Do Not Betray the Image of God Within You
Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, August 16, 2015
The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (18:23-35)
The king in this story is not a metaphor for God. This king in the Lord’s story is more like us than he is like God. He is merciful at first and then later on and at the point the majority of us would cheer as the evil servant gets what’s coming to him, a vengeful part takes over.
Some revel in the Bible verse that says, “Vengeance is mine,” says the Lord, but I agree with the Catholic Peter Kreeft writes: “The love of God is an objective fact, the “wrath of God” is a human projection of our own wrath upon God – a disastrous interpretation of God’s love as wrath.” The “wrath” that comes is then really a result of our betrayal of the image of God in us and is not from God, but from our own self-betrayal.
God is described in St. Paul’s treatise on love in First Corinthians 13 as being unfailingly patient and kind, hoping all things, believing all things and enduring all things. Paul ends his paragraph with the words, “Love never fails,” which means, it never weakens or fades or becomes diverted from its purpose which is simply to love. The Apostle is actually describing what God’s love is like.
St. Isaac says to those who obsess about divine justice, “Do not call God just, for his justice is not manifest in the things concerning you.” If he were, then we would all be toast, I guess.
Jesus tells us that God makes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on the good and the bad alike and James tells us that God is no respecter of persons. If it is good enough for God, then it should be good enough for us. If we are to imitate anyone in scripture it should be Christ rather than Herod.
So, instead of being like God the Always Compassionate, the king here is more like me, the sometimes compassionate. When I refuse to be compassionate towards myself, then the result is as bad as when I refuse it to others.
This message is a great scandal to those who demand that God execute justice and bring fire upon the earth, particularly upon those who dare to disagree with them, but never upon themselves, Oh, no! Never upon themselves.
And Jesus clearly is also not into justice for he forgives those who torture and crucify him. Still he forgives them as he suffocates in torment on the Cross. How it is then are we able to find any appropriate time or reason to do otherwise?
“Mercy is opposed to justice,” declares St Isaac of Ninevah, for “justice does not belong to the Christian way of life, and there is no mention of it in Christ’s teaching.”
Let us hear from the divine Isaac once more.
In love did He bring the world into existence; in love does He guide it during this its temporal existence; in love is He going to bring it to that wondrous transformed state, and in love will the world be swallowed up in the great mystery of Him who has performed all these things; in love will the whole course of the governance of creation be finally comprised. And since in the New World the Creator’s love rules over all rational nature, the wonder at His mysteries that will be revealed then will captivate to itself the intellect of all rational beings whom He has created so that they might have delight in Him, whether they be evil or whether they be just.
As God is, he calls us also to be. So, to a questioner about how he should treat his neighbor who had sinned, the Abbot Poemen had this to say.
“Despise no one, condemn no one, abuse no one and God will give you peace.” So, the good Abbot suggests that if we are not at peace it is because we are not at peace ourselves and we therefore are not making peace. “Those who live by the sword will die by the sword,” Jesus warns. Not just swords of steel, but also swords of attitudes and words. If we find joy in condemning others, then we will not find heaven a happy place for there is no judgment in heaven.
“Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the sons of God.” There is one overarching reason we come to church and that is to become one with God. If we truly desire to be one with him, the path is plain to see. The bottom line is that if we are not peace-making we will find ourselves not only at war with the world but also with ourselves, rebelling against the image of God within us. And a house divided against itself cannot stand.
Peace is not the final destination, it is the path. Mercy is not the final destination, it is the path. Love is not the destination, it is the path. Not so much as path really, as it is the fact of who we already are since we are made in his image. And for those who choose to make up another identity for themselves, there is a darkness of their own choosing.
God really says to all His creatures, “I know you and I love you,” but they hear Him saying, “I never knew you; depart from me.” It is like angry children misinterpreting their loving parents’ affectionate advances as threats. They project their own hate onto their parents’ love and experience love as an enemy—which it is: an enemy to their egotistic defenses against joy.
So, sisters and brothers in Christ let us not be like the evil servant who projected his darkness on to his fellow servant. Let us rather be light-bearers and peace-makers clothing ourselves as St. Paul writes with “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” leaving all judgment to God whose judgment, unlike ours, is always mercy. Let us not betray the image.