Ho, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labour for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
listen, so that you may live.
I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
my steadfast, sure love for David.
See, I made him a witness to the peoples,
a leader and commander for the peoples.
See, you shall call nations that you do not know,
and nations that do not know you shall run to you,
because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel,
for he has glorified you.
8 The Lord is gracious and merciful, •
long-suffering and of great goodness.
9 The Lord is loving to everyone •
and his mercy is over all his creatures.
14 The Lord is sure in all his words •
and faithful in all his deeds.
15 The Lord upholds all those who fall •
and lifts up all those who are bowed down.
16 The eyes of all wait upon you, O Lord, •
and you give them their food in due season.
17 You open wide your hand •
and fill all things living with plenty.
18 The Lord is righteous in all his ways •
and loving in all his works.
19 The Lord is near to those who call upon him, •
to all who call upon him faithfully.
20 He fulfils the desire of those who fear him; •
he hears their cry and saves them.
21 The Lord watches over those who love him, •
but all the wicked shall he destroy.
I am speaking the truth in Christ – I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit – I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.
Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.’ Jesus said to them, ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.’ They replied, ‘We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.’ And he said, ‘Bring them here to me.’ Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
Sermon on Sunday – Trinity 8
I wonder whether Paul’s words, “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart,” could apply to us today. Last week I looked into Ignatius of Loyola and his Spiritual Exercises and there found the low esteem in which Ignatius held humanity. Ignatius says to the people on retreat in order to concentrate their minds – “look at who I am, lessening myself by examples” and Ignatius gives them these:
First, how much I am in comparison to all men;
Second, what men are in comparison to all the Angels and Saints of Paradise;
Third, what all Creation is in comparison to God: (Then I alone, what can I be?)
Fourth, to see all my bodily corruption and foulness;
Fifth, to look at myself as a sore and ulcer, from which have sprung so many sins and so many iniquities and so very vile poison.
Ignatius wants each one to begin their exercises in confessional prayer. With their own personal anguish and sorrow, they begin to know just who they are and they will grief. But is personal sin or the state of humanity the cause of such anguish?
A strong connection, I think, exists theologically between the Counter-Reformation spearheaded by the Jesuits (those who followed Ignatius) and the reformed churches which followed Luther. All in the Reformation period focussed on the individual and the fundamental sinfulness of humanity. Everyone was obsessed with sin – the origin of all sin, how sin was transmitted, the degrees of sin ranging from venal to mortal, how the individual shows the fall into everyday life’s sin, and so on. We inherit this interest in sin today, as it expresses itself in contemporary theology and secularly in the “blame culture.” Either they follow the reformers and a renewed tradition. Or they eschew the tradition and are enthralled by this new age with its interest in modernity while declining the individual’s fall from grace in the womb.
The reformers are at work throughout the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. Then, as now, they aspire to faithfulness in Christ, and, as we all know, there are many flavours of reform.
But let’s get back to our text – “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.” What is the cause of our sorrow and anguish? Is it original sin, from which “so many sins and so many iniquities and so very vile poison” arise which Ignatius asks us to ponder? It is clear that the reformers are exercised by sin in every guise. That explains how Luther, Calvin or Ignatius would suffer, as they contemplated their unreformed nature.
Why, however, is Paul suffering so? He tells us in our passage very clearly, but it is something I don’t think we recognise in our modern times. “I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh.” Paul’s motive is missionary – he wants his own people, his very flesh, to take on all their history personally so they can be saved, as he has been, by Jesus Christ. “To them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah.” In the flesh of the Jews is salvation, if it were only realised – the adoption as children of God, as we earnestly pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “our Father” – the glory of the people Israel, as we have it in the Nunc Dimitis – the covenant between God and humankind, witness the promise to Isaac in the wilderness with his son – the giving of the Law, as Moses brought it down from the mountaintop – the worship of the temple, which is continued in synagogue and church today – and the “promises” which are exposed throughout the OT. Now we see the whole of the saving history in the bible through the cross.
Paul wants to give away the salvation he knows. He is on a mission because of the saving history of the Jews. All history culminates in Jesus Christ, “as the prophets foretold” as the evangelists tell us time and again, as the Church does even today.
The Jews who are in Paul’s mind should “own” the patriarchs and the prophets. They must make them part of their lives in a very particular way, “according to the flesh”. Paul in other places puts flesh and spirit poles apart, so why is he talking about the flesh here? Flesh is opposed to Spirit, so how can the two principles be reconciled?
Don’t we see Paul’s dilemma? Paul is consumed by the Holy Spirit, something elemental in his being, but which is not “of the flesh” as we have been told time and again in his letters to the young churches. I think Paul is suggesting there is in faith a fundamental unity of flesh and spirit.
Today, we see that Jesus Christ is enfleshed in that particular time and place. This is the theological premise for the whole Church, one which is being reasserted today. We see historical particularity as the mark of existence, and no life is more particular than that of Jesus Christ. We take as a mark of our own lives our own very peculiar circumstances – that my parents were so and so, I was born in this particular parish, grew up and matured through these places and times. All of that makes me unique – just as Jesus’ life was unique.
All of this argues, we would say today, against the case for original sin as the character of humanity. Each individual may be imperfect, but each person individually misses the mark of perfection – the perfection of Christ our Saviour. So why are we sorrowful? Do we want to give up all for the sake of our neighbour’s salvation? This is what Paul wants for his kindred. We might do so in our most altruistic and faithful moments, but I think I grieve for creation on the basis of myself, not on a population. We are good at praying for individuals because they are just like us, but we do not abstract from the individual to the general. This is what, I think, Paul was doing in his sorrow. Paul’s grief extends to a people, his kindred according to the flesh. He grieves for everyone. I think this is what the imitation of Christ really is. It is what Luther and Ignatius aspire to – that we can see ourselves as we really are, and our sorrow is for every person, all flesh and blood, our kin as Paul puts it. Our spiritual exercises will place us into humanity and so be able to pray for others as they should be prayed for, in other words, that we would love others as we love ourselves.