“In thy light we shall see light.” (Psalm 36.6)
How frightening to our condition is today’s Gospel. “Judge not,” Jesus commands. Every statement we make is a judgement and every free act involves choice, which is judgement by another name. Yet Jesus rightly forbids our judging, for we lack the necessary clarity of vision. We are like the blind leading the blind or like a man with distorted sight who tries to correct the vision of his brother.
A moment’s reflection on this deepens the despair. Our disorder is so complete that we have good reason to fear our virtues as much as our vices; indeed they are profoundly connected. Our vices are often the extensions and complements of our virtues. The virtue of frankness runs on to become the viciousness of a gossiping, indiscreet and cruel tongue. The man who is at home open handed, liberal, and generous demands harsh meanness of the government. The steady conservative upon whom we rely to guard our treasure cannot discriminate between the precious and rubbish. Reformers, so necessary to counterbalance these, throw out the baby with the bath water. The obedient follow Hitler as easily as God. The careful are mean, and the modest, cold. The well-intentioned are busybodies and meddlers. Liberators become dictators. There is none good, no not one. Jesus justly cries ‘Woe unto you hypocrites for ye are like unto whitened sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.” (Matthew 23.27) We understand ourselves no better than we know our neighbours; we are better acquainted with our outward loveliness than with our inner rot.
So, when we beg God to cleanse us of sins which are secret, we speak of the disorder hidden from our own sight by the fact that our vision is bound up with our personality, with our very identity. And yet our whole salvation depends upon clarity: “This is the judgement,” Jesus declares, “that light is come into the world, but men chose darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil.” (John 3.19) We are caught in a horrifying vicious circle. We cannot do the right and good because we choose darkness instead of light, and the blindness which prefers darkness is seeking to cover its evil deeds. “If the light which is in you be darkness how great is that darkness!” (Matthew 6.23)
Today’s Gospel leaves us self-condemned, blind, endlessly falling and without any power of ourselves to help ourselves, but Paul’s epistle offers hope in our despair and light in our darkness. Vanity, empty pride, self-love and self-deceit are not the end of the story.
For the creation was not made subject to vanity of its own will but in accordance with the will of him who made it subject in hope. (Romans 8.20)
God did not allow us to fall into this dreadful condition in order to destroy us, but so, in saving us, to unite us to himself. God allows us our own way in order to adopt us as free children. Our self-destructive freedom is the means to the glorious liberty of the children of God, the splendid inheritance of the saints in light. We must experience the vanity of our purposes and the weakness of our power so that we are willing to be redeemed soul and body, to be made a new creation. We must love that by which we are transformed. We groan, oppressed and weighed down by our sins, but this is not sullen, silent suffering. These groans are impatient waiting, full of expectation and hope. God breaks into the closed circle of our self-deceit. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome. Outside ourselves we find a light by which we can see ourselves. The light shines in our hearts to give knowledge. By his light, and none other, knowledge is increased.
In this way we love and choose rightly, not because we first loved God, but because he loved us and gave himself for us. The love is no more our own than the light was our own. It is not just a matter of pooling our collective ignorance as if that would awake the spark of light. We are all caught up in the great cosmic motion by which we are being carried out of ourselves. This and this alone is our hope. On this account I reckon that the sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to be revealed. These groans of the whole creation are a desire to pass through temporal things so as to gain eternal things.
To bring about this change, which is far beyond our natural expectation and capacity, God must be our ruler and guide. For in Christ, God is not just a light to show us the way, God is the way into himself as the end of our journey. Jesus is the way which is both light and life: not only a light shining out of heaven, but also a life into which we can enter to carry us over. And so he is the life-giving food of man wayfaring. Here and now in this blessed sacrament he transforms the earthly bread we offer to make it his glorious body, the bread of angels, the food of heaven. And therefore, earnestly hopeful and eagerly expectant, we offer to God the sacrifice which is his due and give to Father, Son, and Spirit, all praise, honour, glory and dominion, now and ever. Amen.
Father Ed Bakker
Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne