Hear the words of the Collect for the Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity:
Lord, we beseech Thee, grant Thy people grace to withstand the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil; and with pure hearts and minds to follow Thee, the only God;
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.
Did anyone hear some familiar words in the Gospel for today? I certainly hope so as I am referring of course to the passage from Matthew 22, verses 37 to 40 that are recited in every celebration of the Eucharist. This phrase is called the Summary of the Law because that is just what it is.
Jesus said unto him, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
The context of these words in Holy Writ is different than that of the Eucharist. These words were used to silence the questioner who was trying to tempt Jesus into saying something He should not and then using those words against Him so as to discredit Him before the people who viewed Him as a prophet. The questioner was a legalist and a member of the Pharisees, who were by their very existence experts in the Law. He was the point man, so to speak, and he was supposed to open a breach in the verbal defenses of Jesus for the rest of the gathering of Pharisees to exploit.
The Pharisees were taking their shot at Jesus since their partners in power, the Sadducees, had failed in their attempt to discredit Jesus. They shared power with the Pharisees in the Sanhedrin in an uneasy alliance that could break out into arguments at any time, and usually did.
Just prior to the Gospel lesson for today, Matthew recorded the Sadducees attempted trap of Jesus with the story of the woman who was the wife of seven brothers and could bear no children. Their question was ‘whose wife would she be in the resurrection?’ Jesus took their story and turned it against them to show them the hypocrisy of their question and their position.
What is interesting about their choice of questions was the fact that the Sadducees did not believe in the Resurrection and the afterlife. They were secular Jews and not religious at all. They believed in the predominance of logic and the human mind. Their concern was of and for the things of this world. Jesus answered them with a logic that could not be denied, or withstood, the fact that Almighty God was the God of the living and not of the dead. The Sadducees could not answer Jesus because to do so would expose their own hypocrisy.
The Pharisees on the other hand would attack with their strongest weapon, the Law. They were experts of the minutia of what was permissible and what was not. Of how and when it was legitimate to perform certain acts. They had studied these precepts all of their lives. They were prepared for battle and Jesus knew it.
The Pharisees attacked with what they thought was the perfect question, “What is the greatest commandment of the Law?” They believed that no matter how Jesus answered the question that they could tie him up in interpretations and hair splitting enough to discredit Him. What they failed to realize was that Jesus was The Law and that He knew it better than they ever would.
His answer to their question was perfect. It had no openings to exploit, no other imaginable interpretations, and no hair splitting possible. Then Jesus would ask the Pharisees a question about the Law, and they could not answer it. It was they who were discredited and disgraced, not Jesus.
Jesus had here in a very short period of time, just two days before The Crucifixion, silenced the legalist and humanist powers of Israel, and they hated Him for it. They would get their revenge the following night when they would arrest Him, beat Him, and send Him to His final questioner, Pontius Pilate representing the political powers of this world.
In this venue the reverse response would be true. It would not be words that would win the day, but silence. The prophet had long foretold how Jesus, the suffering servant, would confront His accusers in Isaiah 53:7. The prophet writes:
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.
In each of these three trials Jesus was victorious in word and deed. These trials may very easily be paralleled to His temptations in the desert. The Sadducees were the temptations of the world. The Pharisees were the temptation of the will of man over God’s will and Pilate represented power over all worldly things.
Jesus withstood the temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil many times in His life and in many guises, which brings us back to the point which the Collect for today makes. This paragraph is a prayer for each of us in our everyday lives to resist sin and temptation in all its different forms. It is a prayer for each of us to be as full of virtue as was, and is, Our Lord Jesus Christ, for that was His strength in this world.
The joys of living a Christian life are internal as well as external. The Peace of mind I have when I think about how I have lived today, even when it has not been a perfect day. Joy in knowing God cares for me, even in my sinful state. The warmth that I feel with God’s arms around me, with the love God has towards me, even in the cold of the world. The knowledge that one day I will see Him with my own eyes, and will know Him even as He knows me.
All of these things are free gifts from God. They come to us through Jesus Christ and by The Holy Ghost. Saint Paul in the Epistle for today tells us that we are made rich in “utterance, and in all knowledge, and we will lack in no gift from God.” that is all that we need to live a joyful and forgiven life. The virtue to live the Christian life comes from God as a gift from a loving father to a beloved child.
The gifts of virtue and our use of them will see us all the way to the end of time when our Lord Jesus returns for us, and the other faithful saints of His Church throughout time. So let us use the virtues of God to change our lives and follow ever closer to the example, and the reality of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Rev. John Jacobs