At St. Joseph’s Collegiate Chapel in Berkeley this morning, we entered the second Sunday of Pre-Lent, and I was struck by the light shafting through the clerestory windows upon the crucifix, a reminder to have ears to hear, eyes to see.
Just as Septuagesima’s Gospel was about Time and Judgment, Sexagesima’s Gospel today is about what we do with the time, knowledge, and grace given us, once we encounter Christ in our lives. Our Lord tells the parable of the seed in the soil, and considers what kind of soil and what sort of fruits that will be produced. Some seed fell upon the way-side, some on a rock, some among thorns, and some on good ground, baring fruit. The seed is the word of God… Jesus explains clearly what it all means. We want to be those who “having heard the word of God, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.” (Luke 8:4+, BCP 121)
The Gospel is paired appropriately with Paul’s long list of all the dangers and challenges he has endured as a minister of Christ. He is writing to the Church in Corinth in an effort to encourage them to be brave and long-suffering. Hence his list (briefly): he works hard, is whipped, imprisoned, beaten with rods, stoned, shipwrecked. His perils are many: seas, robbers, wilderness, slanders, hunger, thirst, weariness and painfulness, fastings, cold and nakedness. He even gets angry. But he glories in his very infirmities. One guesses Paul is answering complaints of the Corinthians, giving them a pep talk (2 Corinthians 11:19+, BCP 120).
What do we do with our time on Earth? Are we producing fruit, having heard the word of God? Do we keep it? My mother turned 103 last month, a truth that focuses my own attention on our next great adventure, our passage into Eternity. Our numbered days are shrinking, a fact that I find both encouraging and worrisome. The clock ticks. The bell tolls. Judgment awaits.
It has been remarked by many how silent the Christian churches and Jewish synagogues are today, in terms of standing up to some of the totalitarian trends gathering speed. Eric Metaxas recently interviewed Alan Dershowitz about his book, Guilt by Accusation, in which he speaks of the extortion racket that has emerged from the “Me Too” movement. He mentions that in the long process of clearing his name through the courts (he refused to pay the ransom), others continued to shun him, including his own synagogue who “didn’t want to invite trouble.” Mr. Metaxas recognizes the symptoms of turning away from tyranny – that blind eye and silence in the face of the dragon – for his biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer recounts a similar acquiescing in the 1930’s that propelled Hitler and the death camps.
The parallels are frightening. The self-censoring is everywhere. Where are the St. Pauls of our era? Where is the good soil that bears good fruit?
I see a bit of St. Paul in Elon Musk and the Twitter Files. There are others too, brave Davids with slingshots aimed at formidable Goliaths, but I also understand the fear of inviting trouble, cancellation, shunning, destruction of career, loss of family. The anger and loathing I have seen first hand in family members and friends when they find I am not only a Trump deplorable but a Christian deplorable as well is formidable. I can identify to a limited extent with St. Paul. But I have, so far, less to lose, being retired, elderly, and numbering my days, as it were. Even so, the deranged outrage of these folks is palpable.
There are many tentacles to this octopus, to swim with another metaphor. Universities are requiring Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion statements from prospective students as well as faculty applying for a position. It is not enough to be silent, to turn away from the tyranny, but students and faculty must also show their actions supporting the DEI program. They must salute. They must march. And DEI, a racist program, is just one of many incursions upon our freedom and the dignity of merit and character, the sanctity of all human life, from conception to grave.
And so I take great heart in hearing the litany of abuse Paul suffered and Our Lord’s parable fully explained, in case we wanted to censor the meaning. It’s all about hearing the word and believing, then with “an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.”
I suppose, at the end of the day, we pray we have ears to hear, eyes to see, to recognize the King of Glory when we meet him in Paradise, seated on his throne in glory.