“We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves… And I myself also am persuaded of you, my brethren, that ye also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another. Nevertheless, brethren, I have written more boldly unto you in some sort, as putting you in mind, because of the grace that is given to me of God. That I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost.” Romans 15: 14-16
I want to begin once again by pointing out that St. Paul discusses Christian behavior in the context of eschatology, and eschatology (which is the study of last things, the end of time, the end of the world) has to do with the whole creation, the whole cosmos, not just the portion we call “planet earth.” I have referred over the last few weeks to contemporary film directors and writers, like Terrance Malick, who place the human story in the context of the story of the whole cosmos; and it is worth recognizing that that movement on the part of the artists puts them in the train of a great and old tradition. Beginning with Genesis and the creation narrative, Abraham and Israel’s narrative, though set in the vast context of the creation story, is seen to be the one upon which the larger narrative hangs. In the earliest accounts of Jesus’ teaching concerning the consummation of Israel’s narrative, the final scene includes the shattering of the heavens in response to the coming of the Son of Man. And in the last book of the Bible St. John the Divine concludes the story of Israel with the New Jerusalem, the New Heaven and the New Earth.
We have also looked at how the idea of matter in motion, in fact matter in motion from no apparent cause and for no reason, has become the default, the so called realistic view of the universe. I can think of nothing more boring than matter in motion. But through the art of film we may have a beautiful and powerful presentation of the birth of stars, galaxies and planets that is completely engrossing, a sort of poetic apotheosis of matter in motion. These pieces frequently betray artistic speculations about the process of evolution that seems to be going somewhere and seems to mean something that keeps eluding the artist and the rest of us. But we are frequently instructed by the high priests of our age, superficially referred to as philosophers or scientist-turned-philosophers, that any sense of meaning or purpose that we may experience or think we discern is merely our infantile projections. We are all alone.
What is real, the wise of our age say, is the survival of the fittest, which is often translated to mean might makes right. I have to admit that there is a certain necessity to that saying — correct? It’s a tautology isn’t it? A tautology just says the same thing twice using a different word. I mean it would be a wonder indeed if it turned out that the unfit were the survivors. And it is certainly true that the mighty have a historical tendency to take what they want from the unfit when they want to take it. We may come back and say, yes, but we know that the mighty are not always high and mighty because the mighty may fall. But that is not the point is it? All we are saying then is that you cannot count not remaining so high and mighty — you become one of the unfit. So what I want to say is this: that is not a Christian response at all, but rather it is just as nihilistic as the dark notion that all there is to existence is matter in motion and what matters there is force, power and on organic level, fitness.
Contrary to the wise of this age, St. Paul presents to the Church in Rome a christological understanding of existence that says if you fall in love with the One who created matter and put it into motion in the first place you will discovery layers upon layers of meaning in the universe and Holy Mother Church and her children will incarnate those layers of meaning, you will bring them to life, you will offer up yourselves body and soul, sound and sense, to stamp the mark of Christ upon everything that exist. And so St. Paul at the very beginning of chapter 15 of his epistle to the Romans opens fire on the notion of the survival of the fittest when he writes:
“We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves…”
And the epistle for this Second Sunday in Epiphany Paul rings out the same liberating truth:
“Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another… Bless them which persecute you: bless and curse not. Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep… Mind not high things, but associate with, show solidarity with men of low estate.” Romans 12
Of course St. Paul did not dream this up one day as he was walking down a dusty road in Israel, but he got it from his Lord and Master Jesus Christ:
“And Jesus looking upon the rich young man loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me.” Mark 10:21
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised…” Luke 4:18
“And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple; and he healed them…” Matthew 21:14
That sort of behavior is simply stupid if the true meaning of the universe is “the survival of the fittest,” in fact from that perspective it is not only stupid but it is immoral and can only lead to crippling the human race as a whole and eventually it would bring an end to humanity. And that is precisely how the high and mighty of the world have used that belief. You all well know that the idea of survival of the fittest has been used frequently in the past to justify what is cynically referred to as “ethnic cleansing” as well as the mercy killing of the weak, the infirm, and helpless. The Nazis used the principle of survival of the fittest to justify the killing of severely disabled infants as well as adults. The program called Action T4 referred to the Reich’s “euthanasia campaign” that was based on a book entitled The Right to Die by Adolf Jost written in 1895 that advocated killing infants and adults who were mentally and physically disabled for the health of what he called the “social organism” and Jost based his position on a very white, European reading of Darwin and Herbert Spencer. It was Spencer who coined the phrase “survival of the fittest” by which he meant “the preservation of the favored races in the struggle for life.” Now understand this: I am not talking about discovery of how the world and species evolve which may well open our eyes to more and more of God’s glory, but I am speaking of the default contemporary horizon, the common horizon of our day and time that takes matter in motion minus final cause, minus God’s purpose, as the ultimate and final objective truth. That is the sick horizon of our day and time. It is the horizon of a person that believes the strong man or the strong woman is the one who will look into the abyss of nothingness that is matter in motion and bravely owns it as the objective truth of the real world. To which St. Paul responds:
“We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves… And (furthermore he continues to write) I myself am persuaded of you, my brethren, that ye also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another.”
Paul say that it is our great honor and benefit to bear the infirmities of the weak and thus to incarnate in our own life some of the meaning of existence that continues to be hidden from the wise of this age. That behavior is an example of what Paul calls “the offering up of the Gentiles,” which phrase is a specific reference to the liturgical moment when the sacrifice is offered up on the altar; and he says that oblation of self-sacrificing love is pleasing to God and at the same time it is our sanctification, purifying us, freeing us from sin, setting us apart as dedicated for God’s use. And I submit to you that acts of self-giving love leave an indelible stain, the mark of Christ, upon the world of men and things. Bearing the infirmities of the weak is one of the deep meanings of creation that we are equipped to bring to life by offering up ourselves, our souls and our material bodies to the Father, that through our flesh he may imprint the image of Christ upon everything that exist. Thus St. Paul declares to the Romans that they are equipped to do the work that Christ has called on them to do. Paul is satisfied that those who are in Jesus are full of goodness and full of knowledge, they have both the inward inclination of the will to follow Jesus in his work of mercy and they have the knowledge of their own provision for the task.
Over the last few weeks we have discussed how we Christians are made Christians by being baptized in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and how baptism, as by an instrument, engrafts us into the very life of Christ and thus we participate in his life. That is our beginning and through that beginning we are equipped with the heavenly virtues of faith, hope, and love. We have also explored how living as Christians it is our responsibility to consciously and intentionally enter into the horizon of Jesus the Messiah and make his horizon our horizon as much as we can, remembering that we are equipped through our baptism to do that work. Our entry into Jesus’ horizon is a gift from God; you grow in Christ and your grasp of seeing the world of men and things the way Jesus does matures, you value what Jesus values, you make his ultimate concern your ultimate concern, which includes behaving the way he wants you to behave. And all that comes about through ever deepening conversions, conversions that are made possible through our baptism into Christ and thus our regeneration which is a pure gift. The new reality of our life in Christ through the sacrament of Holy Baptism is our regeneration, our being born again as the true children of Abraham and thus Abraham’s story has become our story through Jesus and his has become the most important narrative of our life.
The life story of Jesus the Messiah enfolds the life story of every single human being who has ever existed or every will exist and that inclusion in Jesus’ life story bestows ultimate meaning upon each person, as well as bestowing ultimate meaning to whole of humanity. Furthermore the life story of Jesus the Messiah enfolds the life of the whole cosmos and the inclusion of what the wisdom of our age sees no more than meaningless matter in motion — every rock, every star, every galaxy, from the smallest particle to the whole universe, including all movements, angles, thrust and force as well as your life, my life and our families’ life — all of it is given ultimate meaning by its inclusion in the life story of one single human being: Jesus the Messiah.
“We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves… And I myself also am persuaded of you, my brethren, that ye also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another.”