13 July 2008
First Lesson: 1 Kings 22.1-28: Micaiah prophesies the truth to King Jehoshaphat.
Second Lesson: Acts 25.1-12 (13-end): “You have appealed to Caesar; to Caesar you shall go.”
The Holy Eucharist.
The Collect is founded on the ancient Latin Collect for this Sunday. The prayer that God will “put away from us all hurtful things” can in part only be answered with our cooperation. We cannot expect God to put away hurtful things if we insist on seeking them out. It is on this fact that the idea of mortifying the deeds of the body is founded (see Epistle).
Epistle: Romans 8.12-17 sets forth the service of Christ as no slavery but a sonship. Those who live by the Sprit, doing the works that bring forth the fruit of the Spirit, are the adoptive children of God. On the idea of “sonship,” see the letter to the Galatians (iii.25; iv.2-7). Some things to bear in mind as we read this:
This doctrine of “sonship” is not the same as the idea that “we are all God’s children” (by creation). It is by baptism into Christ that we are made adoptive children in him and joint heirs with him.
The “flesh” must not be understood as it often is, and certainly not to mean the body as opposed to the spirit or mind. St Paul sometimes uses flesh [Greek σαρξ (sarx)] to mean a human being and to connote his natural frailty, as in verses 6.19, or the weakness of human existence, as at 8.5, 8); but Paul does not use σαρξ to mean merely the human sexual drive, but the whole human being as subject to earthbound tendencies, as opposed to the spirit, openeness to the influence of God’s Spirit. “Flesh” includes the mind and soul as far as they are not turned to God.
Note that St Paul does not speak of mortifying “the body” but “the deeds of the body” (verse 13). In the simplest possible sense, this means to stop doing things that you know to be wrong so that even the impulse to do them dies away. It is not, as some would say, a hatred of the body; there is nothing in it of denying pleasure, but simply bringing under control “deeds” that we do not wish to do.
Gradual: Psalm 48: 13-15
The Holy Gospel St Matthew 7:15-21
This passage is from the end of the Sermon on the Mount (St Matthew 5.1-7.2). The immediately preceding passage is “Enter by the narrow gate, for the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (7.13-14).
7.15-20. Jesus warns his disciples against “false prophets”. Who are the false prophets? Note first that the basic meaning of the word prophet, Greek προφήτης, is “spokesman”: a prophet is not a foretune teller, but one divinely-commissioned to speak the word of God. The false prophets, then, come on their own authority for their own ends and purposes. Here the reference is not to the Pharisees, but to Christian teachers [See Matthew 24.11-28]. Just what the false teaching might be is not specified but the immediately preceding passage suggests that they are those who would offer an easier way than Christ. St John Chrysostom said that Christ here aimed “not so much at the heretic, as at those who, while their life is Corrupt, yet wear an outward face of virtuousness.” We may further note that since this passage refers to prophets, we cannot simply use it as a way of judging our fellow Christian disciples.
Further, these false teachers come in sheep’s clothing but inardly are ravening wolves. Sheep’s clothing may be understood in more than one way. The obvious idea is “like a sheep outwardly,” the type of gentle harmless innocence, which may further remind us of Matthew 25.33). Further “sheep” often symbolize “the flock”, as in Ezekiel 34.1-24 12.32; to come is sheep’s clothing is to proclaim yourself a member of the flock. Again, it reminds of the appearance of the prophets of old; as in Hebrews 11.37 we read that they “went about in skins of sheep and goats.” That they are ravening wolves, on the other hand, declares that they are animated by some selfish lust, as a greed for power or money. However, it is by their fruits that they will be known.
What fruits are these? St Augustine said that we should look to the words of St Paul which contrast the works of the flesh from the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5.19-24). This interpretation is supported by the fact that the passage set ends at vese 21, rather than going on to the new section that verse begins. It is clear that the fruit is doing the will of the Father (see John 15, especially 8-11).
Note the question “Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?” The commentaries tell us that there were thorns which produced grape-like fruit and thistle-heads like figs. A Puritan (it is said) writingon this passage, pointed ou that “It is quite possible to put grapes on thorns. It is quite possible to put figs on thistles, but they canot grow there.” No answer to this question is recorded in the Gospel, but the next words, “Even so …” suggest that an answering “No” had appeared on the faces of his hearers; perhaps they shook their heads as though saying “Of course not!”
When he had this agreement, Jesus drove the point home. But then he said that the trees that don’t bring forth good fruit are cut down and cast into the fire. At this point the parable of the wheat and the tares comes to mind (Matthew 13.24-30). In this parable the separation of the god grain from the wheat that looks like it will not come about until God’s judgement. This means at least that we are not to punish the false prophets.
First Lesson: Ezekiel 33.21-end. In the time after the fall of Jerusalem (586 BC). The word of the Lord comes to Ezekiel to prophecy concerning the devastated land. This passage may be read as we consider what is the nature of a true prophet.
Commemorations this Week