A Word about the Readings
by Father Gethin
(The readings may be found here)
The Sunday Scripture readings for the first part of this Trinity season challenge us with a patient and faithful consideration of our human condition in all of its mortal and sinful frailty. This is by nature counter-intuitive for us, as we face a world bent on independence and self-promotion. The devil, for instance, who is the prince of that fallen worldly view of things, St. Peter imagines ‘as a roaring lion’ in our epistle. That we find in stark contrast with Christ’s image of the lost sheep, representing our spiritual condition and need for conversion, in the Gospel. He is our Good Shepherd, as we were reminded in Eastertide, and so we must commit ourselves to His oversight as a faithful and humble flock that follows its Master. “Be clothed with humility,” says St. Peter, and in such a spirit God will come to our aid and uplift our human struggle with His ‘mighty hand.’ Gradually we learn what it means to bear with one and other, to uphold one and other in prayer, ‘casting all our care’ on God, and so to discover how we are each dear to our Father.
This process, the reconciling of our hearts and souls to God, comes at the cost of a certain kind of suffering—’after ye have suffered’, says St. Peter, not if. What kind of suffering can this be? It encompasses a variety of experience, and is common to every soul that repents of its vanity: there is the suffering of embarrassment that we have lied to ourselves rather than admit our ignorance. There is the suffering of confusion and heartache once that ignorance has been accepted. There is the suffering of struggle and frustration as we strain to set aside old habits of the vain world, and the humiliation of our failure, and the sweat and toil needed to learn the new habits of the kingdom of God. And there is the suffering of loss, loss of worldly comforts, and even at times, loss of past relationships that we believed were true but cannot comprehend or endure our new life with Christ. And all these things are unavoidable dimensions of our Christian journey, and in many respects, remain with us throughout our earthly life. So from this point of view, we might be tempted to ask, where is the Good News, then?
The answer is in our Lord’s parable. “What man of you having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing.” It is certainly true that we must accept, and accept with faith and humility, that our conversion bears within it the real suffering of death and rebirth; but this is also true: as difficult as our experience may be, and as much courage as we may need to face the day, it is Jesus, Himself, who labours on our behalf, and He Himself who comes, to find us who are lost, and to bear us who are broken. We are not called to save ourselves, but to accept the loving purpose of Him Who saves us. In that is all our hope, and all the source of our life and blessing. Our labour, therefore, though expressed in different ways, is fundamentally the labour of prayer, to cast our cares upon Him, to call out to Him in the midst of our sorrows, and so “He shall himself restore, stablish, strengthen you. To him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.”