|02 - Become Merciful, A New Creation, Sept 30, 2018|
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2 Corinthians 9:6-11
Our LORD’s command this morning is not “Be merciful” but “Become merciful as is your Father in Heaven.” Become takes us back to the creation: “Let light come to be, and light came to be.” (Gn 1:3) “Even as your Father in Heaven is merciful,” takes us to the creation of man: “Let us make man in our image and likeness” (Gn 1:26) Note that God makes man in His image and likeness. Man does not make himself in God’s image and likeness. How could he? He is not God. Only God can make us in His image and likeness.
I would therefore interpret the LORD’s word, “Become merciful as your Father in Heaven is merciful,” to mean: “If anyone is in Christ (i.e., not in himself but in Christ, not in his own righteousness but in Christ’s righteousness) he is a new creation” (2 Cor 5:17), and “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything but [that you come to be] a new creation” (Gal 6:15). We come to be created in the image and likeness of God only as we unite ourselves to Christ in the likeness of His death and resurrection (Rom 6:3-5), and only as we receive Him who is the true Image of God (Col 1:15).
This new creation in Christ comes to be only through the mystery of Holy Baptism. In the Font, what we cannot do for ourselves, Christ does through His Holy Spirit. His Holy Spirit descends into and moves over the face of the Font as over the waters of creation. In His Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ raises us from death to life in the likeness of His own death and resurrection, and He creates us in the image and likeness of God – in Himself.
We are not made a new creation against our will. Christ unites Himself to us as we receive Him and as we unite ourselves to Him. To those who desire Him, who want to become children of God, a new creation, Christ works in them to create in them a clean heart and to make them come to be like His Father who is in heaven.
I emphasize this in order to address the self-righteousness that moves imperceptibly in us. When we hear commands of our LORD such as this, do we not set out to fix ourselves so we can present ourselves to God already fixed? We are not helped by the translations – so often governed by a theological vision not of the Church, which mangle the Greek and change its meaning. Our translation this morning, for example, says: “What credit is it to you if you love only those who love you?” This reads as though the LORD is saying that we could love those who love us if we tried, and get points for it so that we could present ourselves to God now as being like Him. But, even if we could make ourselves love those who do not love us, we would be like God not by having become one with Him, not by denying ourselves and losing our life in Him, but by having set ourselves up alongside Him as little gods in competition with Him. We would be like God not in God’s righteousness but in our own righteousness! And so, we would still be outside of God and so still dead in our self-righteous egos.
Our LORD actually says: “If you love those who love you, what kind of grace is that?” The word is charis. It has several meanings: grace, kindness, thanksgiving, good-will, even loveliness and delight. It is the mark of God, the natural attribute of divine life. As St John says: “The Law was given through Moses, but Grace and Truth came to be through Jesus Christ” – i.e., through the Incarnation of the divine WORD when God clothed Himself with us, our human nature was clothed with divine Grace and Truth and, clothed in Christ, man became a new creation, the New Adam.
This word, charis, is the word in Eucharist. And so, I believe the LORD’s word means: “If you love those who love you, where is the Holy Spirit in that? Where is the kindness of God in that? Where is the Eucharist, where is the mystery of the LORD Jesus Christ, where is the joy, the thanksgiving that wells up in the heart spontaneously that has been made to become a new creation, a child of God? Even sinners love those who love them. Therefore, if you love only those who love you, if you are good only to those who are good to you, you have no divine grace. You “live” in the delusion of self-love, believing you are fixed and are like God, but you are still dead in your self-righteousness.
Our epistle this morning draws on the LORD’s analogy of the sower sowing His seed. In this analogy, we are the soil, the seed is the WORD of God whose fruit, let’s say, is this charis – this grace that is full of thanksgiving, goodness, joy, kindness – even toward those who hate us, even toward our enemies, this “mark” of that Grace that is of God.
Once this divine seed of the divine sower has fallen on us, or descended upon us, how is it sown in us so that it begins to bear this fruit of divine charis in which we are re-created in the LORD Jesus Christ and made able to love even our enemies, able because it is no longer foreign to us; it has come to be natural to us because we have come to be a new creation, made in the image of Christ, having united ourselves to Him in the likeness of His death and resurrection?
This divine seed falls on us in the Church, Her sacraments, doctrines, her Creed, her ascetical disciplines, her prayers and liturgical movements, the hymns and sensual beauty of her liturgical worship are the form of the LORD’s “blessed commandments”. But, how is this seed sown in us so that we are made able to trample down all carnal desires – in which we love only those who love us – and enter upon a spiritual manner of living, the manner of charis in which we are able to love even those do not love us and to do good even to those who revile us and persecute us and say all manner of evil against us? We must come down from our high horse, lay aside every excuse, take off the garment of the old man with all its deeds, and open ourselves to receive this living and active seed of God into the “division of our soul and spirit”. How do we receive it? By listening, by being attentive to all that we see and hear in the Church, by eating and drinking into our inner man. This divine seed is Light and if we would receive it, listen to it, attend to it, it would illumine us and enable us to discern the thoughts and intentions of our heart, the seeds of our self-love that we may present ourselves to God in confession not as little gods already fixed but as we are: broken, hurting, afraid, cripples, paralytics, blind, deaf and dumb, needing to be cleansed and healed.
This Seed of God is the commandment of the LORD: “Whoever would be my disciple let him deny himself, take up his cross, follow me, and lose his life for my sake and the Gospel’s” (Mk 8:34-35). St Paul writes: “If you have been raised up with Christ (if you have received Holy Baptism) then seek the things above, the grace and truth of Christ. Clothe yourselves with the visceral compassion, the tender mercy, the kindness, the humility [of Christ]. Persevere in prayer and be watchful” (Col 3:1-4:2). Don’t just say the prayers and be done with them, satisfied that you have acquired credit before God. Retreat with the prayers into the closet of your heart, close the door, and mindfully, intentionally let them work in you. Turn the LORD’s commandments on yourself, and let them, implore them to put to death all that is earthly in you, your self-love and self-righteousness. These are the root of our inner brokenness. This is how we take up our cross in self-denial, this is how we lose our life for the sake of Christ, this is how we are found in His Tomb, the Font of our Resurrection. This is how we come to be a New Creation in the divine Grace of Christ. Amen!