5 Epiphany

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

In today’s collect, we ask, “Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins, and give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ.” We have the solemn promise, “he that the Son sets free is free indeed” (John 8:36). This freedom, however, is offered in the fragility and temptations of every moment, a freedom which, in Christ the head of the Church, is secure; but, which, in the all-too-human members of the church, in their weakness and exposure to surrounding evils, is often lost. This loss is not permanent, to be sure, but we find it again and again in what is and feels like “the bondage of our sins.” “We have,” thanks be to God, “an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the perfect offering for our sins, and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world” (I John 2:1-2).

Consider for a moment the plural form of the word sins, and then consider your sins. Are they not, both in flesh and spirit, the same sins over and over?  Are we not addicted and trapped by ingrained patterns of thinking and behaving? The sins may be different from person to person, but the repetition and predictability is remarkable and depressing. What are we to do? Who will deliver us from this body of death? We confess and Christ forgives; we avail ourselves of his grace and press on in hope. This is one way. There is another. We loosen, by God’s augmenting help, our bondage to our own sins by obsessing less over our failure and focusing more on relieving the pain of others. We help ourselves by helping others; that is, by helping one another.

The prophet Isaiah, speaking for God, cries with the voice of a trumpet, “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?” (Isa. 58:6-7). Jesus calls sinners to be the salt of the earth and light to the world. It is by going out of ourselves that we meet the transforming power of Christ in “the least of these.” We also find occasions, in the hard and beautiful work of love, to reexamine our priorities. What really matters? Though still beset by our failures, we go on in the important work of mercy and compassion (Ps. 112:4).

Life becomes more abundant when we surrender to Christ in all our weakness. Indeed, we preach the weakness of Christ, his cross and his pain. We are weak with him and we tremble with him. And yet this weakness gives way to “a demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (I Cor. 2:4). When I am weak, then I am strong; that is, I am strong in the Spirit and power of Christ who conquered sin and death. The less we obsess over ourselves, the more we may find the secret and hidden presence of Christ in both our own hearts and in the world awaiting our arrival. Go out from yourself. Die to yourself. Live for Christ who gave himself for the life of the world. Doing so, the grip of the old self will weaken. It may seem imperceptible, but we are being transformed into the image of Christ.

Do not let your sins stop you from showing mercy and compassion.

Look It Up:  I Cor. 2:9

Think About It:  Such great love.