Healing: Look for the Kingdom of God

The Gospel lesson of Luke 13:10-17 –     

Now He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. 

And behold, there was a woman who had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bent over and could in no way raise herself up.  But when Jesus saw her, He called her to Him and said to her, “Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity.”  And He laid His hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God. But the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath; and he said to the crowd, “There are six days on which men ought to work; therefore come and be healed on them, and not on the Sabbath day.”  The Lord then answered him and said, “Hypocrite! Does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or donkey from the stall, and lead it away to water it?  So ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound-think of it-for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath? And when He said these things, all His adversaries were put to shame; and all the multitude rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by Him.

Roman Catholic biblical educator Marielle Frigge comments:

“Healing and exorcism stories in the gospels function as signs pointing to the truth of Jesus’ claim that the kingdom of God is beginning now, in Jesus’ person and work. Because first century Jews believed that any kind of illness was caused by evil powers, every healing performed by Jesus indicated that God was indeed at work in him, overcoming the rule of evil and establishing the rule of power of God (kingdom of God ) in this world. These accounts bear witness that the power of God has truly entered the world in Jesus, thus pointing to him as Yahweh’s chosen anointed agent.” (Beginning Biblical Studies, p 160)

Jettison the Weight of Self-Indulgence

“So then, let us flee (self-indulgence) as quickly as possible, lest we voluntarily choke ourselves to death. And so, if anyone baited in the past has either amassed a dust heap of riches for himself through acts of injustice and imprisoned his mind by worrying over them, or defiled his nature with the indelible filth of lasciviousness, or surfeited himself with other offense, let him, while there is still time, before he comes the final destruction, cast off the greater part of his burdens. Before his ship sinks, let him jettison the cargo he ought not have accumulated. Let him imitate those who work on the sea. For these men, even if they are transporting necessities on the ship, when a raging tempest arises from the sea and threatens to engulf the ship that is loaded down with cargo, as quickly as they can, they jettison most of what weighs them down and are unsparing in casting their merchandise into the sea. They do this to raise the ship above the waves and possibly give only their souls and the bodies a chance to escape from the danger.

Now it is surely far more appropriate for us rather than for them to think and act in this way. For they lose in an instant whatever they jettison and eventually fall into poverty by force of circumstance. But as for us, the more we jettison our wicked burdens, the more we shall accumulate even better riches for the soul. For fornication and all such things are utterly destroyed when they are jettisoned and are brought to non-existence when washed away by our tears. And then holiness and justice take their place, and being light things, they are not likely to be engulfed by any waves. And yet, when money is jettisoned in a good way, it is in fact not lost to those who have jettisoned it and flung overboard. Rather, as if transported to other, safer ships – the stomachs of the poor – it is saved, and its arrival in the safe harbor is anticipated, and it is kept for those who jettisoned it as an ornament, not a source of danger.” (St. Basil the Great, On Christian Doctrine and Practice, pp 172-173)

 

We have not been saved from death and judgment in order to engage in self indulgence, but only that we might live to serve and love others.

Triumph Over Hatred

kronstadt“You hate your enemy? You are foolish. Why? Because if your enemy persecutes you, you also inwardly persecute yourself; for say, is it not persecution, and the most cruel persecution, to torture yourself by your hatred towards your enemy? Love your enemy, and you will be wise. O, if only you knew what a triumph, what blessedness it is to love your enemy, and to do good to him! So did the Son of God, so did God in the Holy Trinity, triumph, and still triumphs, through His love, over the ungrateful and evil-natured human race; so also did God’s saints triumph over their enemies, by loving them and doing good to them. ‘While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us…If when we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life‘ (Rom 5:10).” (St. John of Kronstadt, My Life in Christ, pp 62-63)

The amazing thing about God is that God reconciled Himself to us while we were still sinners.  God did not wait until we had repented or changed before working to establish peace with us.  If we are to love others as Christ loved us (John 13:34), then we aren’t to wait until others repent or change before forgiving them or being reconciled to them.  That is to love as Christ loved us.

We Are Christian. So, Who Are We?

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“I begin with praxis. Where did resurrection show up in what the early Christians habitually did? Briefly and broadly, they behaved as if there were in some important senses already living in God’s new creation. They lived as if the covenant had been renewed, as if the kingdom were in a sense already present, though, to be sure, future as well; often their present-kingdom behavior (for instance, readiness to forgive persecutors rather than call down curses on them) comes to the fore precisely in contexts where it is all too obvious that the kingdom has not yet been fully realized. The other elements of early Christian praxis, not least baptism, eucharist and martyrdom, point in the same direction. If challenged about their lifestyle, or their existence as a community, the early Christian responded by telling stories of Jesus, particularly of his triumph over death.  […]

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The worldview questions, when posed to the early Christians, elicit a set of resurrection-shaped answers. Who are we? Resurrection people: a people, that is, formed within the new world which began at Easter and which has embraced us, in the power of the Spirit, in baptism and faith. Where are we? In God’s good creation, which is to be restored; in bodies that will be redeemed, though at present they are prone to suffering and decay and will one day die. What’s wrong? The work is incomplete: the project which began at Easter (the defeat of sin and death) has not yet been finished. What’s the solution? The full and final redemption of the creation, and ourselves with it; this will be accomplished through a fresh act of creative grace when Jesus reappears, and this in turn is anticipated in the present by the work of the Spirit. What time is it? In the overlap of the ages: the ‘age to come’, longed for by Israel, has already begun, but the ‘present age’ still continues.” (N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, pp 578-579 & 581)

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God’s Word is a Seed

5096763138_3435941b81_n“A sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell along the path, and was trodden under foot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock; and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns grew with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew, and yielded a hundredfold.”

As he said this, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant, he said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God; but for others they are in parables, so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.

Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, that they may not believe and be saved. And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy; but these have no root, they believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away. And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. And as for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bring forth fruit with patience.”  (Luke 8:5-15)

Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich finds deep meaning in the parable:

“The field signifies the human soul; the various parts of the field signify different human souls. Some are like the ground alongside the path, others like stony ground, yet others like patches of thorns.

Others, though, are like good ground, well away from the path, clear of stones and thorns. Why does the sower not cast his seed only on the good ground, rather than along the path or among the stones and thorns? Because the Good News of the Gospel is common to all, not secret and not confined to just one group of people, as had been the case in much dark and ‘magical’ teaching among the Greeks and the Egyptians, that had as their goal more the acquisition of power over a man, or by one group of people over another, than the salvation of the soul. ‘What I tell you in darkness, that speak you in light; and what you hear in the ear, that preach you upon the housetops’ (Matt. 10:27).

Thus the Lord commands His disciples; the Great Sower commands the sowers. God desires the salvation of all human souls, for ‘He will have all men to be saved’ (1 Tim. 2:4), ‘not willing that any should perish’ (2 Pet. 3:9). Were the Lord to have sown His divine teaching only among good people, the wicked would have had the excuse that they had never heard the Gospel, and would have ascribed their perdition to God, not to their own sinfulness. No-one will ever come to perdition through God’s fault, for God is righteous and no sort of fault can approach the light of His righteousness.” (Homilies, p 214)

Syrian internally displaced people walk in the Atme camp, along the Turkish border in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib, on March 19, 2013. The conflict in Syria between rebel forces and pro-government troops has killed at least 70,000 people, and forced more than one million Syrians to seek refuge abroad. AFP PHOTO/BULENT KILIC        (Photo credit should read BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)
 ( BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)

Even if we think that some people have hardened hearts, hearts of stone or heads full of rocks, we are to share the Good News with them.  Even if we think they will never produce anything but thorns and weeds because we can see that in their lives, we are to live in such a way as to be light to them and to provide them with the seed of the Gospel.  It doesn’t matter what they are like, the Sower of Good Seed sends us into the world to continue His ministry.

The Church and The Will of God

 

Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.   Working together with him, then, we entreat you not to accept the grace of God in vain.  (2 Corinthians 5:17-6:1)

We are to work together with God for our salvation.  In the days of Noah, God told Noah to build an ark for the salvation of the world.  God didn’t build it for Noah.   Noah had to co-operate with God and do his own share of the work.  This  is an image of life in the Church.  God commands us to go into all the world, but God doesn’t do that work for us.  We have to do what God commanded us to do.  But we also must always realize our place in the plan of salvation – we are essential to the plan and the plan is for us, yet we have to discern the plan and carry it out.  We are not God.  We are to work with God – synergy.  Our plans as church are not merely human, for God shows us the way and then lets us choose to follow Him. Salvation is not merely humans making the best human choices possible, for it always involves the full being of God.

“The Church is and must remain ‘of God’ and not ‘of man.’ That is, humans were not placed in stewardship of the Church in order to invoke their will for where they see the Church going but rather to guide the Church into the will of God.[…] The conception of the Church as an institution represents the hijacking of the Church by humans for their own end. Bishop Meletios notes, ‘The beginning and end of every act of God is the salvation of the world. We must place the weight of our attention on this, not in the work of institutions.’ The hope of humanity cannot be placed in the Church but only in God. If the Church is only an institution that acts like any other institution and can be evaluated like any other institutions, then it will fail.” (Stephen R. Lloyd-Moffett, Beauty for Ashes, pp 147, 149)

We are Co-Workers with God

Jesus taught: “For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush.”  (Luke 6:43-44)

“…Even though the Church is a unity, it is a unity of distinct personalities. It is an assembly of persons, each one of them whole and complete, standing before God, and not an anonymous, undifferentiated mass. Thus it is entirely possible for all of us to be gathered together in church, to be standing next to each other and chanting in unison, but for each of us to get something different out of the experience. And what each of us receives is known only to that person, only to the spirit of the man, which is in him, as well as to God the Spirit, Who searches the depths of our own spirit (cf. 1 Cor. 2:10-11). What, then, did we receive? In the first place, we received what we prepared ourselves to receive. Whatever food you’ve prepared, that’s what you’ll eat. Whatever bed you’ve made, that’s the one you’re going to lie on. Whatever you’ve sown in your field, that’s what you’ll reap. Throughout the liturgical year, then, we receive what we have prepared ourselves to receive. God will not bring something to fruition that we have not had a hand in cultivating; and what we cultivate, that which we expect to bear fruit, grows directly from the seeds we’ve sown within ourselves.

Consequently, we’ll get whatever it is our heart has prepared for itself. One person will get God; another will be moved by the chanting; another will gain a few insights; someone else the kingdom of heaven. Each will receive whatever it is he desired.[…]What we find depends on the way we seek for it. The way we see God, in other words, determines what we shall see in God. This is what I say: what you’ve prepared yourself is exactly what you’ll receive. One person cultivates the wind, and reaps nothings. Another prepares to receive the Holy Spirit. It all depends.” (Archimandrite Aimilianos, The Way of the Spirit, pp 129-130)

If The Rich and Powerful Were Like God

In election campaigns, it is often the rich who run for office, and they often claim they will do things that will favor the working poor.  Certainly a concern for the poor is something America learned through Christianity.  Who among the rich and powerful will most help the poor is always part of the election debate.   Historian Peter Brown summing up Christian attitudes of leaders for the poor in the later Roman Empire offers a different way to measure the concern of the rich and powerful for the working poor.  Christianity certainly proclaims and believes that God loves the poor, and that we are to imitate Christ.  So what if the rich and powerful would imitate God, what would their concern for the poor then look like?  Brown answers:


“If the rich and powerful were ‘like God’ to the poor, then they must learn to be like a God who had opened himself up entirely to human suffering and who was ‘naturally’ capable of compassion for fellow human beings. They must show the same degree of condescension and of fellow feeling for the poor.” (Peter Brown, Poverty and Leadership in the Later Roman Empire, p 104)

To imitate God for Christians means not simply to reach down to the poor and drop a coin in the beggar’s basket.  It means to reach down to the poor and embrace them and lift them up as a equal, to see in them the image of God and to live with and for them.

Loving as Christ Loves Me

As I am able, I do Matins three times each week, as I have for the past 30 years.  I am a morning person and do appreciate morning prayers for orienting me throughout the day and through the week.  As I do Matins, I include the prescribed daily Scripture readings during the service, followed by a few minutes of silent meditation.  Matins now begins at 8:30am, as a result of my illnesses and the ongoing chemo, and the fatigue that comes with them.

Some mornings I am alone for Matins, but I never feel alone there.  Never feel like chastising parishioners for not showing up.  I enjoy Matins because it is a blessing for me.  I assume people will come if it is a blessing for them.

One morning, there were 3 parishioners present.  I have always felt blessed by my parish and the good people whom God has called together.

As we sat for the silent meditation I looked around and thought how I loved each of these three for different reasons and in different ways. The young mom is cute with her matching 4 year old daughter.  She seems to me always kind and friendly despite her suffering with an autoimmune illness. The one man is a good friend and intellectual equal with a very level headed attitude about everything.  I enjoy talking with him.  The other man suffers from mental illness and is an addict, and I feel great compassion for him and his many struggles.  He wants to be normal, and yet it escapes him as he escapes reality.

I think that I really do love them each for different reasons.  But then, into my head comes Christ’s words, “love one another even as I have loved you…” (John 13:34). Although I imagine that I really do love each of these my fellow parishioners, I realize I’m reacting to them, sympathizing and empathizing with them.  Yet this is still not how Christ loves me.  Christ is not merely empathetic and sympathetic to me.  He empties Himself for my salvation.  He dies for me, forgives me and restores my humanity to me.  He leads me to the kingdom of heaven.

I have to transfigure what I think of as my love so that I love them as Christ loves me. The love is not based in my emotions or assessment of each of them.  Rather the love is found in Christ.

I realize how far short I am of loving them as Christ loves me.  My love is imperfect, and more a feeling noun than an action verb.   I realize how far short I am from Christ’s teaching, and from His example.  Yet, He still takes time to speak to me.

I have to call to mind how Christ loves me, so that I can know how to rightly love them.  St. Paul puts it in these terms:  “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).  To love others as Christ loves me means to be crucified with Christ and to have Christ live in me.  Again, St. Paul says: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us…” (Ephesians 5:1). I still have a long way to walk before I do that.  Yet I realize,  these days my walks are so much shorter than they used to be.

The Fathers: Moderation, Excess and Addiction

The  Desert Fathers and Patristic authors all lived long before people spoke about addiction, but they certainly knew the behavior and how to deal with it.

In the 5th Century, St Diadochos of Photiki  wrote these words about drunkenness:

 “When watered in due measure the earth yields a good, clean crop from the seed sown in it; but when it is soaked with torrential rain it bears nothing but thistles and thorns. Likewise, when we drink wine in due measure, the earth of the heart yields a clean crop from its natural seed and produces a fine harvest from what is sown in it by the Holy Spirit. But if it is soaked through excessive drinking, the thoughts, it bears will be nothing but thistles and thorns.”   (The Philokalia, Kindle Loc. 7927-31)

Even the strictest of ascetics advocated moderation and self-control in alcohol use, rather than demanding total abstinence.  But, for some, it is exactly self-control which they cannot manage and so they need the guidance and support of others to keep them sober.  The 12th Century Saint, Peter of Damaskos, says the very purpose of Christian community and having a father confessor is to learn not to rely on our own strength and will in the fight against temptation, but to learn the value of community and support in the spiritual warfare against self-indulgence.

“For this reason the enemy does everything he can to disrupt our state of stillness and make us fall into temptation. And if he finds us in some way lacking in faith, wholly or partially trusting in our own strength and judgment, he takes advantage of this to overcome us and to take us captive, pitiful as we are.”   (THE PHILOKALIA, Kindle Loc. 28056-68)

Our personal judgment can be faulty.  Addicts are known for relying on self-will constantly, failing to seek the assessment, wisdom and advice of others.  When it comes to our situation in the 21st Century, we are still as human as they were in the Patristic Age.  We can be misled by our own self-willfulness into thinking we are not doing things to excess, that we have not yet crossed boundaries of decency and moderation.  This self-reliance helps to make us captives of our own thinking, slaves to ourselves, and thus addiction is born.

Who has woe?
Who has sorrow?
Who has contentions?
Who has complaints?
Who has wounds without cause?
Who has redness of eyes?
Those who linger long at the wine,
Those who go in search of mixed wine.

Do not look on the wine when it is red,
When it sparkles in the cup,
When it swirls around smoothly;
At the last it bites like a serpent,
And stings like a viper.
Your eyes will see strange things,
And your heart will utter perverse things.
Yes, you will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea,
Or like one who lies at the top of the mast, saying:
“They have struck me, but I was not hurt;
They have beaten me, but I did not feel it.
When shall I awake, that I may seek another drink?”

(Proverbs 23:29-35)