6 Epiphany

Deut. 30:15-20 or Sir. 15:15-20
Ps. 119:1-8
I Cor. 3:1-9
Matt. 5:21-37

Today’s collect says that in our weakness we can do nothing good without the help of God’s grace. But there is something deeper implied in these words. We would not even exist without God. We are the earth-creatures into which God breathed the breath of life. When we had fallen into sin and become subject to evil and death, God sent his Son who recreated us by giving his life-giving Spirit. If this were withdrawn, we would not merely die, we would cease in any sense to be. Our life minus God is a formless void, the dark emptiness of nothing. We need the grace of God to be, and the grace of God both to will and carry out the good we are called to do.

There is no escaping the impression that God has a work in mind for every person, a vocation, a calling, a mode of living in which everything is consecrated to the love and service of God. We are called to love God, walk in his ways, observe his commandments and keep his decrees. We are warned not to turn our hearts away, not to be deaf to God’s call, not to be led astray to other gods.

All of this might, though wrongly, be dismissed as an Old Testament burden from which those who are free in Christ have been delivered. To be sure, every word of Scripture stands under the interpretive authority of Christ, but one is struck by Jesus’ adding to outward observance an internal appropriation in the realm of thought, feelings, and motives. It is not enough to do the good, one must will the good. It is not enough to refrain from evil actions; one must refrain from evil thoughts and feelings (anger, lust, jealousy) which likewise damage human community. Jesus is speaking of an overabundant righteousness, a righteousness that includes command and probation in the realm of both action and one’s inner life.

God provides the grace both to will and to do what God commands. In our weakness, we often fail, and in failing we have occasion again to sense our need for God. Forgiveness is a grace and grace is a call to go on in hope that all of life will again be consecrated utterly and wholly to God. We have not yet arrived, but we press on toward the upward call of God in Christ.

Consider Christian living gone wrong. The Church in Corinth was blessed with many spiritual gifts. Even so, St. Paul found jealousy and quarreling among these believers, the first an inner disposition and the second the expression of destructive behavior. Paul called them “people of the flesh” who behave according to “human inclinations.” Being “merely human” they lived lives of discord and bitterness. God in Christ wants something altogether different, to plant and water that they become “God’s field,” the soil in which a new being bursts forth so that all are “working together.” This new life cannot exist merely by the force of external obedience. It must extend to the deep places of thought and feeling, disposition and motive.

“Our name is legion,” for our problems are many. Our inner lives and our actions are informed by the incessant noise and rattle of a mass media culture. We are pushed this way and that. We live in a state of constant attention-deficit. Our opinions are largely a reactive reiteration of what we have just heard or seen. We are not, in any deep sense, free.

We need long contemplative silences in which to retrain our minds and bodies — by God’s grace, of course.

Look It Up: Ps. 119:1-8

Think About It: Observe His ways in your obligations and dispose your thoughts and feelings to Christ.