The Seventeenth Sunday after
D. G. Phillips
West Dublin, Vogler’s Cove, Crousetown – Sept
30 AD 2007
Ephesians 4:1f St. Luke 14:1f
But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in
the lowest room;
that when he that bade thee cometh, he may say
“Friend, go up higher!”
Are we waiting for those words, “Friend, go up
Our readings in Trinity season are leading us
step by step on the gracious ascent of the soul to God. As has been
repeated many times, it is an inward journey, inward and upward.
And just like Jacob, who laboured for seven years
only to discover he had married Leah, then laboured gladly another
seven years to finally embrace Rachel, so we have looked for seven
weeks at the outward preoccupation of our lives with the passions,
then for seven weeks at the preoccupation of our hearts, our inner
thoughts – seeking inward healing to recover the lost gifts of the
soul: to hear God inwardly, to have a compassionate heart, a
spirit of thanksgiving, and a desire for the highest things –
spiritual food and the clothing of righteousness. (see Richard of
St. Victor, The Mystical Ark, Bk.1 Ch. 2)
And last week, we saw Jesus raising up in us the
inner man, that center of our being, that aspect of our soul made in
the image and likeness of God, where we might know divine
communion. This is the place we are to be recollected to. It is in
this place that we enter into the true Sabbath rest that God
promises. Here the mystical marriage of our souls with God is
We have come to the “inner man” and it is here
that a new desire is kindled. But we are so weak, in the inner man,
when we leave here we are so ready and quick to return to the outer
man, old patterns of activity, old patterns of thinking and of
relating to those around us. It barely takes one short
inconsiderate word from another to plunge us back into the outer
man. We are frail children of dust, and so we prayed last week ...
O LORD, we beseech thee, let thy continual
pity cleanse and defend thy Church; [from falling away from the
inner man] and, because it cannot continue in safety without thy
succour, preserve it [in the inner man] evermore by thy help
and goodness; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
What is that new desire that has been kindled in
the inner man?
It is a desire to move even higher, to talk with
God, it is a desire for intimacy with God, to know truth and beauty
more fully, and to be filled with wisdom, to know the love of God
that passeth knowledge, as we read last week.
This desire in the inner man, has been kindled in
us by none other than God. This desire is a sign of the visitation
of God upon our souls and it is a marvel. If he do but touch the
hills they shall smoke. [Ps 104:33] I hope that every one of
us, in the highest place in our soul, that hill, is touched
by God, and that we smoke, that is, prayer is ignited in our souls,
a longing that rises upwards, a sweet smelling savour, pleasing to
In this morning’s Gospel, Jesus puts forth a
When thou are bidden of any man to a wedding.
This is the wedding Jesus is speaking of, taking
delight in, inviting each one of us, bidding us, Friend, go up
higher. Our souls are wanting more. We don’t just want to
attend a marriage, we want first place, in fact, we want to be the
spouse of God, to be filled with all the fullness of God.
But how will we ascend?
When thou art bidden of any man to a
wedding, sit not down in the highest seat; lest a more
honourable man than thou be bidden of him; and he that bade thee
and him come and say to thee, Give this man place; and thou
begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when thou art
bidden, go and sit down in the lowest room; that when he that
bade thee cometh, he may say unto thee, Friend, go up higher:
then shalt thou have worship in the presence of them that sit at
meat with thee. For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased;
and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.
When we were in the outer man, there were certain
patterns of thinking, ways of achieving things that brought us some
success – we asserted ourselves, there was a kind of use of reason,
which served us well in the world. But the same sort of pushing
ourselves to the front of the line, using our minds to figure out
how to develop and use this or that skill, will no longer work when
it comes to entering into the kingdom of heaven, of entering into
God’s Sabbath rest, of entering into the mystical union of our souls
We have this great gift of human reason, and it
has served us well before, but now it can become an obstacle to
ascending higher. Richard of St. Victor says, When human reason
is consulted concerning these [the highest things we are told to
believe concerning the Trinity], it seems to do nothing other
than to oppose them.
Our inner man, revived by Christ, must be further
purified in His light, of all remaining pride, before it can ascend
to perceive the highest truths. We are to remain in the inner man,
and yet it is a matter of resting there in the light of God, in a
state of longing, that will be satisfied. But we must wait
humbly, for that One who invited us in the first place, to come to
us and say, Friend, go up higher. We are to wait in faith
and in hope of a divine visitation. We will see, when we are
ready, we will see when our inner man is made ready.
At the beginning of today’s Gospel, Jesus
witnesses an example of those who could not wait. The Pharisees,
condemned Jesus for healing a man on the Sabbath day. They knew the
truth that the Law of Moses says you shall do no work on the Sabbath
day. But they grabbed hold of this truth without seeing it in its
larger context. The Sabbath rest outwardly – one day a week, is a
discipline to lead us to enter completely into the Sabbath rest of
God. Jesus, the perfect man, is fully there, resting in God always,
speaking, acting, thinking, praying from that place of rest, from
the perfected inner man. And Jesus shows the Pharisees by the
simplest of reasoning, how they were being hypocritical – they would
pull an ass or ox that had fallen into pit out on the Sabbath day,
surely it is right to heal a man, to pull him out of a pit.
The reasoning of the Pharisees was limited,
because their vision of God was so limited. They could not argue
against Jesus’ logic, they were silenced. Perhaps some of them were
converted, but some of them, being shown up, sought to destroy him.
What about us? Will we have the humility to wait
in the inner man, to accept that there are some things that we just
cannot understand about our faith? about God’s governance of the
world? about the Law? about our Lord Himself? about the Holy
Trinity? Will we wait in hope, in faith, while He purifies our
hearts and minds, until suddenly our Lord comes and says, Friend,
go up higher? In other words, until we are brought by Him to
understand things that we never saw before? Or will we give up, or
say, it doesn’t make any sense to me, so therefore it mustn’t be
understandable. What pride, as if my mind were the final arbiter of
the truth of the whole universe. [And what a failure of faith, to
think God would not have us to know Him better.]
But Jesus warns us and encourages us when he
says, whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that
humbleth himself shall be exalted.
This humility before God has a parallel in our
relations with others in the Church.
In the Epistle St. Paul commends us to walk
worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness
and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love;
endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
We have great divisions in the Church today over
many matters. Bp Sue Moxley, at the last Regional Council meeting,
gave us her reflections on the last General Synod which she said was
very painful and difficult for everyone who attended. She said it
was exhausting as liberals and conservatives discussed the matter of
the blessings of same sex unions. But she concluded that something
very positive that came out of it – from the resolutions passed,
there seemed to be a desire for us as a Church to continue to listen
to one another, rather than to go our separate ways. And this
is a very good thing.
How difficult it is for us not to know
everything. If we can’t see yet the whole truth of God, maybe,
just maybe, we can’t see the whole truth that is dispersed in
various ways within the body of Christ here on earth. In fact we
should expect to find something of the truth, and not just error, in
those with whom we disagree.
Jesus calls on us to continue with one another and with
Him in faith and in hope. We are to wait, to humble ourselves
before Him in the inner man and to humble ourselves before one
And now, let us bow ourselves before the Cross.
Jesus will touch us inwardly, in our Communion with Him, to heal our
inner man, swollen, tainted with the vestiges of pride that become
an obstacle to our seeing the highest Truth. Then, when our souls
are ready, Jesus will say, Friend, come up higher, and we
will see more and more, with St. Paul, that
There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye
are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one
baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through
all, and in you all.