The Rev’d Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabas Anglican Church
Twenty First Sunday after Trinity
St. Barnabas Anglican Church
Twenty First Sunday after Trinity
October 20, 2013
“Rags and Riches”
Isaiah 64:6 “ But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.”
John 4:50 “Jesus saith unto him, Go thy way; thy son liveth. And the man believed the word that Jesus had spoken unto him, and he went his way.”
These verses come from our O.T. Lesson and the Gospel selection for the Twenty-First Sunday after Trinity, which we just heard. How could there be any connection between the two? Surely, there is not, because at first glance they seem diametrically opposed.
After all, one is fairly negative statement from Isaiah, the other is an extremely positive, even miraculous statement from Our Lord.
Actually, these two verses encapsulate the entire Christian experience. Once again, how can a prophecy from an early O.T. prophet and a miracle of Our Lord have any relationship? What a question…the large answer is that both Scriptures actually “bookend” the Christian good news of our journey from desolation to acceptance by God.
Let’s begin to examine this by looking at the passage from Isaiah first.
The prophet begins with almost a note of frustration, that the peoples of the earth would see the majesty of God. He asks that God would comedown and literally melt the mountains, so that all men would tremble at the presence of God. As we will learn later in the reading, it is clear that we are not worthy of God’s regard.
Vs. 4 tells us “For since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen, O God, beside thee, what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him.” Does this verse sound familiar? It should, because St. Paul quotes it almost verbatim in 1 Cor. 2:9, when he says, “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” What is so wonderful about this is the wonderful foundation that Isaiah provided for the New Testament Church. If there was ever any doubt that then\ O.T. and N.T. are one seamless cloth, like the cloak of Christ, let it be dispelled. Those who ignore the O.T. do so to their own spiritual peril.
Isaiah then mentions our true nature and the basic unredeemed nature of mankind when he says, (Isaiah 64:6) “ But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.” He continues with the statement that all have turned away and have forsaken God and his ways. He mentions that God has “consumed” them because of their iniquities. He then uses a beautiful analogy that God is the potter and we the clay. This is a concept that has come down to us through the centuries because of Isaiah. He ends with a plea that God, although He is “wroth” with His People, would restrain his righteous anger. Isaiah cites as evidence of God's displeasure that the beautiful cities are destroyed and that the fabulous Temple is destroyed.
If one looks at Biblical history, one can see these things clearly told in 2 Kings Ch. 18. The writer of that book tells how the King of Assyria besieged and took the Northern Kingdom, including Samaria, and that Hezekiah stripped the gold and silver from Solomon’s Temple to pay tribute to him. In short, all of the prophecy of Isaiah comes to pass.
This reading from Isaiah couldn’t be more negative. Man is impugned, his creations are being destroyed by other fallen men, and God has turned away His face. What could be worse?
Fortunately, it gets a lot better for mankind or, more accurately said, for the household of faith. Luckily for us, most of Isaiah’s earlier prophecy dealt with the coming of the Messiah. Isaiah’s prediction of the Virgin Birth and the coming lordship of Christ shine brightly in a book wherein lies much darkness, due to the sinful nature of man. For example, in Ch. 59, we read this: “(Isaiah 59:15)”Yea, truth faileth; and he that departeth from evil maketh himself a prey: and the LORD saw it, and it displeased him that there was no judgment.” He speaks of the corruption of his age. Yet, in the very same chapter, Isaiah tells us that the Lord will put on righteousness as a breastplate and a helmet of salvation on his head. This is the same language St. Paul will use much, much, later in his Epistle to the Ephesians. Isaiah becomes much more positive as he reiterates the coming of the Messiah in Isaiah 59:20:”And the Redeemer shall come to Zion, and unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob, saith the LORD.”
Shifting to our Gospel for the day taken from St. John IV, we see the fruits of righteousness, as modeled by Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He, who came exactly as foretold by his faithful servant Isaiah, has brought something mankind could never have: new and unending life. In this case, Jesus heals a nobleman’s son with a word of healing from afar. He tells the nobleman to go his way, for his son lives. Note, first, that even our Lord expresses a bit of the same obtuseness in man noted in Isaiah as He tells us: ( John 4:48) “Then said Jesus unto him, Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe.”
Nevertheless, as the nobleman persists, Christ completes the miracle with a word. Note, however, that the nobleman “believed the word that Jesus had spoken to him” and goes his way. Nearing his home, his servants run to tell him that the boy is alive and well. This, in turn, causes the man and his household to embrace the Way.
St. John notes that this is the second miracle that Christ performed as he began His ministry, the first being the changing of water into fine wine at the marriage at Cana.
Earlier, we said that these two readings “bookend” the Christian experience. That is, they chronicle our progression from death unto life in Christ. And so it is, as we move from the somber history and prophecy of Isaiah to the glorious fulfillment of that prophecy in John (and the other Gospels.) Isaiah couldn’t be more bleak at times, contrasted with the new life revealed in the Gospel of John. We see man’s progression from complete corruption, death, and destruction in Isaiah, to an era where new life is granted with a word. This is marvelous and glorious.
Yet, this new life did not come without a price. As the Gospels tell us, the Jews would continue in their hard-heartedness. Just as they rejected the teachings and warnings of the prophets, so will they do to the Last Prophet, Priest, and King, Jesus Christ. They will reject him to the very end, until He expired on a criminal’s cross in a garbage dump outside Jerusalem. Here, like in Isaiah, is where God’s Glory shines all the more brightly, despite man’s attempts to quell it. As in Isaiah, the good outshines the bad, as Christ seals our redemption and our salvation with His own blood. Despite man’s best attempts to thwart Jesus, He triumphs, and He triumphs gloriously.
As we enter the last weeks of Trinity season into the somber, yet glorious season of Advent, it is good for all of us, with uplifted faces and grateful spirits, to meditate on this mighty progression from death unto life. Recall that our natural state is like that portrayed in Isaiah. Yet, thanks be to God, our intended state is that of the nobleman’s son, who was given new life through Christ. It is into this state that we have come, thanks to our Lord and Savior Jesus and to the ministration of His Holy Church. May we ever give thanks that all of us are part of that body, now and forever.
Thanks be to God! AMEN.