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Home and Heart
L. R. TarsitanoóSaint Andrew's Church, Savannah
The Twenty-second Sunday after Trinity - November 19, 2000
"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" is derived.

"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 his authority. 

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 should.

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.