Quinquagesima – The greatest of these is Charity

Quinqua - Charity full-William-Adolphe_Bouguereau_(1825-1905)_-_Charity_(1878)

Corinthians 13:1-13       St Luke 18:31-43

See, we are going up to Jerusalem. 

What a joy to be able to witness today the baptism of Emelyn Gail!  Our readings today are set as a preparation for Lent, but they are most fitting also for this profound happening.  I will speak about the connection with baptism a little later.

On Wednesday of this week, the Church proclaims, as it has from earliest of times, a forty day fast in preparation for Easter.

In the Gospel this morning, Jesus tells the twelve,

See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that was written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles, and will be mocked, and shamefully treated, and spit upon.  And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.

In the Gospel accounts, we read in several places that Jesus warned the disciples of his coming passion and death. When Jesus told the disciples, the Gospel repeats three times for emphasis: But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.

We, who live after the passion and death and resurrection of Jesus, and who have heard this story year after year, and who have His death, passion and resurrection presented before us Sunday by Sunday in Holy Communion, can find ourselves in the same position. We know at one level our Lord’s passion, death and resurrection is for us, but on another level, we live our lives as if this knowledge wasn’t really at the centre of everything we do. We have a disconnect between our head knowledge and a knowledge in our hearts.  (We would never sin again! We would take the spiritual life more seriously.)

The encounter with a blind man that happens next in today’s Gospel is not just a coincidence, but in God’s providence, a physical way of illustrating the spiritual circumstances that each disciple found himself in. We all know at one level the meaning of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection, but if we would know it at a level that changes our hearts further, we are being told to cry out in faith, like this blind man, for mercy to see, to understand, and Christ will respond.

We go on this journey of Lent with Jesus and the disciples to Jerusalem, and we will be changed: faith leads to insight, and it is a knowledge that changes our hearts forever.


Since ancient times, the Church has suggested, that we observe this time of Lent, with some form of fasting, of prayer and repentance, of self-denial, and attention to a charitable work – including almsgiving.  What does this have to do with deepening our knowledge and love of God and neighbour?

Love is desire. And God gives every one of us desire in our hearts that we might seek God out and find Him. And we are not satisfied until we obtain the object of our desire – only then do we have peace. [St Augustine] Think of how in our own lives we create a kind of balancing act between our desire and the attaining of the objects of our desire. When we have a right balance we have peace, rest, at least for a while.

One obstacle to deepening our love of God and neighbour is if we have filled our lives too much with the love of things that are less than God and neighbour – food, drink, physical comforts, movies, entertainment, surfing the net, the latest toys and so on. From ancient times, and in just about every religion, it has been recognized that all our love can be dissipated into the world and we can forget our true home, our true goal, our true end, which is God.  Fasting is an antidote to that confusion.

Jesus Himself fasted for 40 days to show us a pattern to follow. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus spoke about three basic spiritual disciplines – almsgiving, prayer and fasting. [Matt 6] When challenged about why Jesus’ disciples didn’t fast, yet John’s the Baptist’s disciples did, Jesus replied, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? The days will come, when the bridegroom is taken from them, and then they will fast in that day.” [Mark 2:18-22] Jesus is saying here, I think, that he anticipates we, his disciples, will fast when our sense of his presence, when our love for him has grown cool.

I’ll provide some suggestions about fasting in the Newsletter this Tuesday, which I hope you will consider.  Such practices don’t need to be limited to Lent, but it can be helpful if we are fasting together – to mutually encourage one another in our discipline. It is a breaking up of the soil of our hearts, in anticipation of new growth in the Spirit.  If you choose to do this, it’s best not to be excessive in your giving up, and don’t make a big deal of it before others, it is to be an inward sacrifice between you and God. If you fail, don’t give up, just repent and continue. Remember that on your Sabbath day in Lent you can have a break with your fast!


St. Paul reminds us in today’s Epistle that our motivation for a Lenten discipline, or for any spiritual discipline, is love… If I give away all that I have [KJV though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor], and if I deliver up my body to be burned, and have not love [KJV charity], I gain nothing.

This reading is one the finest passages about love in the New Testament. In the KJV, the word “charity” is used instead of the word “love”, in more modern translations.  What is the difference between love and charity?

CS Lewis wrote a book called The Four Loves which describes these different kinds of love as understood in the ancient world: there is the natural affection that people have especially for members of a family (storge); there is friendship love (philia); there is romantic love (eros); and there is divine love (caritas in Latin, from which we get the English word "charity", or in Greek, agape).

CS Lewis’ summarizes the traditional understanding that each one of the human forms of love can become destructive, even the source of hatred. Storge, love for my family, can become a perverse preference for my family above all others – nepotism, Mafia.  Philia, my friendships with some, can lead to snobbishness or to cliques that exclude all others.  Eros, my feelings of being “in love”, can become confused and destructive.  These natural loves that we experience, are good, but can also lead us into trouble, unless they are infused with the divine love, charity, which orders them aright, away from their perversions.

The purpose of a Lenten fast is directly related to this – it is allowing God to infuse us with charity, divine love, to reorder and perfect all our loves.

In English, the word “love” can be used for all of these, but perhaps the word “charity” in the KJV in Paul’s writing is a better reminder to us of the divine character of the love we want to infuse us and reorder all our loves. [that is why we use "charity" in the ancient Collect.]


How do these readings relate to Emme and to her baptism?

Baptism is seen by the ancients as the sacrament of illumination.  Emme is gifted with the Holy Spirit to open her eyes to divine things – St Paul says, no one comprehends the thoughts of God except by the Spirit of God. [1 Cor 2:11]  The mystery of God’s love towards us, revealed most profoundly by Jesus passion and death and resurrection, will require the gift of inward illumination by the Spirit.  We can barely grasp this, the Spirit will lead us and her to understanding in time.  She was blind but will begin to see.

And in St Paul’s reading on love, he says,

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

Paul speaks about the human condition: our lack of self knowledge, even a blindness about ourselves, we see in a mirror dimly… we know ourselves in part.  But God will not leave us in the dark.  The Spirit will gift Emme with inward knowledge about God and also about her own soul.  In time, we pray, she will come to know that the most difficult path that Jesus showed us in the flesh must be followed by us.  Each one of us must go through a kind of death (the purging of our loves that they may be pure), a resurrection (the greater infilling of our souls with the Holy Spirit), leading to an ascension into the life of God (the union of our souls with God – where our thoughts are God’s thoughts, our actions are as God would act, and we become lights and love to the world).

Jesus will show us ever more plainly as we travel with him to Jerusalem what divine love, what charity looks like. As people of faith we cannot behold this Love without being changed. May God grant that at the end of this Lent our eyes may be opened a little wider, and our hearts more infilled with charity, with the divine warming fire of Christ’s love.

Let us pray,

O LORD, who hast taught us that all our doings without charity are worth nothing: Send your Holy Spirit, and pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of charity, the very bond of peace and of all virtues, without which whosoever lives is counted dead before you: Grant this for your only Son Jesus Christ's sake. [Collect for Quinquagesima]

Amen +



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Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain. Psalm 127:1,2