"He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth
his life for my sake shall find it" (Matthew 10:39).
One of the most common literary techniques in the Bible is repetition
— the restatement of the same idea over and over again in slightly different
words, much like an entire flight of arrows all aimed at the bull’s-eye
of the same target. This method has its beginnings in Hebrew poetry, which
uses repetition rather than rhyme to tie its thoughts together.
But the Bible’s use of repeated statements of the same critical ideas
goes far beyond the limits of ancient Hebrew poetry to the nature of God
himself. God is One God in the unity of Three Divine Persons, and so the
Truth of God is One Truth. Our limited human minds can never encompass
the Mind or the Truth of God in one neat little package, and so it is necessary
for us, if we are to speak of God’s Truth at all, to "home in" on God’s
Truth from as many directions as we can manage.
The imagination, guided by the Holy Ghost, is just as necessary to the
writing and to the interpretation of Holy Scripture as are a ready pen
and an analytical mind, even if they too are dedicated to doing the work
of the same Holy Spirit. God is not an idea. He is the Unity of Three Eternal
Persons, and we know from our earthly experience that loving any person
requires more than analysis and "bottom-line" reasoning. Love requires
imagination, and if this were not so it would not be necessary to have
more than one love song or more than one way of saying "I love you."
When imagination is guided by the Holy Ghost, moreover, whether it is
applied to an earthly or to a heavenly love, it is the very opposite of
self-contented pride or mere cleverness for cleverness’ sake. The truest
form of imagination, which is totally submitted to God the Holy Ghost,
begins with an act of humble submission and remains humble in all of its
operations. At its faithful heart, such an imagination says "The One I
love, whether here on earth or seated on His throne in heaven, is too great
and too wonderful to be reduced to a few simple words."
And so the human writers of the Bible, under the guidance of the Holy
Ghost, repeat the great truths of God in a variety of words across the
centuries and across the many books of Sacred Scripture. Even our Lord
himself, who is the Truth of God Incarnate and in perfect union with the
Father and the Holy Ghost, preaches to the human imagination, and not just
to an abstract reason. He repeats himself in many different words, not
because he is inadequate in any way, but because he calls those who hear
him to a perfect love, and perfect love requires an imagination handed
over to God along with everything else that makes us who we are.
A lack of imagination, therefore, or worse its conscious suppression,
is no small disability. Attempting to read the Scriptures (even with pious
intentions) without first submitting our imaginations to God the Holy Ghost
is a recipe for disaster. Although the entirety of the Bible, taken together
in its two Testaments, is a single, unified, and complete revelation of
One great and holy God, the unimaginative transform it into a chaos of
competing texts and contradictory ideas. The unimaginative do not believe
in the wholeness of the Bible because they lack the imagination either
to believe in that wholeness or to see it at all.
Take, for example, the Lessons, Epistle, and Gospel appointed for this
Sunday. To the imagination unguided by God the Holy Ghost (or by the record
of the Holy Ghost’s guidance that Christians call "Tradition") these may
seem to be only a collection of unrelated words and sayings. In reality,
however, they form a unified whole that can be organized around the Prophet
Jeremiah’s simplest statement of their central truth: "The LORD is my portion,
saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him" (Lam. 3:24).
That word "portion" hearkens back to when the Chosen People entered
the Promised Land. Each tribe and each descendant of Abraham received a
"portion" of the land, or in the case of the Levites a living based on
their service at God’s altar. These portions represented their "share"
in God’s promises and their "inheritance" of life and redemption in communion
Our Lord, then, expresses precisely the same truth in today’s New Testament
Lesson, in the words with which we began: "He that findeth his life shall
lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it." Since
eternal life can only be had through the promises of God, to "find" or
to "base" our lives on anything other than those promises is to forfeit
eternal life. Jesus Christ is the living fulfillment of all of God’s promises
of life and redemption, and he alone by his death and resurrection has
overcome death itself. To look anywhere other than Jesus Christ for life
is both a waste of time and a waste of life.
Whatever we sacrifice for the sake of Jesus Christ is a sacrifice made
for the sake of life itself, since without Jesus Christ we are dead, and
it really doesn’t matter what else we might be said to possess, since in
the end the dead possess nothing. These facts illuminate another saying
of our Lord in the same passage of St. Matthew’s Gospel, so that we can
see that it is another way of saying, "God is my portion":
Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send
peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his
father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against
her mother in law. And a man's foes shall be they of his own household
Satan does not always attack our commitment to God with monsters or
clear-cut enemies. It can be those that we love most who belittle our faith
or who encourage us to choose peace with them over peace with God. A member
of our own household can play the part of the serpent in the garden, telling
us things like "Yea, hath God said? A loving God wouldn’t really want you
to choose his commandments over your or my happiness." If we really love
such a person, our only recourse is to offend him or her for the sake of
God’s commandments, since only God’s commandments and promises can give
any of us eternal life.
In the Epistle, St. Paul restates our inheritance from God in another
way: "I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy
to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us" (Romans 8:18).
The dead and dying things of this world that we give up for God are nothing
in comparison to the inheritance of eternal life that God offers the faithful.
Sacrificing for God may be painful at times, but such suffering is never
meaningless or pointless, since Jeremiah tells us "For he doth not afflict
willingly nor grieve the children of men" (Lam. 3:33). Our suffering in
its own way is as necessary, given the fallenness of this world, as the
sufferings of Jesus Christ to free us from the bonds of this world, so
that our Lord can tell us, "And he that taketh not his cross and followeth
after me is not worthy of me" (Matt. 10: 38).
Lastly, in today’s Gospel, our Lord reminds us of the way that each
of us can live out our inheritance and portion from God right now, in this
world: "Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful" (Luke
6:36). Showing mercy requires the Spirit-guided imagination to apply all
of the Scriptures to the needs of others, just as we would imagine our
Father in heaven applying his mercies to our abiding needs for love, life,
hope, and forgiveness. Our inheritance from God is real, and so we can
really share that inheritance with others, not only by words, but by deeds.
We can see, then, that all of today’s Scriptures speak with the single
voice of God across all of the centuries of God’s revelation, and into
our own times. God has told us in so many ways that he loves us, and he
has offered us life in the words of his prophets and in the words of his
Son. If we put God first in our lives, and put all of our trust in him,
he will be faithful to give us life, now and forever.
Please note: These sermons are offered for your meditation.
If you wish to use them for some other purpose or republish them, please
credit St. Andrew’s Church and Dr. Tarsitano.