Sunday, September 28, 2014

16th Sunday After Pentecost

In the traditional Calendar, today is the 16th Sunday after Pentecost. The Epistle read today was formerly read on the 15th Sunday going back to the 4th century, and sometime before the 9th was shifted to this Sunday, when all the Epistles after Pentecost shifted ahead one Sunday, whilst the Gospels and other propers remained. One can readily see the connection between the Gospel of today (Luke 14:1-11), which includes the parable spoken by Christ to the Pharisees, over taking the lowest seat at the table, with the Epistle formerly read on this day, but now next Sunday, Ephesians 4:1-6, which calls us to walk in humility and meekness.

But the change was not unfitting

The Epistle now read is the following

Brethren: I pray you not to be disheartened at my tribulations for you, for they are your glory. For this reason I bend my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from Whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth receives its name, that He may grant you from His glorious riches to be strengthened with power through His Spirit unto the progress of the inner man; and to have Christ dwelling through faith in your hearts: so that, being rooted and grounded in love, you may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know Christ’s love which surpasses knowledge, in order that you may be filled unto all the fullness of God. Now, to Him Who is able to accomplish all things in a measure far beyond what we ask or conceive, in keeping with the power that is at work in us - to Him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus down through all the ages of time without end. Amen.

Also included in the Gospel passage of today is the story of the man with dropsy,  whom Christ heals on the Sabbath before instructing the Pharisees on humility. In this Christ manifests not just His love for men, but how it surpasses the knowledge of men. "And Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, Is it lawful to cure on the Sabbath? But they remained silent." Christ did not answer the question verbally at first, but rather acted in love toward the man in dropsy. "And He took and healed him and let him go. Then addressing them." In this Christ showed that His love surpasses their knowledge. And then, as He knew their minds, He gave them a gentle rebuke. "Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fall into a pit, and will not immediately draw him up on the Sabbath? And they could give Him no answer to these things."

They were unable to answer His basic questions, yet Christ manifested the truth through His act of love. The Pharisees, being dumb-struck by the simplicity of Christ's love must have been torn. Christ knew how they judged Him and wished to condemn Him for breaking the Sabbath, but they were unable to do so, unable to gainsay the manifestation of His charity in the act of healing the man. And Christ prods them further, challenging them. But rather than seeing the error of their thoughts, they remain silent since they neither could affirm the truth of Christ's actions without conversion, nor deny them without condemning themselves.

But Christ exhibits, still, a care toward them. He does not cease prodding, knowing of their pride, He challenges them more directly.

He also spoke a parable to those invited, observing how they were choosing the first places at table, and He said to them, When you are invited to a wedding feast, do not recline in the first place, lest perhaps one more distinguished than you have been invited by him, and he who invited you and him come and say to you, ‘Make room for this man’; and then you begin with shame to take the last place. But when you are invited go and recline in the last place; that when he who invited you comes in, he may say to you, ‘Friend, go up higher!’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who are at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, and he who humbles himself shall be exalted.

After having been shut up by the simple witness of Christ's action of love, still they exhibited pride, and Christ, in His solicitude for them, challenges them the more. Christ continues instructing the Pharisees, beyond the pericope given for today, including giving them the parable of the wedding feast and in various ways calling them to renounce all they possess and to take up their cross. At the end He states, "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear."

Whereas the Pharisees show immediately a deafness to Christ, as we read in the next chapter of Luke where they conspire against him, Paul manifests one who embodies the entire lesson Christ has given here to the Pharisees. He calls his suffering the glory of his brethren, casting aside earthly riches, he looks to the recompense to be given at the resurrection of the just (Luke 14:14).

Paul showed, in his acceptance of tribulations, what was really necessary to hear Christ's words, that is, to understand them. It is in knowing the charity of Christ that we know the "breadth and length and height and depth" of God.

As Aquinas explains Paul is alluding to another suffering saint, namely Job.

Peradventure thou wilt comprehend the steps of God, and wilt find out the Almighty perfectly? He is higher than heaven, and what wilt thou do? he is deeper than hell, and how wilt thou know? The measure of him is longer than the earth, and broader than the sea.

 Job continues, condemning the vanity of men. It is only in humbling ourselves that such knowledge of God, as to know His breadth and length and height and depth, is possible. Aquinas continues explaining the words of the Apostle, "for alluding to these words, the Apostle says 'that you may be able to comprehend which is the length, etc" as if he said 'hold such charity and faith that you may comprehend Him insofar as He may be comprehended.'"

May we, following Christ, have ears to hear, and humbling ourselves, learn the charity of Christ and have true comprehension of the length, breadth, height and depth of God.

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