|05 The Widow's Son - October 8, 2006|
2 Corinthians 6:16-7:1
This week our assigned scripture readings have been from St Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. In this letter, St Paul contrasts the old man to the new man, which he also calls the inner man; and he contrasts the spirit that energizes the life of this world to the spirit that energizes the life of the Church. We can use St Paul’s letter to the Ephesians as our guide to find the spiritual meaning in this morning’s Scripture lessons. The dead son of the widow in this morning’s Gospel, then, comes into view as an image of the old man who is animated by the spirit of disobedience that energizes the life of the world. His being raised up by Christ comes into view as a concrete illustration of what happened to us in our baptism.
The old man, St Paul writes, is “dead in trespasses and sins” [2:1]. This doesn’t mean that to find the old man you have to go to a cemetery. You can find the old man everywhere, walking around, looking quite hale and hearty. In fact, we can find the old man in ourselves. We need only look at what we like to look at and think about, what we live for, at what we like to talk about, the jokes we like to tell.
The old man refers to what Adam and Eve became after they ate the serpent’s fruit in disobedience of God’s command. Having eaten the serpent’s fruit, they became energized – this is the term St Paul uses – by the devil and his spirit of disobedience. We are children of Adam and Eve, so we are children of the old man; we live by the spirit of disobedience that energizes the old man [2:2-3]. We can paraphrase St Paul and say that the old man is like a puppet on a string; the mind of the old man is jerked around by its emotions and feelings. We need only look to ourselves to see that this is true. How much are we controlled in our words and deeds by emotion and desire? If you likened emotion and desire to a river, we would be like twigs floating in the current of desire, going wherever the desires of lust or anger or any of the other desires would take us [cf. Eph 4:14].
The old man, St Paul writes, is dead in sins and trespasses. Here, St Paul is saying that even though we are walking around alive, hale and hearty, we are dead because we have become “alienated from the life of God” [4:18], because somewhere deep inside our souls, like our parents, Adam and Eve, we have willfully chosen to turn away from God and do what seems good to us. We have given our desire over to the pleasurable appearance of the serpent’s fruit, the lusts of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, the pride of life, as St John describes it [I Jn 2:16]. We have eaten the serpent’s fruit and chosen to nourish ourselves, to be energized, by the serpent’s spirit of disobedience.
This old man who is dead in sin and trespasses has certain marks, which St Paul describes at some length in his letter to the Ephesians. The mind of the old man is futile, its understanding is darkened because of ignorance of God, and it is ignorant of God because it has become blind in its heart; i.e. it cannot see God. St Paul uses a word to describe the heart of the old man that means it has become callous, insensitive; it has stopped feeling grief or pain. This is but another way of saying that the heart of the old man has become dead. In the callousness of his heart, the old man has given himself over to lewdness and to the acting out [ergasian] of fornication [5:3] and every uncleanness in greed [4:19] so that the things he does in secret are shameful even to speak about [5:12]. The words the old man likes to say are foolish and dirty, his jokes are coarse [5:4], his speech is empty [5:6]. These deeds of the old man give a certain pleasure; that’s why they are so attractive. But as St Paul writes, they give birth to a life of anger, emptiness, darkness, malice, enmity and bitterness, a life that has no hope and that is without God in the world [4:31, 5:8, 2:12].
This is the backdrop against which we learn to appreciate more fully the grace of our baptism. You can see what St Paul is talking about in this morning’s Gospel as you look upon the Lord Jesus drawing to the gate of the city and raising the widow’s dead son to life. “God, who is rich in mercy,” writes St Paul, “because of his great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ, and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” [Eph 2:4-8].
This is what happens to us in our baptism. We allow ourselves to be carried to Christ and we willfully choose to die to the spirit of disobedience now, before our death. In the Garden, God put Adam and Eve to death when he cast them out of Paradise and commanded them to return to the dust. So also, in our baptism, we beseech Christ to put the old man in us to death so that he can raise us up in the Spirit of his resurrection. The fig leaves of shame with which we clothed ourselves in our sin are dissolved in the baptismal waters; we let Christ clothe us with the Robe of Light. We are led to the Chalice and we are given to eat from the fruit of the Tree of Life. We become members of Christ’s body, the Church, and in the Church, we are now energized by the power of God [3:20].
The story of the raising of the widow’s dead son in this morning’s Gospel shows that what the Church says about our baptism in Christ is not just a religious idea. The widow’s son was really dead. We are really dead in our sins and trespasses. God the Word truly became flesh and dwelt among us, and in the flesh, he touched the dead man and he really came to life. So in our baptism, God the Word really touched us, for in the Church, in her sacraments, God the Word continues to be incarnate, through the mystery of his Holy Spirit. In the earthy, material things of the Church, in the fleshy hand of the priest, in the coolness of the baptismal waters, in the robe of light that clothes us, in the sweet-smelling chrism that anoints all of our senses, and in the consecrated bread and wine of holy Eucharist, God the Word is stretching out his arms on the Cross down through the generations to touch us and to make us alive in him. As St Paul says in another place, we now carry a treasure in these earthen vessels of our bodies. It is the dying of the Lord Jesus by which the old man in us is being put to death and we who were dead in our trespasses, at enmity with God in the old man, are being reconciled by his blood; we are established on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, and we are fitted into the building of the Church, Christ’s body. [Eph 2:14-22]. We are energized no longer by the spirit of disobedience but by the power of God that is working in the Church, the power of his light, joy, peace, goodness and love.
This takes us to St Paul’s epistle to the Corinthians we read this morning. “You are the temple of the living God.” By your baptism, you have been taken out of the life of the old man and you have been raised up into the life of Christ. The strings have been cut; you need no longer be a puppet at the mercy of the passions. You have been established on the rock, the cornerstone that is Christ. You need no longer be a twig floating helplessly on the current of the passions. Like the widow’s dead son who was being carried out, you in your baptism, in the words of the Psalmist whom St Paul quotes in his letter to the Corinthians this morning, have come out from among them. You have been made separate. Made separate from whom? St Paul says to the Ephesians: you have come out from the nations of the world, which are energized by the spirit of disobedience and which walk in the ways of the old man, and you have been made a citizen of the people of God. The word here is laoV [2 Cor 6:16]. It refers to the laity, the community of the Church, which is the body of Christ and the fullness of him who is all in all [Eph 1:23]. Having put on Christ by your baptism, you have become a member of this fullness of him who is all in all, the Church, the body of Christ. And as a member of the laity, the people of God, you have been made a member of Christ’s body, the Church, and you have become a royal priest in the royal priesthood of the Church. You are a son and a daughter of God, a child of light, made alive by putting on Christ in the new man. You have been given to eat from the fruit of the Tree of Life, the Cross of Christ, and you are now energized by the Spirit of God who works in the Church.
The life of God is a life of freedom and love; and precisely for that reason it is not forced on us. It remains for us to choose in our “inner man” whether we will walk in the way of the nations energized by the spirit of disobedience, or in the way of the Church energized by the power of God. We can bend our mind so that we are listening to the serpent and living its life that is pleasing to the eye, promising pleasures of all kinds, but whose pleasures give birth to anger, emptiness, darkness, malice, enmity and bitterness, and to a life that has no hope and that is without God in the world; or, we can give ear to the call of God who has called us in our baptism to “Come out from among them and be separate. Do not touch what is unclean and I will receive you” [2 Cor 6:17].
St Paul tells us how to come out and be separate. Like the widow’s son raised to life, sit up and “speak the truth in love” [4:15]. “Put away lying. Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but speak only what is good for necessary edification, that your word may impart grace to the hearers.” [4:29] Let there be no foolish talking among you, no coarse jesting, but rather the giving of thanks.” [5:4] Speak to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. In other words, set your mind on Christ. Sing and make melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ [5:18-20]. In other words, study the scriptures, pray without ceasing. Put on the new man with whom you were clothed in your baptism, who was created according to God in true righteousness and holiness [Eph 4:24] and walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace [4:1-2]. In other words, practice the Lord’s commandments. Do not lose heart in tribulations but in all things be students of Christ “that he might grant you according to the riches of his glory to be strengthened with might through his Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, that you being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height, to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” [3:16-19].
We have entered a new year in the life of the Church. Let us pray with St Paul that God would grant us to be energized by the power of God that works in his Church, so that we may walk through the new year in the love of God and so come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, growing up in all things into him who is the head, Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.