Hear the words of the Collect for the Sixth Sunday after Trinity:
O God, who hast prepared for those who love Thee such good things as pass man’s understanding; pour into our hearts such love toward Thee, that we, loving Thee above all things, may obtain Thy promises, which exceed all that we can desire.
May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be alway acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer. We pray in the name of The Father, and of The Son, and of The Holy Ghost. Amen.
The Collect for today outlines what we must do to obtain the promises of God. That outline is contained in TWO words, “love God.” Real simple isn’t it. Then why do I call it an outline instead of a simple, direct command? Let me explain.
The Gospel for today begins with the words of Jesus to His disciples recorded in Matthew 5:20:
Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.
Now, when the Disciples heard this they were shocked. How could anyone be more righteous than the scribes and Pharisees? They were the epitome of religious obedience and fervor. How could anyone be better than they were? This is the reaction of anyone who looks at religious behavior with the eyes of man and not the eyes of God. Jesus knew that the scribes and Pharisees were not really trying to please God. They were putting on an outward show of religious piety so they could be praised by mankind. They had the form of religion, yet the spirit was sadly lacking.
Jesus goes on to describe the difference between the Jewish law and the law of God that He is preaching. The Jewish law is described in the three levels of wrongdoing and judgement described in the Gospel for today.
The first is “anger”. These crimes were to be handled at the local level. Stealing, murder, adultery, etc were all straight – forward crimes. If the party was guilty, the punishment was this, and it was immediately carried out. These cases were matters of fact and the punishment was already set out.
The second is “raca”. These cases were more delicate and facts, while important, could not be used in the same manner as the first type. Cases of heresy or bad doctrine would more likely fall into this category. These cases were referred to the Central Sanhedrin in the Temple at Jerusalem. The cases were not direct and required more interpretation than the others.
The third is “fool”. Looking at this from the perspective of the twenty-first century, this is perhaps the hardest for us to understand. The meaning here is more along the lines of stubbornness and rebelliousness. To reinforce how seriously the Jews took this offence, we must go back to Deuteronomy 21: 18 to 21. In these verses it is described that if a child was judged “stubborn and rebellious” by the parents, they were brought before the council of the city, pronounced such by the parents, and then taken outside the city and stoned to death.
Jesus then explains God’s law, and in this case He describes the specific instance of an angry man. It does not really matter which of the three levels of anger this man is guilty of; he is to resolve it before he comes to God with an offering. We are counseled to leave our gift and proceed to make peace with our brother or sister before we come to make an offering to God. Nothing is to stand in our way or distract us, for if we die before we are reconciled, then as Matthew 5:25-26 says:
The adversary (shall) deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.
Jesus calls us to God’s higher standard. We are to use Jesus’ life as the standard to determine if we are living a good life. What is the standard that Our Lord used to guide His life and all His actions? The standard can be summed up in eight words; Jesus always remained within the love of God.
Because Jesus loved The Father, He could not be tempted to disobey His Will, He did the good works that The Father wanted Him to do, and He was obedient to The Father in all things. The love of The Father gave Jesus a life totally pleasing to Him as well as a life full of virtue in all things.
We can now begin to understand that the Love of God is not an emotion. It is the method for living a Christian life. That life must reflect the Divine Love that God has for us, and all mankind, in our actions, words, and thoughts. Our minds are vitally important in determining our ultimate destination. If we do the right thing for the wrong reason, it is an affront to God, and is just as bad as doing the wrong thing.
So how do we determine that an action is a good deed in the eyes of the world, as well as in the eyes of God? Saint Jean Vianney, a parish priest in the early 19th century, describes virtuous acts as having to fulfill three conditions:
First, the action should be sincere and perfect; second, it should be humble and without selfishness; third, it should be steadfast and enduring: If these conditions are found in everything you do, then you may be sure that you are working for heaven. (Sermons of the Cure of Ars, The Neumann Press, Long Prairie, MN 1995 page 207)
In order to met the first conditions of sincerity and perfection the actions must come from our hearts, from that Love of God that resides within us. What we do should be the method to express our love of God and to show that Divine love of God to the person we are helping.
To achieve humbleness and to be free from selfishness we must make sure that our actions are not to receive the praise of our fellow men. Remember, that is what the scribes and Pharisees wanted. We must even beware of that small feeling of satisfaction that we get when we do a good work, for it can very easily grow into pride and where pride rules sin is not far behind.
The third condition that must be present is perseverance. Its results must continue in both the recipient of the action and the doer of the action. A good action taken by itself does not contain virtue. Virtue is not a singular noun or action, it is plural. Our actions contain virtue, or not, as they relate to other actions. Virtue is not contained in the actions themselves, it is possessed by the person doing the actions. If we think of all the times we have heard the word virtue used, we see that a person is required, or the word cannot even be applied to the situation in question.
Jesus Christ had virtue in super abundance because He was intimately involved in the love of God, just as He wants us to be. In following His example we remain within the Love of God that Jesus showed to us. His life is the outline of God’s love for us, and through which we will receive all the promises of God.
Rev. John Jacobs