Lord hath blessed. I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels. For as the earth bringeth forth her bud, and as the garden causeth the things that are sown in it to spring forth; so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations. (Isaiah 61.6-11)
Gradual: (Ps. 79) Be merciful, O Lord, unto our sins: wherefore do the heathen say: Where is now their God? V. Help us, O God of our salvation: and for the glory of thy Name, O Lord, deliver us.
Epistle: Brethren: I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body, in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8.18-23)
Alleluia. O God, who art set in the throne and judgest right: be thou the refuge of the oppressed in time of trouble. Alleluia.
The Holy Gospel: At that time: Jesus said unto his disciples: Be ye merciful, as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven: give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again. And he spake a parable unto them, Can the blind lead the blind? shall they not both fall into the ditch? The disciple is not above his master: but every one that is perfect shall be as his master. And 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 canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou thyself beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye. (St Luke 6.36-42)
“Motes” and “beams” and “judging” and “suffering”: what do all these things have to do with our Christian lives? Strange as it may seem, the answer is, “Mercy.” Our Collect and lessons today teach us that life in the Kingdom of God means living in mercy: we have received mercy from God, and we, in turn, are to show mercy in our lives, in our dealings with others. We need continually to pray for God’s mercy, so that we might persevere to the end, as we pray in the Collect: “Increase and multiply upon us thy mercy; that, thou being our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal.” We may not always fully comprehend what that means.
People often think that the Christian life is always going to be smooth sailing. All too often, however, we are confronted with suffering and calamity—the theological term is “theodicy.” We are generally at a loss to answer the world’s question: “How can a loving God allow suffering?” We are unsure, maybe even afraid, of the answer, so we ignore the subject altogether or try to gloss over it. But St Paul does not. In today’s Epistle he writes about “the sufferings of this present time,” the futility (“vanity”) under which creation is groaning with us, and the troubles and sufferings even of those “who have the first fruits of the Spirit;” yet none of this shakes his faith in the steadfast love and mercy of God.
When trials come, we should remember these words: “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us,” or as Lamentations 3.22-23 reminds us: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceaseth, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness.” The point is that misery and hardship are temporary, but are all part of God’s mercy as He works all things together for our good, preparing us for “the things eternal.” Life may be difficult and sometimes painful, but these sufferings teach us to repent of who we were, and rejoice in what we are becoming, as God transforms sinners into saints and makes us ready for His Kingdom. This is St Paul’s understanding of divine mercy. He saw, even in the miseries of this life, a gracious process of divine healing and salvation that will one day be perfected in the light of the mystery of God’s love and grace. So if St Paul, with all the trials and persecutions he endured, could remain confident in the mercy of God, then so can we. Paul had a calm assurance that God’s divine mercy is working all things together, and that even those situations that seem devastating at the time are not only consistent with God’s love, but are in fact instances of God’s love. In His providence and wisdom God takes us through the hard times of life so that He can teach us how to rely on Him—how to live in His grace.
God’s love manifests itself in mercy, and God’s mercy is to be our example, and the measure of our interactions with those around us, as Our Lord teaches us in the Gospel: “Be ye merciful, even as your Father is merciful. Judge not, and ye shall not be judged; condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned; forgive, and ye shall be forgiven; give, and it shall be given unto you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured back to you.” Being critical, grudging, or judgemental is the exact opposite of being merciful. But even more significantly, when we take it upon ourselves to judge others, we are setting a standard that will apply to us just as much as to the person we are judging. Expecting perfection from someone else means raising the standard for ourselves, as well—a standard to which we cannot measure up any more than they. In other words, God will make us our own judges and weigh us with our own weights. This is a sobering thought. A harsh and critical spirit on our part will undoubtedly come pouring back upon us. But in contrast, love will be poured back upon the loving, forgiveness upon the forgiving, and mercy upon the merciful. And when we allow God’s love and mercy to be our guide and to shine through us, His blessings, as well as the blessing of others, will return upon us, “good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over.”
He then presents two parables to exemplify this principle in practical terms. Hyperbole was commonly used in parables in order to illustrate a point. A “mote” is a speck or small splinter, while the “beam” refers to a log or timber. The sheer ridiculousness of this illustration makes us laugh, but the exaggeration draws attention to the fact that we so grossly underestimate our own faults and sins, especially in comparison to those of others. Our Lord’s point is that we, who are so critical and unforgiving of other people, appear equally ridiculous, demonstrating how oblivious we are to our own faults and our own need for forgiveness. In other words, He is telling us to put down the magnifying glass with which we so carefully and critically inspect other people’s lives, and pick up a mirror and take a long hard and honest look at ourselves!
“Can the blind lead the blind?” This image represents a spiritual blindness caused by sin and unbelief, a condition common to everyone. We all come into this world spiritually blind, neither seeing nor knowing the Kingdom of God. St Paul says that, “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (I Cor. 2.14) Our Lord’s image of the blind leading the blind is a picture of one who goes through life blind to the reality of God’s Kingdom, yet certain, in his pride and arrogance, that he can manage just fine on his own, even saying to others, “Come along, I’ll show you the way. Follow me!” We know that such a scenario will not end well, but if we believe that Our Lord is only talking about “the other guy,” then we need to have our own eyes checked. Our sins shift our focus away from Christ and back upon ourselves, so that He is no longer the lens through Whom we see and find our way, and following our own way or the ways of the world, without God “being our ruler and guide,” we will surely fall into the pit of destruction. Through our faith in Him, Christ has opened our eyes and given us sight, enabling us to be like Him, just as a student or disciple when he is “fully trained shall be like his teacher.”
“Judge not, and ye shall not be judged. Condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned. Forgive and ye shall be forgiven. Give and it shall be given unto you. The measure you give will be the measure you get.” As fallen human beings, our natural inclination is to judge and condemn, but this, in fact, actually condemns us to a world without mercy. Mercy forgives and gives. This kind of generosity of heart and life can only be ours if we have first received mercy and forgiveness from God. Christ calls us to love as we have been loved by God. Generous, gracious, and grateful lives are rooted in His goodness and mercy. As we receive and appreciate the infinite love, mercy, and generosity of God, we are transformed into the loving, merciful and generous people He created us to be. “O God, … increase and multiply upon us thy mercy.”
“I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness.”
Collect: O God, whose nature and property is ever to have mercy and to forgive: Receive our humble petitions; and though we be tied and bound with the chain of our sins, yet let the pitifulness of thy great mercy loose us; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
And may the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord: and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, be amongst you and remain with you always. Amen.