A reflection on our weekly readings by Fr. Gethin Edward of the Diocese of Saskatchewan.
In our epistle today St. Paul moves us to reflect more deeply on the meaning of our lessons from last Sunday. It was last week that Paul showed us how through our faith our lives were gifted by the Spirit and empowered for the common good, and that by our labour for and in the common life of the Church, the body of Christ grows and thrives.
Today Paul wants us to see more clearly the true depth and significance of our calling, first by way of a summary of the Gospel, and then by the example of his own experience. First of all, Paul says, keep hold on the message of redemption: “how that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day, according to the Scriptures.” Without our constant recollection of that one truth, that Christ suffered for our life and liberty, our faith is ‘in vain.’ And naturally so, for the liberation we proclaim is a freedom from Godless tragedy; and that is a life that can only be enjoyed in and through the God who claims us from the darkness through sacrifice. As we dwell in that reality, and grow up into that life, we find ourselves more and more restored to the good life of God’s children, where we come to be more and more confident of this: that we are nothing in ourselves. All things that constitute our being, our identity, our happiness and our peace, are the gift and accomplishment of God. All is the working out, as our collect reminds us, of God’s mercy and pity, and only by receiving the grace of that mercy, have we any power to follow His ways, ‘running the way of [His] commandments.’ By our own power we serve only to judge and take vengeance on our neighbour as they afront us—in Paul’s life, as he says, ‘I persecuted the Church of God’. ‘But,’ he says, ‘by the grace of God, I am what I am.’ What a wonderful and miraculous encouragement for us. God forms us into a holy people, filled with the Spirit, and by that Spirit, given power to ‘labour more abundantly.’ Thanks be to God.
We must always recall the foundation, and the heart, of that life, which Jesus in our Gospel presents in a parable: it is the soul that knows its powerlessness, its need for grace, and its sin, that is able to approach the mercy seat of God and receive a blessing. The soul fixed on its own worth will drift off into vanity, and ultimately, to ruin. “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” Our work, in other words, is the quiet and patient labour of creaturely humility, recalling our origins in the hands of God, forming us from nothing, and above all recalling the outstretched arms of our Lord, taking us back to Himself with the cost of His own mortal life and body. Now, therefore, we are also His body, by the working of the mercy and pity that holds us in love, even now. So let us let Him fashion us as He will, for Himself, and for our own glory, so that we may rejoice and say, ‘by the grace of God, we are what we are.’