You might be wondering if I skipped some of the daily prayers for Lent (the last one I posted is #7, I believe.) The short answer is yes, because, well, it’s Lent and there’s lots of ministry to do. I have a family also, and those two things come before this humble blog. So if you were disappointed not to see those prayers, I’m sorry, and I hope to have them up soon. For now, let’s take a look at today’s prayer:
Mercifully perfect within us, we beseech Thee, O Lord, the support of Thy holy observance: that what, by Thine instruction, we know we are to do, we may be enabled to accomplish by Thine assistance: through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost: ever one God, world without end. Amen.
The kicker in the Christian life is always: how are you going to get there? How are you going to actually do what God wants you to do, and what you know is right? This prayer points to the answer: “it is God who works in you both to will [i.e. to desire, purpose, plan] and to do His good pleasure.” Without His help we never advance in sanctified living or make any gains in our lives of faith. The gains may be imperceptible most days, but they’re there. He promises they are, if we try to be faithful.
The Gospel for today is Matthew 23:1-12. Jesus says that the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat, i.e. they have a valid call and authority to proclaim God’s Word, but they do not do what it says — so Jesus says listen to what they teach but don’t do what they do. This passage is extremely valuable when it comes to helping people struggling to deal with the fallout of pastoral misconduct or neglect. The Word is still valid, powerful, and true, even if the man himself is a schmuck or proves to be a false teacher or hypocrite in the end. Jesus also emphasizes humility — not that we cannot ever use a title of respect for someone (St. Paul refers to himself as a “father” in the faith more than once.) I also get called “Father” on occasion (sometimes even when I’m not “in uniform” with my clerical collar.) This is intended as a mark of respect for the Word I am privileged to bear, not because of my person — at least, I hope dearly that’s what it is. I am nothing; the Word is everything. Jesus’ point is that we do not get so high on ourselves that we enjoy the titles and crave the approbation of men, rather than the praise that is of God (far rarer and infinitely more precious.)
The Epistle for today is I Kings 17:8-16, the account of the widow of Zarephath whose flour and oil did not run out. The Old Testament often states through narrative or pictures what the New Testament might say propositionally or more abstractly, and this account is a good example. Here God’s providence and daily care are vividly seen as the widow’s flour and oil — the very staples of their existence — never give out.
Just as the widow was able to give bread every day to those in her house through God’s providing, so also we have the blessed Sacrament for our frequent nourishing, strengthening, and comfort in faith. Many think that if they come to the Sacrament more often, it will be less special…they’re wrong. The opposite is true. Nothing is more precious, beautiful, or consoling than the holy Supper of my Lord Jesus. Words cannot express the comfort this blessed Sacrament has given me. It’s gotten me through a lot and I know it will always be there through a lot more. The reason it’s so dear to me, and to countless Christians throughout the world, is simply for one reason: it’s Jesus. That’s it. Where Jesus is, there can no longer be any sin or death or shame or guilt. “All grief must flee before His face/ And joy divine will take its place” (CW 32:1). There is only forgiveness and light and peace and joy. I sometimes wish more people thought about that or remembered it more often. It brings comfort beyond words, to have Jesus for yourself in this way.
Getting back to Elijah and the widow of Zarephath, it’s interesting that he asks her to feed him first. This is a gut-level (pun only partly intended) test of faith. Will she take the prophet at his word, which is God’s Word here? Or will she give in to fear and take the safe way, and still not have enough? She doesn’t give in to fear. She feeds the prophet first, and her faith is rewarded with continual sustenance for herself and her house. Faith is God’s work in us, but after we’re brought to faith it’s also a choice at times. By God’s grace we make the right choice to continue in our faith, instead of living from our fear or our foolish human logic or some other safe-seeming but misleading substitute.
That should do it for today. May Jesus grant you true repentance and faith in His most holy Passion for you. Amen.