A Word about the Readings
by Father Gethin
(The readings may be found here)
Our lessons today lead us onward along the course of our conversion, to see and to know more clearly what Paul meant in last week’s epistle, “by the grace of God, I am what I am.” In the story of our faith, we make our way through that spiritual pilgrimage which begins with the knowledge of our own infinite need, that we, “have no power of ourselves to help ourselves,” as one collect prays. We come to confront ourselves as incapable of satisfying our need for goodness, and therefore we also come to know the need for a saviour. As Job famously exclaimed in the midst of his miseries, “I know that my redeemer liveth, and will stand at last upon the earth.” In a profound and absolute sense, either there is the Messiah, or there is nothing. And this is precisely the account of things we find in all of Holy Scripture, that the work of redemption and the overcoming of all evil and darkness, far from being a merciful divine afterthought, has belonged to God’s love for us from the beginning. It why St. John, for instance, speaks of “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world,” in his vision of our heavenly hope in the book of Revelation. God has in every way given Himself to this work of grace and mercy, across time and for all people. There is the poignant example from the epistle three weeks ago, when we heard St. Paul tell us that Israel in the desert, “drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ.” The Redeemer is not only the Son of Man, born of a woman for the Sacrifice which the Father’s love required; He is also Alpha and Omega, the sum and source of all that lives. “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it… and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”
As the witness of that glory has moved out into time through the ministry of the Church, we have all encountered and been brought to receive the message of our salvation. In the first place, we come to know that message as a universal gift, “good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people…a saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” Faith accepts the infinite mercies of God, suffering the price of all our sins, so that from all sin we might be saved. That is the credal cornerstone Paul reminded us of last week, and that faith, as he says today, is the absolute “trust have we through Christ to Godward,” so that we may even dare to speak of our new sufficiency to stand in the divine presence, and live.
All this brings us to the new and crucial point of today’s Gospel: “they bring unto him one that was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech; and they beseech him to put his hand upon him.” In the course of our growth in faith, we come to find that salvation is not only a matter of how the “sin which so easily besets us” has been overcome in the humility of our Lord’s Passion; salvation is also our direct experience of Jesus meeting us in our immediate and personal need and brokenness. Each of us has a unique experience of what it means to be born into a fallen world, and just so we each bear out in our souls and bodies the consequences of unique forms of hurt and hurtfulness. And to each of us in turn, Jesus comes as ‘Emmanuel’, as God with each of us, to work His redeeming mercies upon our particular sorrows. “And he took him aside from the multitude, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spit, and touched his tongue; and looking up to heaven, he sighed, and saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened.” And we must carefully note the wonderful fact, easily overlooked, that in order to have been healed of his deafness, the man must not have been able to hear the words that healed him. That is to say, only afterward, only once we have been saved, can we come to know the voice, the purely gracious and miraculous utterance, which saves us. ‘Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ In the first moment, grace is unknown, because it entirely overwhelms any idea we have of what goodness means. Our conscience is too stricken with fear to perceive fully what has been given. Therefore, Jesus told them, “come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” We come to find how the Christian journey, according to the grace of the Holy Spirit, is literally our movement, step by faithful step, into the knowledge and love of God. Along this way, called discipleship, the way from earthly to heavenly glories, may we ever follow with praise and thanksgiving, even as Christ shall ever lead us.