When others suffer: Repent, don’t blame

These are my notes from yesterday’s sermon on Matthew 18:23-35, the parable of the forgiving King and the unjust servant.Jesus said: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to…. A man who owes a huge debt to a king!”

Now if we are like typical Americans, we all have some sense of what it is to be in debt, and some of us know what it is to be in serious debt, so serious that you may also be wondering about your ability to ever repay that debt.

But I ask you to note, Jesus does not compare the Kingdom of God to a bank in which people have stored up years of savings and wealth. The kingdom of God apparently is not like coming into a bank and having the king tell you how much you earned, saved or amassed during your life time.

Why am I telling you this?

This past week I sent out an email to those members who are on my email list about how Orthodox prayers dealing with disasters, do not question God or blame God for what has happened. Neither do these prayers blame sinners, unbelievers, or the godless. There is little recrimination in the prayers. Rather, the prayers are a call for us who are Christian to recognize our own sins and to repent of them, and in doing so, giving us the hope that perhaps God will see our sincere repentance and will once again show His grace and favor and mercy on us in our time of need.

But some might ask, what good does our being moved to repentance have on the world?

Christianity does not call us to or encourage us to run or hide from the sorrow, pain, and suffering of this world. Such suffering and pain is understood to be real.

Our Lord Jesus Christ came into the world to take on himself the human condition. He came into the world and confronted sickness and demon possession and hypocrisy and sin and self-righteousness. Christ came into the eye of the storm of human suffering.

Ours is not an escapist religion. Christ took on himself the human condition, which means God entered the world in order to suffer! And in so doing he redeemed and transformed and transfigured it.

Death and suffering and meaninglessness are no longer the final word about humans. Christ has shown death is not forever. Death is limited and not ultimate. Death is in check and will be overcome.

God saw the suffering of humanity and entered into the human condition and took that suffering upon himself.

When we see the suffering of the world, we aren’t to flinch from it, nor are we to give thanks because it occurred to someone else. Rather, by drawing our minds to our own sins, we enter into the depths of the human condition and human suffering. The bible is clear that suffering and sighing and sorrow belong to the world since the time of the fall. We who live in the fallen world, need to feel the pain of the sinful world, to realize the truth about our own condition. And to be moved to compassion for the suffering of the world.

God saw the suffering of His people and His creation and moved to pity and compassion by His longsuffering love and mercy, entered into our human state.

When we are moved by pity and compassion for the suffering of others, we are seeing the world as God sees it. When we enter into that human suffering, we are doing what God did.

This week, we will celebrate the Feast of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary. Certainly she is loved and highly regarded in Orthodoxy because she is seen as an image of compassion. She is one who intercedes before God for us. She is for us what we should be for the world. She has those virtues before God that we all should have. She is often portrayed as the hope of the hopeless, the help for the helpless, the protection for the bestormed, and a
refuge in a time of need..

When we see the suffering of the hurricane victims, or any suffering in the world, and our hearts are softened by the sorrow of the victims, we become compassionate and learn to love even those who are most unlovable, most undeserving, most unlovely. We see the world as God sees us!

And so we are moved to that self sacrificial love, as God was. And we will love those in need, not just by sending them our castoffs or hand me downs, but by giving them the most and the best we have to offer, just as Jesus did for us.

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