"Lord, we beseech thee to keep thy household the Church
in continual godliness; that through thy protection it may be free from
all adversities, and devoutly given to serve thee in good works, to the
glory of thy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen" (The
Collect for Twenty-second after Trinity).
This morningís Collect and Epistle serve as a prologue to todayís Gospel,
which is itself an illustration of what our Lord meant when he taught us
to pray to his Father "and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those
who trespass against us." If the precondition of divine forgiveness is
our willingness to forgive those who offend against us, then it makes eminently
good sense to forgive our brothers "until seventy times seven" (Matt. 18:22).
Even that number provided by our Lord Jesus Christ means more that a
literal limit of "490 times." Introspection was never St. Peterís main
gift, but even he must have paused to think "The Master means keep forgiving
and never stop," rather than "Each of us is entitled to 490 sins, and then
comes the abyss." The immediately following parable "Of the Unjust Servant"
says as much, since a debt of 10,000 talents is a reminder that a single
sin against God is rather like owing an unpayable debt of a "gozillion
dollars" (see Matt. 18:24). In comparison to the debt that God has forgiven
for each and every one of us, the sins of others against us (however awful)
are chicken feed, like owing somebody twenty bucks until payday.
But forgiveness is more than the "price" that Christians pay to be forgiven
themselves. If forgiveness were just some sort of pragmatic business deal,
a kind of cosmic tit-for-tat, then our Lord wouldnít have had to bother
teaching us to call his Father in heaven "our Father" as well. There wouldnít
be any need to think of those who offend us as "brothers," if all they
were was an opportunity to rack up brownie points with God. The "something
more" about forgiveness, the perspective to understand forgiveness, is
what the Collect and Epistle provide for us, in support of the Gospel.
To explore that "something more," however, will require more than a
superficial glance at the Collect and Epistle, since certain words in them
carry a great deal more information in the original languages of their
composition than they do in modern English. The Collect, for example, was
written in Latin, at least thirteen or fourteen hundred years ago, so that
where we ask God to keep "thy household the Church" in continual godliness,
the original writer used the word "familia," from which our word "family"
"Familia," though, is a much more complicated word in Latin than it
is English, where the word "family" usually makes us think of "a husband
and a wife, along with their children." The English word also makes us
think primarily of "love," perhaps even of indulgent love, as the basis
of a family. The Latin word "familia," on the other hand, while it does
not deny familial love, puts the stress on the idea of "order."
How so? It helps to know that in Latin "familia" is derived from the
root words "famulus" and "famula," the words for male and female house-servants
or slaves. Originally, then, the "familia" (or "family") meant only the
slaves that were owned by a household, who lived under the authority of
a household, and for whom the head of the household was responsible. Over
time, however, the idea of "familia" (or "family") grew to include everyone
who belonged to a household, whether by law or by blood, on the basis of
the head of the householdís authority and responsibility to protect and
to provide for absolutely everyone who lived under his roof.
In this way, "familia" came to mean a complete household of both duty
and love, which sense is intended by "household" in todayís Collect. The
head of the household came to be known as "paterfamilias," "the father
of the family," from combining the Latin words for "father" and "household."
The words for "son" and "daughter" ("filus" and "filia") were also combined
with "family," to name the "filiusfamilias" and "filiafamilias," the sons
and daughters of the family who lived in their fatherís house and under
Thus, when our Collect asks God to keep "thy household the Church,"
he is being addressed as our "Paterfamilias," under whose authority we
must live in order to remain members of his household of life. Jesus Christ
is the only-begotten Son of God, but we are members of his Fatherís household
by both adoption and by blood. We are adopted to become the sons and daughters
of Godís family by virtue of the Blood that has been shed by Jesus Christ
for our "redemption," literally in Latin our "being bought back" from service
to any household other than Godís.
When we say that we belong to the "household of God," we are really
saying that we belong to him by right. We are saying that all our work
and service belong to him, and that all we do must be done under his governance
alone, or else we will be betraying the "family" that gave us eternal life.
We must be, as the Collect says, "devoutly given" to serve God in "good
works," or else we have left his rule and his protection behind. And it
is his protection alone that can "free [us] from all adversities."
Moreover, just as every other well-ordered family has its fixed rules
for right behavior, the household of God has its own, one of which is "forgive
us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us." The Head
of our household forgives, and if we want to remain in his family, then
we must forgive as well, following his example and pattern as loving children
But it can be hard to forgive, and where do we find the power to be
as forgiving as our Father in heaven is forgiving? St. Paul provides the
answer in the Epistle, where he writes, "For God is my record, how greatly
I long after you all in the tender mercies of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:8).
Here "tender mercies" is one of those prissy modern translations that hides
as much as it reveals. The original King James Version had "bowels," a
literal translation of the Greek "spla(n)gchnon," which St. Jerome translated
into Latin as "viscera."
The kind of "tender mercy" that St. Paul invokes as the power that binds
us together, as the grace that makes us able to desire the best for one
another, including the divine forgiveness, and as the willingness to give
to one another our very best, including our own forgiveness, comes from
deep inside the Body of Christ, Godís Eternal Son made flesh. St. Paul
wrote literally that Christís mercy came "from his guts," knowing that
either the ordinary human body of our Lord or his mystical Body, the Church,
without its proper "insides" would be only an empty shell and not alive
in any true sense at all.
The greatest of English Bible translators, the martyr William Tyndale,
faced this problem of a right translation of these words head on and wrote:
"For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all from the very heart
root in Jesus Christ." This was the translation in the first English Prayer
Book of 1549, and Tyndale manages to capture both the physical and the
spiritual meaning of St. Paulís words.
The heart of Jesus Christ is the physical root of the divine mercy planted
and flowering in the flesh of the incarnate Savior of the world. The heart
of Jesus Christ is the mystical or spiritual root to which each one of
us is grafted when we are saved. The heart of Jesus Christ is the root
of inheritance, the true "root of Jesse" upon which we must grow if we
are to share the life of God. Christ is the Vine and we are the branches.
If we, therefore, are truly grafted to the heart of Jesus Christ, how
can our hearts be less forgiving than his, who died for our forgiveness?
If we are grafted onto the whole inheritance of God in the heart of our
Lord Jesus Christ, which inheritance is his by right of sonship, and not
by adoption, how can we live as less than the sons and daughters of Godís
household? How can we be less than grateful for our adoption into the family
of our Father in heaven himself? And how could we ever justify in our minds
leaving our Fatherís house again, to take up the old ways of sin, including
the sin of not forgiving as our Father first forgave us?
A real Christian, who knows that he is a member of the Fatherís household
and who is rooted in the very heart of Jesus Christ, must recoil from such
sin and error. He knows, through the surety of faith, that he is now a
part of something much greater than himself or any earthly household, and
he trusts that he has an eternal family and an eternal heart of mercy to
sustain him wherever he goes and whatever he does, until his final homecoming.
This is the Christian life presented to us today by the Holy Scriptures
and by the Churchís ancient prayers, and it is the life that I hope for
every one of us, 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. Andrewís Church and Dr. Tarsitano.