Saints of God have Bifocal Vision
As saints of God we get to live in two dimensions at once. Many of us have difficulty with this bifocal vision, and some of us get stuck in one dimension or the other. Getting stuck in life in the visible world leads to a pragmatic and ethically focused Christianity. On the other hand, getting stuck in the inner world leads either to disregarding the needs of the planet and its people or developing a dreaminess which is no earthly use. Today’s readings from the New Testament put the two dimensions side by side.
The writer to the Ephesians gives us a picture of our inheritance as the people of God. He says that we are marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit as a pledge of our inheritance. We are reminded of this at every baptism, when the priest anoints the newly baptized with the sign of the cross and says “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own for ever.”
“Marked as Christ’s own for ever”. That is not something that can be seen with our outer vision, only with our inner sight, but it is reality for those who have responded to God’s call and have turned towards God with their full intention. The writer of Ephesians says
I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power
“A Spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know God”. We are all coming to know the mystery who is God. There is no point at which anyone can say “I know God completely, there’s nothing left for me to learn”. In that lifelong process we are assisted by the Holy Spirit who can enlighten the eyes of our hearts so that we may know the hope, the inheritance and the power of God’s calling. I say ‘can’ because we get to participate in that process.
Our inner vision is not always clear. Just as human babies are born unable to focus their eyes, so inner sight takes time and sometimes effort to develop. It is cleared and brought into focus to the extent that we want it to be, and are willing to work towards greater understanding. Most of us have emotional and physical pain which acts like a cataract making it difficult to see. It weighs us down and tends to keep us focusing our attention on ourselves and our pain rather than on God.
As saints of God we have obtained an inheritance so that we “might live for the praise of his glory”. As our inner sight is cleared so we focus less and less on ourselves and more and more on God, living to glorify God with our hearts full of praise to the Trinity. Conversely the more we live to glorify God with our hearts full of praise, the more our inner sight is cleared.
Whatever is getting in the way of your inner vision, the Holy Spirit can and will clear it gracefully out of the way if you ask and bring your own will and intention into cooperating with Spirit. But it will be in God’s time, not yours. The process of coming to see and to know the inner kindom of God can be slow, and it can have sudden steps of insight and moments of blessing.
But until then, until you can see, until the eyes of your heart are enlightened so that you can know the inner truth that we call being “Marked as Christ’s own for ever”, you can believe it. Sometimes we have to take things on trust until we live into them and they become things that we know in our hearts. There’s an old hymn “Standing on the promises of God”. Even if you cannot yet “know what is the hope to which he has called you,” you can choose to trust in what you do not yet know and do not yet understand. You can stand on the promise of God that you are marked as Christ’s own forever and have an inheritance with the saints, even when it doesn’t seem very likely at all.
So that’s a quick reflection on the inner world, the kindom of God where the saints live in constant praise before the throne of God and all things are under Christ’s dominion. It’s the world we enter when we join in the eucharist, the great thanksgiving, and sing with the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, “Holy, holy, holy”.
What of the outer world? How do the saints of God live in the world we see with our eyes? This is where the gospel reading comes in. We are familiar with the Beatitudes which are taken from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s gospel. This passage comes from Luke where Jesus gives a similar sermon, known as the Sermon on the Plain.
The big difference between the two passages is the Woe section here – “Woe to you who are rich.” Now that should give us pause. Even those of us who have to get some of our food from local food pantries or ask friends for loans to pay the rent, are richer than the majority of the people in the world. Did Jesus really mean that? “Woe to the rich?” Aren’t I taking it just a tad too literally?
I think he meant it on several levels. And yes I do think he meant it literally – it goes along with his statement about the difficulty of a rich man entering the
“Woe to those who are rich” can also mean “Woe to those who consider themselves rich”. Remember the parable about the wealthy farmer who had such an abundant crop that he built storage barns to put it in and felt self-satisfied and safe? Then he died. Jesus didn’t tell that parable to suggest that we shouldn’t be pleased and grateful for abundance when it comes, but to point out we are not the source of our abundance. Believing we can do it alone is an illusion. When we look at our lives and we feel pleased and satisfied, that is the time to remember this little slogan, “Woe to the rich”. When we are full up with how rich we are then there is no room for God.
The other trap is to think that we don’t have enough, when in fact we do. Since material things don’t satisfy, it’s easy for rich people to keep accumulating, or to hang on to things they no longer need. When you can have pretty much whatever you want, it’s easy to think that having things is what brings joy, hope and peace.
But the saints of God know differently. The saints of God can have the courage to live counter-culturally – to live simply so that others can simply live – because we have bifocal vision. We know that our riches are in Christ. We know that we are marked as Christ’s own for ever – nothing can take that away – so we can take risks with our lives and our money and our things.
At some point in their lives, the saints of God realize that all we have is given to us not just for our delight but also to advance the work of God’s kindom. We don’t have to hold on in fear - we can risk being seen to be poor or crazy or simpleminded. Because we know that we have an inheritance in Christ.
I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.