Dear Fathers, Friends in Christ,
"He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it" (Matthew 10:39).
One of the most common literary techniques in the Bible is repetition — the restatement of the same idea over and over again in slightly different words, much like an entire flight of arrows all aimed at the bull’s-eye of the same target. This method has its beginnings in Hebrew poetry, which uses repetition rather than rhyme to tie its thoughts together.
But the Bible’s use of repeated statements of the same critical ideas goes far beyond the limits of ancient Hebrew poetry to the nature of God himself. God is One God in the unity of Three Divine Persons, and so the Truth of God is One Truth. Our limited human minds can never encompass the Mind or the Truth of God in one neat little package, and so it is necessary for us, if we are to speak of God’s Truth at all, to "home in" on God’s Truth from as many directions as we can manage.
The imagination, guided by the Holy Ghost, is just as necessary to the writing and to the interpretation of Holy Scripture as are a ready pen and an analytical mind, even if they too are dedicated to doing the work of the same Holy Spirit. God is not an idea. He is the Unity of Three Eternal Persons, and we know from our earthly experience that loving any person requires more than analysis and "bottom-line" reasoning. Love requires imagination, and if this were not so it would not be necessary to have more than one love song or more than one way of saying "I love you."
When imagination is guided by the Holy Ghost, moreover, whether it is applied to an earthly or to a heavenly love, it is the very opposite of self-contented pride or mere cleverness for cleverness’ sake. The truest form of imagination, which is totally submitted to God the Holy Ghost, begins with an act of humble submission and remains humble in all of its operations. At its faithful heart, such an imagination says "The One I love, whether here on earth or seated on His throne in heaven, is too great and too wonderful to be reduced to a few simple words."
And so the human writers of the Bible, under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, repeat the great truths of God in a variety of words across the centuries and across the many books of Sacred Scripture. Even our Lord himself, who is the Truth of God Incarnate and in perfect union with the Father and the Holy Ghost, preaches to the human imagination, and not just to an abstract reason. He repeats himself in many different words, not because he is inadequate in any way, but because he calls those who hear him to a perfect love, and perfect love requires an imagination handed over to God along with everything else that makes us who we are.
A lack of imagination, therefore, or worse its conscious suppression, is no small disability. Attempting to read the Scriptures (even with pious intentions) without first submitting our imaginations to God the Holy Ghost is a recipe for disaster. Although the entirety of the Bible, taken together in its two Testaments, is a single, unified, and complete revelation of One great and holy God, the unimaginative transform it into a chaos of competing texts and contradictory ideas. The unimaginative do not believe in the wholeness of the Bible because they lack the imagination either to believe in that wholeness or to see it at all.
Take, for example, the Lessons, Epistle, and Gospel appointed for this Sunday. To the imagination unguided by God the Holy Ghost (or by the record of the Holy Ghost’s guidance that Christians call "Tradition") these may seem to be only a collection of unrelated words and sayings. In reality, however, they form a unified whole that can be organized around the Prophet Jeremiah’s simplest statement of their central truth: "The LORD is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him" (Lam. 3:24).
That word "portion" hearkens back to when the Chosen People entered the Promised Land. Each tribe and each descendant of Abraham received a "portion" of the land, or in the case of the Levites a living based on their service at God’s altar. These portions represented their "share" in God’s promises and their "inheritance" of life and redemption in communion with God.
Our Lord, then, expresses precisely the same truth in today’s New Testament Lesson, in the words with which we began: "He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it." Since eternal life can only be had through the promises of God, to "find" or to "base" our lives on anything other than those promises is to forfeit eternal life. Jesus Christ is the living fulfillment of all of God’s promises of life and redemption, and he alone by his death and resurrection has overcome death itself. To look anywhere other than Jesus Christ for life is both a waste of time and a waste of life.
Whatever we sacrifice for the sake of Jesus Christ is a sacrifice made for the sake of life itself, since without Jesus Christ we are dead, and it really doesn’t matter what else we might be said to possess, since in the end the dead possess nothing. These facts illuminate another saying of our Lord in the same passage of St. Matthew’s Gospel, so that we can see that it is another way of saying, "God is my portion":
Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man's foes shall be they of his own household (Matthew 10:34-36).
Satan does not always attack our commitment to God with monsters or clear-cut enemies. It can be those that we love most who belittle our faith or who encourage us to choose peace with them over peace with God. A member of our own household can play the part of the serpent in the garden, telling us things like "Yea, hath God said? A loving God wouldn’t really want you to choose his commandments over your or my happiness." If we really love such a person, our only recourse is to offend him or her for the sake of God’s commandments, since only God’s commandments and promises can give any of us eternal life.
In the Epistle, St. Paul restates our inheritance from God in another way: "I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us" (Romans 8:18). The dead and dying things of this world that we give up for God are nothing in comparison to the inheritance of eternal life that God offers the faithful. Sacrificing for God may be painful at times, but such suffering is never meaningless or pointless, since Jeremiah tells us "For he doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men" (Lam. 3:33). Our suffering in its own way is as necessary, given the fallenness of this world, as the sufferings of Jesus Christ to free us from the bonds of this world, so that our Lord can tell us, "And he that taketh not his cross and followeth after me is not worthy of me" (Matt. 10: 38).
Lastly, in today’s Gospel, our Lord reminds us of the way that each of us can live out our inheritance and portion from God right now, in this world: "Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful" (Luke 6:36). Showing mercy requires the Spirit-guided imagination to apply all of the Scriptures to the needs of others, just as we would imagine our Father in heaven applying his mercies to our abiding needs for love, life, hope, and forgiveness. Our inheritance from God is real, and so we can really share that inheritance with others, not only by words, but by deeds.
We can see, then, that all of today’s Scriptures speak with the single voice of God across all of the centuries of God’s revelation, and into our own times. God has told us in so many ways that he loves us, and he has offered us life in the words of his prophets and in the words of his Son. If we put God first in our lives, and put all of our trust in him, he will be faithful to give us life, now and forever.
Father Ed Bakker
Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne