Also Known as Quinquagesima
Proper 9 in Year A
6 March 2011
The Sunday before Ash Wednesday may be kept as the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, in celebration of the Lord’s Transfiguration, or as whatever Sunday after Epiphany has been reached in the course of the Calendar Year. I am not at all sure that keeping the ‘Last Sunday’, which has the effect of creating a hitherto unheard-of “Epiphany Season’, is particularly beneficial, especially when it displaces the final reading of selections from the Sermon on the Mount.
Furthermore, the lectionary gives the option of reading the Gospel of the Transfiguration on Lent II, along with a collect which presumes that reading and is more fitting to the season than is the Collect for the Feast of the Transfiguration, appointed to be used for the ‘Last after Epiphany’.
Indeed, the church has always celebrated the Transfiguration on August 6th, and the fact that many neglect to keep that day is an argument for better teaching and example rather than for a new observance.
Finally, since in the homilies at St Columba’s we have been following the readings from the Sermon on the Mount, it seems good to me to continue that sequence of readings.
All of which leads me to apologize to anyone who is looking here for notes on the Last Sunday after the Epiphany; these notes are primarily intended for the people of St Columba and All Hallows, and the occasions where this causes any difficult for others are very few.
The second explanation is for the fact that the notes are a bit sketchy, and mostly consist of cross-references. The explanation is simple: though Lent begins late this year, it has still crept up suddenly, and Ash Wednesday, Lenten Sermons, and the Lenten Study series are all clamouring for my attention,
Neither the Sentence nor the Collect for Proper Nine is in any way remarkable.
The first Reading and the Gospel for this Sunday together give us a clear theme: Hearing and Doing the Word. The sense of the passage from Deuteronomy is well expressed by a passage from near the beginning of C. S. Lewis’ The Silver Chair (one the Narnia books):
The great Lion Aslan sends Jill Pole into Narnia with Four signs to guide her on the quest for the lost Prince Rillian.
“As the Lion seemed to have finished, Jill thought she should say something. So she said, ‘Thank you very much. I see.’
“’Child,’ said Aslan, in a gentler voice than he had yet used, ‘perhaps you do not see quite as well as you think. But the first step is to remember. Repeat to me, in order, the four signs.’
“Jill tried, and didn’t get them quite right. So the Lion corrected her, and made her repeat them again and again until she could say them perfectly.”
After Aslan has explained that he will send her into Narnia on his breath, he says, ‘Stand still. In a moment I will blow. But, first, remember, remember, remember the
signs. Say them to yourself when you wake in the morning and when you lie down at night, and when you wake in the middle of the night. And whatever strange things may happen to you, let nothing turn your mind from following the signs. … Remember the signs and believe the signs. Nothing else matters.’
The first reading: Deuteronomy 11.18–21, 26–28
18. These my words: from 6.6-9 we learn that these words are the great commandment to Love the Lord your God; see also 11.13,
26-32: The Two Ways: see Deuteronomy Chapter 28 and especially 30.15-20. Every moment is a moment of solemn decision between God’s will and one’s own. It might be helpful in this context to reflect on the Gospel teaching about serving two masters.
It is also important to note that in order to make the right choice in actions one must hear the law and know it, ‘writing it on one’s heart’.
The opening two verses (1.16-17) have been described as the ‘theme of the entire book’, the declaration that righteousness does not depend upon obedience to law, but on faith in God’s act of redemption in Christ Jesus.
3.21-26: The true Righteousness.
27-31: ‘Boasting’ is excluded
27: see 4:2; 1 Corinthians 1:29-2:2; Ephesians 2:8-9. If it were our works that justified, we could boast; but salvation is by faith, and pride is excluded. By what law: this is literally correct; it can also be translated as On what principle. For Paul’s use of ‘law’ in this sense, see Romans 7:21-23.
The contrast between faith and works in the writings of Paul is an important idea to keep in mind as we read of the importance of doing the will of God. These works of justice and mercy are not ‘works’ in the sense Paul is rejecting, but are what he speaks of elsewhere as the fruits of the Spirit; there are result and evidence of saving faith. Indeed, a problem with the idea of being justified by works is that one tends to think of how much work is enough, of ‘my good deed for the day’. The ‘works’ that come out of faith are done cheerfully because they are the right thing to do, and there is no limit to them.
The Holy Gospel according to St Matthew 7.21–29
The conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew 7.1-28 is not included in the Sunday lectionary of Year A; some of the parallel passages from Luke are read in Year C. it is most perplexing that this material is not included in the Sunday Gospels.
The NOAB gives Matthew 7.1-27 the general heading Illustrations of the practical meaning of Jesus’ Message, in which we can make the following divisions:
1-5: Judgment of others (Luke 6.37-38; 41-42; Mark 4,24)
6: Reserve in communicating religious privileges.
7-11: Encouragement to prayer (Ask, seek, knock)
12: The Golden Rule
13-14: Enter by the Narrow Gate
15-20: Warning against false Prophets: By their fruits you shall know them. These last verses should be taken together with the opening verses of the passage read today.
21: see Matthew 12.50; Luke 6.46, Romans 2.13; 1 ; Corinthians 12.3; James 1.20, 2.14; 1 John 2.17.
22: see Jeremiah 14.14, 22.14-15; Luke 10.20, 13.26; 1 Corinthians 13.1; also Mark 9.38.
Many will say to me in that day. Gore notes: we should notice the claim which our Lord here makes for Himself. Without preface, without emphasis, as a matter of course, He implies that He is the final judge of all men, not only as to the outward results they achieve, but also as regards the secret inner motives of their hearts and the character of their lives. ‘Many shall come to me in that day’, i.e. in 'the Day of Jehovah’ the day of final assessment—'They will come to Me ; they will profess loyalty to Me, saying, “Lord, Lord;” they will plead their good works: but I shall discern the true inner character of their lives’. Prophesy in the Bible means primarily to proclaim the word of God, whether prediction of the future is involved or not. See Jeremiah 14.14, 22.14-15; Luke 10.20, 13.26; 1 Corinthians 13.1; also Mark 9.38.
23: see the parables of Judgement in Matthew, Chapter 25, and especially the words at 25.12 and 25.41.
24-27: The sermon concludes with a parable contrasting the two ways of hearing Jesus’ word. See Luke 6.47-49. Gore: … lastly, our Lord gives the warning that each spiritual fabric must be judged by its power of lasting. Here, again, is the tremendous claim: the only solid foundation for life is Jesus and His words.
It is impossible to read these words without thinking of Matthew 16.18.
26: see James 1.22
27: see Ezekiel 13.10-15. Gore: Our Lord … would have [us] dig down to the rock, and build [our] spiritual fabrics there ; and the rock is nothing else than His own person and His own word. To hear Him, and go away without imbibing His teaching and putting it into practice, to be nominally a Christian but in reality of the world, that is to build a house upon the sand.
28: see 11.1; 13.15; 19.1, 26.1; Luke 7.2
Gore: And here we leave the great sermon. It is not, as some suppose, the whole of Christianity. Those who have been inclined so to esteem it have been apt to underrate the amount of theological doctrine which is to be found in it. It postulates, as we have seen, two central doctrines: that of the divinity of Christ's person, and that of the sinfulness of human nature. But, even so, it is not the whole of Christianity. It begets in us, or develops and deepens, the sense of sin, and so may be said to point to what it does not teach, the atonement by which our Lord has expiated the sins of the world, and brought us back to reconciliation with our Father which is in heaven. But again an atonement which merely secured our forgiveness for past sins would be no real remedy. It would leave us weak as we were before. Nothing can satisfy us but actual and permanent redemption from the power and the taint of sin. Thus again the sermon may be said to point forward to that great supply of moral power which by the coming of the Spirit of God has been given inwardly in the hearts of His people. It is that inward grant of Christ-like power the administration of the Spirit which is the real essence of Christianity. All else is a preparation for it. Christianity is not so much a statement of the true end or ideal of human life as it is a great spiritual instrument for realizing the end.
The realizing of the moral end of life that is the test of your Christianity. Be sure of that. The hold we have on our creeds, the use we make of the sacraments, can be judged by one test—do they lead to the formation in us of Christian character? The character may be cleansed and perfected after death, but here and now is our opportunity for laying its foundations deep and firm, and showing its power to absorb the whole of our being. That is the test which we cannot press home upon ourselves too often—am I becoming like Christ ?
Many will come to Him in that day with a record of their orthodoxy and of their observances, of their brilliant successes in His professed service ; but He will protest unto them, 'I never knew you.’ He 'knows no man in whom He cannot recognize His own likeness.
“ ... the need of devout preparation for the receiving [of Holy Communion], so that ye may come holy and clean to such a heavenly Feast, in the marriage-garment required by God in holy Scripture, and be received as worthy partakers of that holy Table.
“The way and means thereto is: First, to examine your lives and conversations by the rule of God's commandments; and whereinsoever ye shall perceive yourselves to have offended, either by will, word, or deed, there to confess yourselves to Almighty God, with full purpose of amendment of life. And if ye shall perceive your offences to have been against your neighbours, then ye shall reconcile yourselves to them, being ready to make restitution. Ye must also be ready to forgive others that have offended you, as you would have forgiveness of your offences at God's hand. Therefore if any of you be a blasphemer of God, an hinderer or slanderer of his Word, an adulterer, or be in malice or envy, or in any other grievous crime, repent you of your sins; else come not to that holy Table.
“And because it is requisite, that no man should come to the holy Communion, but with a full trust in God's mercy, and with a quiet conscience; therefore if there be any of you, who by this means cannot quiet his own conscience herein, but requireth further comfort or counsel, let him come to me, or to some other discreet Minister of God's Word, and open his grief; that by the ministry of God's holy Word, he may receive the benefit of absolution, together with spiritual counsel and advice, to the quieting of his conscience, and the avoiding of all scruple and doubtfulness. [BCP]
For more information you should also read the form for the Reconciliation of a Penitent in the BAS (pp 166-172).
We do not require anyone to make such confession as your duty, but offer it as your right: rather than live in doubt and guilt, in this way you may be assured of Christ’s pardon and forgiveness.
6 SUNDAY THE NINTH SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY (QUINQUAGESIMA)
7 Monday Memorial of Perpetua and her Companions, Martyrs at Carthage, 202
For further information, see
8 Tuesday Commemoration of Edward King, Bishop of Lincoln, 1910
Shrove Tuesday; Pancake Supper, 6 p.m.
For further information on Bishop King, see
9 WEDNESDAY ASH WEDNESDAY
Ash Wednesday Liturgy 10 a.m. and 7.30 p.m.
11 Friday Memorial of Gregory of Nyssa, c. 395 (transferred)
12 Saturday Lenten Feria
13 SUNDAY THE FIRST SUNDAY IN LENT (QUADRAGESIMA)