43 Eyes and Ears for the Kingdom - July 8, 2007

Romans 12: 6 – 14

Matthew 9:1 – 8

The Church has been teaching us this week from her daily lectionary about seeing and hearing the great treasure of the Kingdom that has come into the world in Christ Jesus. The treasure is hidden, like the good seeds sown in the field by the Savior, like the mustard seed sown as the least of seeds, but grows into the greatest of the trees, like the yeast that a woman hides in three measures of meal until it is all leavened, like the pearl of great price hiding among the other, more ordinary pearls, found by the merchant and to obtain which he sold all that he had.[1] To see or hear the Kingdom requires a certain kind of eyes and ears. Or rather, it takes a certain kind of orientation of the heart that opens the eyes and ears to see and hear the divine treasure of the Kingdom of Heaven hiding in the midst of the world. It takes a mind and heart of faith whose inner eye and ear are turned in hope and in love away from the rulers of this age and their worldly wisdom, which is empty,[2] and toward the Spirit of God, whose wisdom is secret and hidden from the rulers of this age.[3] It is the wisdom of the Holy Spirit who searches all things, even the depths of God.[4]

You’ll remember that several Sundays ago, our Gospel reading was about the eye of the body.[5] If your eye is light, your whole body is light; if your eye is dark, its darkness is very great. We have not left that theme of the inner eye, the desire of the heart. This week’s Scripture readings are peppered with references to eyes and ears, to seeing and hearing. And this theme is accompanied by references to the wisdom of the world that is empty and foolish in the eyes of God vs. the Wisdom of God, which is foolish in the eyes of the rulers of this age.[6] Those who follow after the wisdom of this world see the mysteries of God without seeing them; they hear them without hearing them.[7] They love the wisdom of their own opinions. They follow after their own understanding, they are their own teachers, their own spiritual directors, their own counselors. Is not this arrogance and pride of the human mind puffed up in the conceit of its own wisdom the cause in this world of envy and strife? Therefore, such a one, as St Paul says in our reading from Wednesday, is carnal, walking according to the ways of man and not according to the ways of the Spirit of God.

Such a carnal mind can be found even among those who are in the Church, as St Paul warns us in the close of his epistle to the Romans that we read on Monday.[8] They are not obedient to the Lord, whose body is the Church; they are obedient to their own wisdom and understanding whose body, as St Paul says, is their own belly. They measure success not in terms of the Spirit but in terms of worldly standards of power and influence. In the Church, they work not to build up the faithful in the Spirit of Christ, but to build a religious community that is impressive to the world according to the world’s standards of success.[9] They are like the Pharisees in this morning’s Gospel. They are very religious, they are in the Church. The mysteries of the Spirit of God are right in front of them in the mysteries of the Church, which is the body of Christ,[10] just as Jesus stood in front of the Pharisees in this morning’s Gospel. But they do not see the Lord or the things of his Holy Spirit, they do not see the holiness of the Church, because these are spiritual things discerned spiritually by those who receive them in faith.[11]

Let’s remember that we are in the liturgical season that takes us from Pentecost to the Dormition of the Holy Theotokos. You read on Tuesday how St Paul opens his first letter to the Corinthians: Paul called as an apostle to those in Corinth called as saints.[12] We could say that the lessons of this liturgical season are directed to those called to be saints – those who have been baptized, called out of the darkness and into the light of the Church (ekklesia), the body of Christ. The lessons of this season are on how we go about receiving the things of the Spirit, so that our eyes and ears can see and hear the Kingdom of God that is “in our midst,” hiding in the field of the world as the Church, the body of Christ, the fullness of him who is all in all.[13]

In the midst of this liturgical season, like the treasure hiding in the field, is Transfiguration. In these feasts we see the humility and meekness of the Theotokos and her complete obedience to God by which she was transfigured through the Holy Spirit to become the Mother of God. In her Falling Asleep, the Lord does not forsake her; and she does not forsake the world. She has become the Mother of all the saints who in Christ take up their bed like the paralytic in this morning’s Gospel and go with the Theotokos to their tomb as to their own house. Through obedience to Christ, those called to be saints become in their death the good seed sown by the Savior in the field of the world.[14] They transfigure their lives in this world, in which we all are going to the tomb willy-nilly, into a conscious dying to the empty wisdom of the world and the foolishness of the rulers of this age. They are the woman who hid three measures of meal until it was all leavened. The meal is the saints’ mortal bodies; and the leaven that they are hiding in the meal, as seems clearly indicated by the number three, is the life of the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead, the life of God that is received in faith, which, as St Maximus tells us, is rightly expressed in the practice of Christ’s commandments.

By contrast, those who follow after the wisdom of the world become in their death the seed sown by the devil. Like the devil, they make themselves enemies of Christ and they become blind and deaf and dumb, unable to speak the wonders of God because they haven’t seen or heard them. Like the Pharisees, they see proof that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God who has power to forgive sins in how he makes the paralytic to rise up and walk simply by his Word. That is to say, he raises the paralytic from the dead in the likeness of baptism; he transfigures the paralytic into a good seed who, when he is sown in the earth in death, when he goes into his own house, his own tomb, his death will prove to be the consummation of his baptism and the guarantee that he will be raised up as one of the righteous who will shine forth as the sun in the Kingdom of the Father.[15] They see it, and they hear it, but they see and hear nothing, for these are mysteries of the Spirit that are spiritually discerned; they are too high and too deep for eyes and ears in service to the wisdom of the rulers of this age.

Let’s listen closely, then, to what the Church is saying in this week’s Scripture lessons to those who desire to answer the call of their baptism to become saints.

The parable of the wheat and the tares[16] dominates this week’s Scripture readings. How can one read this parable and not think of Genesis 1-3? Before he creates sun and moon, God creates the Church. She is the light that he calls forth out of the darkness. She is the light in whose light we see the uncreated Light of God. In the goodness of her light, the Word of God sows in the earth the seed of “vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit after their kind, with seed in them, on the earth. And God saw that it was good.”[17] God planted a Garden toward the east. In the midst of that Garden he planted two trees. He gave the command that Adam and Eve could eat from the Tree of Life but from the Tree of Good and Evil they could not eat. It was then that the devil, the enemy of God, came to Eve and with smooth words and flattering speech – to use St Paul’s description of those in the Church who serve their belly and cause offenses and divisions (like the devil, whose name means the divider)[18] – and, appealing to her belly, he deceived her simple heart. He showed her the tree. She saw the tree, that it was a delight to the eyes, that it was desirable to make one wise (do you hear all the themes of our Scripture lessons this week?), and she took from its fruit and she ate and she gave to Adam and he ate. Interesting, their eyes were opened, yet they sought to hide from God. The seed of the devil seeks to hide from God, but it is seen by men who serve the wisdom of this age. The good seed hides from men, but it is seen by those who serve the Wisdom of God. God tells Adam and Eve that the earth will bring forth tares, thorns and thistles until they return to the dust of the ground, like seeds sown in the field of the earth.

Listen to the Word of God speaking to Adam and Eve in Genesis with ears attuned to the Word of God whom we see and hear in the Gospels. He is giving them the command to eat bread by the sweat of their face until they return to the ground.[19] In the light of the Gospel, these words shine with hope in the love of God for mankind. Now, listen to the words of the Word of God as he speaks to the children of Adam and Eve in the Gospel of John: “I am the Bread of life. He who comes to me shall never hunger; he who believes in me shall never thirst. This is the will of Him who sent me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”[20] Can you hear in the words of God’s judgment against Adam and Eve that he is showing them how to become good seed sown in the ground of the earth, like the leaven hidden in the meal for three days by the woman until the meal was leavened – i.e., until the resurrection of Christ.

In this morning’s Gospel, Jesus sees the faith of the four men, and because of their faith he says in the hearing of all: “Your sins are forgiven you.” He sees into the hearts of the unbelieving, self-righteous Pharisees; he sees their secret thoughts and he says so they can hear: Watch me and hear what I say to the paralytic. He turns to the paralytic and gives to him a command. “Rise, take up your bed and go to your house.”

This is the same command to Adam and Eve: By the sweat of your face (rise) you shall eat bread (take up your bed) till you return to the ground (and go to your house). It is the same command he gives to all those who desire to receive the Spirit of God and to answer the call to become saints. I am the Bread of Life. He who comes to me (he who rises up by the sweat of his face) shall never hunger. He who sees the Son and believes in Him will have everlasting life. He will return to the ground as good seed sown by the Sower, and he will be raised up at the last day and shine forth with the righteous like the sun in the Kingdom of the Father.

He who has ears to hear, let him hear, says the Savior. In the Greek, the word for bed is cline (klinh). The word St Paul uses in Romans when he says turn away from those who cause division and offense is ek-klino (ekklinw), which is from the same root. Those who cause division with smooth and flattering words are those who serve the belly, the wisdom of this age. In Christ’s command to the paralytic, we can hear the Church telling us how to receive the things of the Spirit in faith so that our eyes can begin to open to see and hear the Kingdom of Heaven that is hiding in the field of the earth as the Church, the body of Christ. Turn away from the wisdom of this age. By the sweat of your face, take up your bed. Lay hold of this mortal weakness of ours that inclines us to follow after the wisdom of our own opinions, to be our own counselor, our own teacher, our own spiritual guide, our own master. And, go into your house. Submit in obedience to the commandments of Christ as given in the Church, his body. Eat the Bread of life, not the bread of anxious toil, by nourishing your whole being, your body, your mind, your soul, your eyes, your ears, all of your senses with the things of the Holy Spirit. So let Christ reign in your mortal bodies that you may hear him saying to you, “Your sins are forgiven.” And that you may see him transfiguring you in your dying into a good seed, sown in the earth at your death by the Son of Man, when you go into your house, your tomb, to be raised up on the last day as one of the righteous who shines forth like the sun in the Kingdom of the Father.

[1] Mat 13, Gospel readings for Mon – Fri.

[2]  I Cor 3:21, Reading for Thursday.

[3] I Cor 2:7

[4] I Cor 2:19, Reading for Wednesday.

[5] Mat 6:22-33 – Sunday, June 17.

[6] Cf. I Cor 1:19 – 21 & 3:21.

[7] Rm 11:8 – 9, Reading for Wed, Jun 20.

[8] Rm 16:17

[9] Rm 16:18-19.

[10] I Cor 4:1

[11] I Cor 2:10-14, Reading for Wednesday.

[12] I Cor 1:1, Reading for Tuesday.

[13] Eph 1:23

[14] Mat 13:24 – 30, Reading for Tuesday.

[15] Mat 13:43, Reading for Thursday.

[16] Mt 13:1-9, 18-30. 36-43.

[17] Gn 1:11-12.

[18] Rm 16:18.

[19] Gn 3:19.

[20] Jn 6:35-40.