Word and Spirit

5 Epiphany

Isa. 58:1-9a (9b-12)Ps. 112:1-9 (10)1 Cor. 2:1-12 (13-16)Matt. 5:13-20

Embedded within Christianity is a prophetic religion, an iconoclastic blast of the trumpet announcing to God’s people their rebellion (Isa. 58:1). Religion and the ceremonies of religion without this prophetic corrective quickly mutate into an obsessive rigidity, a meticulous concern over form, order, and ceremony while leaving aside the greater question of human need and human flourishing. We may think that we are seeking the Lord and that we delight to know his ways, and yet we practice unrighteousness and serve our own interests at every turn (Isa. 58:3).

It is pathetic and laughable to observe a strict fast, only to quarrel and fight and strike with the fist (Isa. 58:4). Thus, the prophet sends us back to the early lesson of God’s love for the world. Before the law came, God loosed the bonds of injustice, broke the yoke of the oppressor, and set his people free. What God has done for us, we are to do for each other. “Do not hide yourself from your own kin!” Feel and know your humanity in your neighbor’s need, your neighbor’s flesh, your neighbor’s hope, your neighbor’s loss. And then “light shall shine in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday” (Isa. 58:10).

Why do we hide from our own humanity? Why do we cut ourselves off from others? Why do we seek plausible words of wisdom that do nothing more than argue on behalf of our superiority? Part of the problem may be that we do not want to see weakness and fear and trembling, so evident in human lives, as the truth about our own lives. “Remember that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return.” So much human business is designed to keep this truth at bay.

And yet the God of the universe deigns to come to us under the sign of weakness and fear and trembling. God comes as the enfleshed Word. And every ambassador of the Word likewise goes out to the world in weakness and need and emptiness. Our need is precisely the emptiness that Christ fills with a “demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Cor. 2:4). The Spirit is an aptitude for God’s wisdom, a perception higher and deeper than reason alone. The Spirit searches everything and shows all the riches of “what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor. 2:9). Indeed, the Spirit searches the depths of God, for the Spirit is God’s depth. The Spirit says, “Launch out into the deep” (Luke 5:4). Thought itself is elevated to “the mind of Christ.” He abides in us and we in him if only we allow him to meet us in our need.

Just as religious ceremony needs the prophet’s correction, so too the inner mystery of the Spirit’s indwelling must be balanced by an outward thrust of one’s attention toward the world. In the Spirit, we are “the salt of the earth” (Matt. 5:13). We preserve and season the whole inhabited world by our good words and works, which glorify our Father in heaven. In the Spirit, we are “the light of the world” (Matt. 5:14). And our light “gives light to all the house” (Matt. 5:15). In the Spirit, our “righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees,” though we are quick to admit that the word our is always subordinate to “in the Spirit” (Matt. 5:20).

Open the hidden and secret place of your need. There. Right there. Christ is. The Son with the Father in the unity of one Spirit.

Look It Up
Read 1 Cor. 2:9 (KJV).

Think About It
What kind of person are you becoming? Have you set out into the deep of divine love?


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