Pentecost - Twenty-first Sunday After (29th Sunday in Ordinary Time)
"A Great Lord and His Servant"
By Right Rev. Bishop John S. Vaughan
God's love for us n one of the greatest of mysteries. When we think who He is, and then consider who we are, we feel wholly at a loss to account for His immense and measureless charity. He became incarnate for our sakes, He lived, He suffered, He died a most atrocious death, for our salvation. There is nothing He has left undone to win our love. For sake of that, He was ready to give up all. His time, His comfort, His reputation, His very life were sacrificed, as the church reminds us, "propter nox homines, et proper nostram salutem," that is to say, "for us men and for our salvation."
And, as Christ loved us with such a boundless love, so He wishes us to walk in His footsteps, and to love one another with a similar true, persevering and practical love. This must be regarded as a most sacred duty, inculcated again and again in the pages of Holy Scripture. "Be ye followers of God, as most dear children, and walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath delivereth Himself for us, an oblation and a sacrifice to God, for an odor of sweetness" (Ep. v, I, 2). So again: "All things whatsoever you would that men should do to you, do you also them; for this is the law and the Prophets" (Matt. vii, 12). And yet more unmistakably and peremptorily: "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you" (John xv, 12).
On the other hand, any disregard of this command, is a most serious matter. "He that loveth not, abideth in death. And, whosoever hateth his brother, is a murderer" (I. John iii, 14). But there is no need to multiply texts; let it suffice to say that the love of our neighbor is one of the most practical, one of the most pressing, and one of the most important of all our spiritual duties. My purpose, in bringing this subject before you to-day, is to supply you with some of the very strong motives for fulfilling this precept to the very best of your power.
Let us then put ourselves the question: Why should I do my very utmost to exercise brotherly love? I reply: For many and most cognent reasons; in the first place:
(1) because it is the express command of our sovereign King and Master. "A new commandment I give unto you; that you love one another, as I have loved you" (John xiii, 34). This is His command, and if we love Him, we must fully realize the necessity of obeying His commands, according to the words: "If you love Me, keep my commandments."
(2) Secondly, we must exercise brotherly love, because He has selected this duty from among all the rest, as a sign and as a special mark, by which we are to be known to the world, as His disciples, saying: "By this, let all men know that you are My disciples, that you love one another." From the very earliest times charity has been a most conspicuous mark of the true followers of Christ. The very pagans were astounded and impressed by the extraordinary unity that prevailed amongst the members of the infant church. They were holly astonished at the mutual regard, the sympathy, the gentleness and the charity that permeated the lives of those, whom they were persecuting, imprisoning and putting to death. Again and again, they would cry out, in wonder and in admiration: "Behold, how these Christians love one another!" And what was such a marked characteristic of the first Christians, should be the ever-living characteristic of Christians, in all places, and in all ages. If then, my dear brethren, we would be considered as genuine disciples of our Divine Lord, let us watch over ourselves, and be most careful to exercise mutual love and forbearance.
(3) The third motive urging us to fulfill this law, is because the charity we show toward our brethren our Blessed Lord deigns to accept just as though it were exercised toward Himself in person "Whatsoever you have done to the least of My little ones, you have done unto Me." These words are worthy of the utmost attention, and should be of the greatest encouragement to us. Our Lord know how anxious we are to show Him honor and affection, so He opens out to us the simplest possible means of gratifying our laudable desire. Though no longer visibly present on earth, though no longer in want of material things, as He once was, when, for instance, He sat down hungry by the well side, or when He exclaimed, "the birds of the air have their nests, and the beasts their dens, but the Son of man hath not whereon to lay His head", yet He is still suffering with us in the person of the poor and the afflicted, the distressed, and the sorrowful. And, what is more, He commands us to see in them the representatives of Himself and to honor them, and to succor them in their needs, just as though we were administering to Himself. Yet more marvellous still, He pledges us His solemn word, that whatsoever we do for them (if we only do it in the proper spirit), He will accept and reward, exactly as if we had done it to Himself.
How often, while reading and pondering over the Gospel narrative, must we have wished that we had lived in those distant days, so that we might have come to our Lord's assistance, and supplied all His wants! How gladly would we have laid our treasures at His feet, and how joyfully would we have given of our best to feed, and nourish, and clothe Him. At all events, we flatter ourselves that such would have been the case. But would it really have been so? Or are we not rather flattering ourselves? It is so much easier to suppose that we should have acted with generosity, in a hypothetical case, than to test ourselves by an actual one. The question is, how do we now treat the poor, the sick, the sorrowful, the afflicted? What is our compassion for them? To what lengths are we willing to go, in order to alleviate their heavy trials? If we will do nothing, or little for them, rest assured, that we would not have done very much, even for Christ Himself, had we lived at the same period. Do not lament that you did not live in the days when He walked the earth. For, the truth is, that in a very true sense, He still walks the earth, in the person of His poor, so that we may always succor Him, by succoring them, and feed and clothe Him, by feeding and clothing the hungry and the naked. He will watch and bless such deed of charity, and will bestow upon us a reward just as great and munificent as though he had been the actual recipient. He makes no distinction. Whatsoever you did for them, you did for me."
(4) There is a fourth motive which should urge us to the practice of this wonderful virtue, and it is that God has promised to deal with us as we deal with our neighbors. In this He almost seems to give us the power of determining His attitude toward us, and of changing Him from an angry and a vengeful Judge into a merciful and lenient Father. Listen to these extremely weighty words: "In whatsoever measure you have meted out to others, it shall be meted out to you." Here our merciful and most just Lord assures us that He will watch us, and study our conduct and bearing towards our neighbor, and then make that the pattern and rule of His conduct and bearing towards ourselves. If, therefore, we are exacting and fault-finding and censorious towards others, if we are hard and revengeful and slow to forgive, then He will be harsh and severe towards us. On the other hand, if we are kind and accommodating, and full of patience, if we are ever ready to excuse and to put a favorable interpretation upon the actions and doings of others, we shall transform the heart of our supreme Judge, and render Him favorably disposed towards us. He will act towards us, as we act towards others. He will be easy, forgiving and even indulgent and treat us with the utmost tenderness and compassion. This is clearly the teaching of Holy Writ. "Mercy," exclaims the inspired writer, "to him who hat shown mercy, but justice and no mercy to him who hath not shown mercy." This law seems to run through all god's dealing with His responsible creatures. Even in that most beautiful of all prayers, the Our Father, are we not taught it? Whenever we recite the petition: "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them who trespass against us," we actually ask God to treat us in the same manner as we treat others.
In order to accentuate this rule still further, and to bring it more clearly and forcibly before even the most unobservant amongst us, Our Lord makes use of some striking examples. We have one set before us in to-day's Gospel. There we have represented a great king, who would take an account of his servants. That king is no other than Jesus Christ, the King of kings and the Lord of heaven and earth. Now, there is one in His kingdom who ha the misfortune to owe Him ten thousand talents, a sum which he feels quite incapable of paying. The debtor is an image of the sinner, of you, my dear brethren, and of me. This sinner has often, and perhaps previously offended his loving Master, and broke His commandments, and consequently owes Him a reparation so great that he cannot possible make it unassisted. This debt of sin is symbolized by the "ten thousand talents," which was far beyond the means of the unfortunate steward, who knew not what to do to appease his Lord's demands. At last, finding it impossible to meet his liabilities, he determined to throw himself on his Lord's mercy, and to beg Him to have compassion, and to forgive him. He reasoned within himself, "my Master is good and kind and ever ready to pardon the repentant offender; I am sure, "he will not break the bruised reed, nor extinguish the smoldering flax." (Matt, xii, 20). Therefore, courage, O! my soul; I will go and beseech Him to let me off this debt and to free me from an obligation which I know not how to meet. Accordingly, he approaches his Sovereign, and sets before Him his sad plight and, in an excess of benevolence, He actually forgives him all this enormous debt, and restores him to His favor, and sends him away rejoicing.
But alas! Poor fallen human nature. This magnificent lesson, this most splendid example of generosity and magnanimity is entirely thrown away on the witless steward. Though he has just experienced the greatest consideration and patience on the part of his superior; his own heart is harsh and exacting and cruel toward his own fellow citizen, who chances to owe him the paltry sum of a hundred pence, as though such a lesson had never been given him. So the Evangelist tells us that shortly after his Lord had forgiven him the debt, he met one of his fellow servants, who owed him a hundred pence, and "laying hold of him, he throttled him, saying: Pay what thou owe." And his fellow servant, falling down upon his knees, besought him, saying: "Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all." This was a golden opportunity, my dear brethren, of imitating the mercy and compassion of his own supreme king and master. This was an occasion, not to be thrown away, of putting in fore the admirable lesson that had just been taught him, and by which he had so largely profited. But, like so many of us, he was thoroughly selfish. He had been freed from his enormous debt; he had been rescued from the prison and the torture that were his due, according to the law of the land against impecunious debtors; and one might have thought that he would have shown some little consideration and softness towards a fellow servant. But, nothing of the kind. His heart was as tough and as irresponsive as a stone. He determined to put the law in motion and went "and cast him into prison, till he paid the debt."
Now, those who witnessed this cruelty, were naturally indignant. Here is a man, they exclaimed to one another, who has received every consideration at the hands of the king, and who would be in prison at this moment, were it not for his extraordinary mercy, yet he will not show the slightest patience of forbearance with one of his own set, who owes him less than a hundredth part of what he owed his sovereign. At last they could endure it no longer, and went and told their lord all that had happened. The the king's countenance changed, and he grew exceedingly angry. He summoned his guilty subject before him. He upbraided him for his inhuman conduct, and said no doubt, in severe and pitiless tones: "Thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all the debt" (not because thou deserved to be forgiven, nor because I was under any obligation to do so, but) "because thou besought me; should not thou then have had compassion also on thy fellow servant, even as I have compassion on thee?"
Here we have the rule exemplified again. In this parable, the Overlord sets the example of gentleness and indulgence, which he expects his subjects to follow. And, if they do really follow it, all will be well with them. But if they apply a harsher rule of conduct to their fellow servants, then the Overlord will call them to account, and will deal with them even as they have chosen to deal with their fellows. In the case set before us, in today's Gospel, the king, who had shown himself so extremely lenient towards his debtor, altered and reversed his whole attitude, as soon as he learned how that debtor had acted towards his fellow servant. He seemed to say: "Very well; since you refuse to act towards others as I act towards you, I shall act towards you, as you act towards others. If you are unforgiving and overbearing, you will experience the full weight of my justice, and my mercy will be extended to those only, who have shown mercy." And the Evangelist goes on to narrate: "His lord, being angry, delivered him to the torturers to convey, Jesus adds: "So also shall my heavenly Father do to you, if you forgive not every one his brother from your hearts."
Now, my dear brethren, we may well pause awhile here, to ask ourselves whether we have hitherto laid this principle sufficiently to heart. There can be no doubt, but that we stand sadly in need of God's clemency and fatherly indulgence. We are all sinners, and have in many ways offended, and transgressed. We shall soon be summoned before the tremendous Judgment Seat, to give a full and detailed account of our conduct. How shall we then fare, if we find ourselves in the presence of an angry and an exacting Judge? If we desire to appease His wrath, and to allay His indignation, and to transform Him into a God of tenderness and compassion, then we shall do well to examine our attitude of mind and of heart towards our brethren and fellow-laborers in the vineyard of this world. If we put ourselves the question: "How will God deal with me in judgment? Will He be severe and strict and exacting; or on the contrary, will He be forgiving, patient and clement? Will He exercise all the rigors of strict justice; or will He be ready to excuse, to make allowances, and to exonerate? Surely this is a practical and a burning question! Yet the answer is an easy one; and, let me add, a most consoling one. The answer is that it depends upon myself. How will God deal with me? How? Why, of course, He will deal with me, as I deal with others. If I am compassionate, and patient with my companions and my subordinates, and ready to make allowances and to overlook their faults, and to make excuses for them, and to put a favorable interpretation on their actions and conduct. I may be quite sure that God will also make allowances for me, and excuse my many faults and imperfections, and judge me with wonderful leniency and commiseration.
Let us consider our wonted attitude towards our companions. How strict, and even unjust we often are in our judgments. How ready to put the worst, rather than the best interpretation on their sayings and doings. If we surprise them in an equivocal position, or in some compromising situation, how ready we are to think evil of them; and perhaps even to announce our ungrounded suspicions to all our friends. How ready we are to repeat and to spread abroad what may indeed be piquant and amusing, but little to the credit of our neighbor. The least scandal or sensational story is too often carried by us into a hundred directions, to the determent and the mortification of those concerned. Yet with all this want of charity and self-restraint, we expect our Divine Lord to exhibit the utmost charity towards ourselves.
So again, how exacting we are! We cannot wait nor exercise any patience with those who are our debtors. We demand instant redress and satisfaction if we think ourselves insulted or injured or in any way slighted or neglected. Though we expect God to make allowances for us, we act as though we thought no allowances need be made by us. Well may God say to us: "O! thou wicked servant, should not thou have compassion on thy fellow servant, even as I have had compassion on thee."
If God were to act towards us as we often act towards our neighbor, how should we have fared in the past. Go back, in spirit, over the years that have gone by. Consider the various occasions in which you have misbehaved yourselves, and disregarded the laws of your sovereign Master. Call to mind the many deliberate sins you have committed. Sins of neglect, sins of passion, sins of the flesh. Where might you now be had God not shown you an infinite compassion and a divine patience. Had the sovereign Judge summoned you before Him after your first grievous sin, and demanded instant satisfaction, and threatened to cast you into the prison of hell, unless you could pay a fitting indemnity; and had He turned a deaf ear to all your entreaties and prayers, you would now be writhing in the flames of the bottomless pit. But, so far from showing such severity, He has waited and waited, perhaps for years, till your evil dispositions should change, and you should beseech Him to forgive you. Then, at your first petition, He at once showed Himself to be the merciful and loving Father, only too ready to extend a helping hand, and to draw you tenderly to His Sacred Heart.
And if He acts so mercifully toward us, are we to exercise no mercy towards others? Are we to be uninfluenced by His divine example? Are we to show less patience with our fellowmen than God, the infinite Lord of all things, deigns to show towards us, who are infinitely below Him, and His unworthy and lowly servants and dependents? Perish the thought.
Oh! How happy are those, who go through life exercising charity and showing kindness on all sides, who sympathize with every sorrow, and assuage every grief, who have a cheering word for the mourner and a helping hand for those in trouble. Not only do they receive an abundant reward in this world, by reason of the love they awaken, and the joy that they scatter and broadcast, and the gratitude that they enkindle in the hearts of their neighbors, but - what is infinitely more important, - they draw down upon themselves the affection of Almighty God, they dispose His Heart to love them, they render him more and more favorable to them, and they prepare for themselves, on the last dread day of Judgment, a more and more merciful sentence.
Let us then, while there is still time, examine ourselves upon our love of the brethren, and see if we cannot do far more than we are doing at present in this matter to win the approval and the commendation of our supreme Judge.