The Propers for the Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost
Please note: an entry in the People’s Missal Project
Missa Miserere Mihi, Domine
DROPSY. IT’S PROBABLY NOT WHAT YOU THINK. I’ve heard folks preach about this as Epilepsy, but it’s actually edema – swelling. The word, dropsy, does not come from “dropping” but rather from the Greek word that is in the Bible today, ὑδρωπικὸς hydropikos, and the Latin hydropicus. Both carry the implication of water retention, although a medical term implies something rather severe. We usually associate this with either diabetes or congestive heart failure, but it can be caused by auto-immune issues, liver or kidney failure, and several other medical issues. It can be very severe (Don’t do an image search!) or mild. I’m opening with this Biblical/medical trivia because I’m always intrigued by the way the Gospels treat medical issues.
The collect today asks for God’s grace to “always precede and follow us, and make us continually intent on Good Works”. The 1662 Book of Common Prayer renders this as “Prevent us, O Lord, in all our doings with thy most gracious favor, and further us with thy continual help” The Latin says praeveniat st sequatur. I like the BCP’s “prevent” because of its modern implication of “please stop me” but it really only means “go before”. That’s what I want to highlight: “go before”.
We can hear the Introit and the Offertory today as the cries of the poor at our door or in our midst. This is the cry of Christ who is literally before us in the poor all the time. They cry out to the Lord, not only in our locales but around the world. Truth be told, they would love to come to America and become wealthy like all of us. However, they (and we) are often unaware of the politics and economics that cause their oppression. Americans are often the ones that are seeking “after my soul to take it away” with our consumption and waste production. Recycling is really a scam that makes us feel good about our greed by implying that we return things to status quo ante but, in fact, we are making just more garbage to inflict on the world. The poor cry out to God against us all the time.
The Communion challenges us, though, “O Lord, I will be mindful of Thy justice alone”. Really? Or do you need more stuff? Will you swell up with pride like someone with dropsy of the soul? How can we escape? The answers are in the readings.
In his Epistle to the Ephesians, St Paul begs God that his spiritual children in Ephesus (and us) might be strengthened in our inner being by the Holy Spirit, and that Christ might dwell in our hearts by Faith. Please see the whole Trinity here, the Father sends the Spirit to us that the Son may dwell in our hearts, just as the Father sent the Spirit to the Blessed Virgin that the Son might be conceived in her womb. It is God’s grace that strengthens us so that this might be possible. We experience this full communion with the Holy Trinity (for it’s impossible to get one at all without the other two), but to what end? Paul says, “To know also the charity of Christ, which surpasseth all knowledge; that you may be filled unto all the fullness of God.” That charity, that love, really is charity – Divine love that manifests itself in care for others, in self-sacrifice, and in perpetual gift of self. It comes to me every morning in prayer, however, that this self gift is most often not some great earth-shaking act of charity, but rather using love to do whatever is right before me. Let your grace go before.
The Gospel story opens with behold, there was a certain man before Him that had dropsy. Before I had looked up with dropsy was I thought it was, as I indicated above, some kind of epilepsy or seizures. I was going for the literal meaning of dropping. I wondered why such a person would just be before him. In fact it was that question that caused me to look up what dropsy was: why would someone with seizures or some other medical condition just before him? Would someone in the house be a servant who also had seizures? Did some friends bring him and just leave him there? But as “dropsy” means “swelling”, it could actually be an older servant in the house who had swollen ankles, or a puffy knee, for example. This person may have been going about their business in the household until they were suddenly “before him”. Then Jesus did a good thing.
That’s how we are to engage our self-gift: with whomever is before us, with whatever is needed. The great Orthodox writer, Fr Alexander Schmemann, suggested that – as a spiritual path – someone should simply be handy with a rag around the parish, keeping things clean, doing the chore in front of them. If you want to see saintly work, let me take you to a Church supper where you can see an Archbishop cleaning the kitchen. I also know of a Cardinal that quietly cleaned bedpans in an AIDS hospice. “O Lord, we pray Thee that Thy grace may always precede and follow us, and make us continually intent upon all good works.” We are called to do the action God’s grace puts right before us.
They will know we are Christians by our love. Then the Gentiles will praise God (as the Gradual says) and we will sing a new song to the Lord (Alleluia).
We get this grace from the sacraments. This is underscored by the Secret and the Postcommunion. But the purpose is not just to get to heaven by and by. Rather, to be the action of heaven here and now.
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