The Sinner and Humility

“Today we heard the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee (Lk. 18.10-14). It speaks of humility. I won’t repeat the story to you now, because you all know it perfectly well. But within the larger meaning of the parable, there’s something I’d like you to take careful note of. The Pharisee thought he knew God. He believed that he and God were friends. He was, however, mistaken in this belief, and it was rather the other man, the Publican, who was God’s friend.

The Pharisee thought he knew God, but he didn’t. It’s not that easy to know God. But because he faithfully observed the outward rules of religion, he was under the false impression that God was somehow in his debt, that God owed him something. God for him was a kind of accountant, keeping a set of books showing what people owed him and what He owed them. But it’s not like that.

The moment the Pharisee said, I’m not like those other people (cf. Lk. 18.11), he cut himself off from God. Why? Because God is humble, and since the Pharisee felt no need for humility, it follows that he felt no need for God. He knew the law, and the traditions of his faith, but he did not know God.

The Publican, on the other hand, had no illusions about himself. He was sunk up to his neck in the swamp of his sins. And yet, even though he was awash in the slime of his transgressions, what did he say to God? Be merciful to me a sinner (Lk. 18.13). And at the moment, in his sinful, suffering, disconsolate heart, he felt certain that he was justified (Lk. 18.14), which means that God recognized and received him. As a sinner he had been living in darkness, but his humility brought him into the light of paradise and granted him communion with God.”

(Archimandrite Aimilianos, The Way of the Spirit, pp. 296-297)

The Canaanite Woman: Breaking the Lord’s Boundaries

Then Jesus went out from there and departed to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a woman of Canaan came from that region and cried out to Him, saying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon-possessed.” But He answered her not a word. And His disciples came and urged Him, saying, “Send her away, for she cries out after us.” But He answered and said, “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Then she came and worshiped Him, saying, “Lord, help me!” But He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” And she said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered and said to her, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.   (Matthew 15:21-28)

St Ephrem the Syrian taking the Gospel lesson writes lyrically: 

You, too, daughter of Canaan, for righteousness

conquered the Unconquerable One by boldness.

The Just One set a boundary on the land of the Gentiles

that the gospel might not cross over.

Blessed are you who broke through the obstacle fearlessly,

The Lord of boundaries praised you for the strength

of your faith. From afar He healed your daughter in your house. (Hymns, p. 379)

Eyes But They Cannot See

When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them. Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him…  (John 12:36-37)

One of the most troubling aspects of humans is our ability to blind ourselves to truth, when we don’t want to see it, or don’t like it, or don’t agree with it.   Christ came and healed so many, and yet so many saw Him as a threat.  He gave them health, forgiveness of sins and even fed them, but they feared He was there to take things away from them.  He even died for us – like a sheep led to the slaughter – but others saw Him as a threat who had to be destroyed.  Orthodox theologian Georges A. Barrios commenting on a prophecy from Isaiah writes:

“’Shut their eyes lest they see‘ (Is 6:10);

God’s prophetic warnings are a blessing to those who are disposed to receive them and repent. Otherwise they are a cures, inasmuch as the unrepentant sinner, by rejecting God’s appeal, is ipso facto, confirmed in his own blindness and obstinacy.”  (The Face of Christ in the Old Testament, p. 167)

The prophets give us fair warning about what God is going to do, but when we refuse to believe God’s love we reject both God’s prophecy and God’s promises.  We condemn ourselves to darkness and then curse the darkness.

And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God.  (John 3:19-21)

Baptized into Christ

As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” And baptism into Christ means incorporated into the diverse community of fellow baptized, co-crucified, co-resurrected, justified inhabitants of Christ”  (Gal 3:28).

. . . justification is an experience of both death and resurrection, and both must be stressed. But the resurrection to new life it incorporates is a resurrection to an ongoing state of crucifixion: I “have been” crucified means I “still am” crucified. Therefore, justification by faith must be understood first and foremost as a participatory crucifixion that is, paradoxically, life-giving (cf. 2 Cor 4:7-15). The one who exercises faith, and is there by crucified with Christ, is systauroo in Gal 2:19 – as in Rom 6:6), because he or she is animated by the resurrected Christ, who always remains for Paul (and the New Testament more generally) the crucified Christ (e.g., 1 Cor 2:2; cf. John 20:20, 27; Rev. 5:6). As Miroslav Volf says in commenting on this text, the self “is both ‘de-centered’ and ‘re-centered’ by one and the same process, by participating in the death and resurrection of Christ through faith and baptism…” Volf continutes:

By being ‘crucified with Christ,’ the self has received a new center – the Christ who lives in it and with whom it lives…The center of the self – a center that is both inside and outside – is the story of Jesus Christ, who has become the story of the self. More precisely, the center is Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected who has become part and parcel of the very structure of the self.

This understanding of faith as crucifixion is reinforced by Paul’s insistence that the believer’s experience (narrated representatively by Paul in first-person texts) is not only a death with Christ but also a death to the Law (Gal 2:19), to the world (Gal 6:14), and of the flesh (Gal 5:24). The mention of death of the flesh and to the world also demonstrates that Gal 2:15-21 should not be read only as a Jewish experience of liberation from the Law. Rather, every believer begins and continues his or her existence in Christ by co-crucifixion. Gal 2:19-21 suggests that co-crucifixion is both the way in and the way to stay in the convent.

Once again, we must stress that it is the resurrected crucified Christ with whom believers are initially and continually crucified. This is important, both christologically and soteriologically, in two ways. First, as an experience of the risen or resurrected Christ, co-crucifixion is not merely a metaphor but an apt description of an encounter with a living person whose presence transforms and animates believers: “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. And the life I live, I live by the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me by giving himself for me.” As Douglas Campbell says, this is no mere imitatio Christi! For “God is not asking [believers]…to imitate Christ – perhaps an impossible task – so much as to inhabit or to indwell him,” such that “the Spirit of God is actively reshaping the Christian into the likeness of Christ.”

(Michael J. Gorman, Inhabiting the Cruciform God, pp. 70-71)

The Purpose of Theology: To Become Wise

There is in Orthodox Tradition a sense that correct belief leads to a correct way of life or that correct thinking leads to correct living.  Conversely, a wrong way of living – sinning – can often be traced to a wrong set of beliefs.  Confession and repentance in this thinking are efforts to get to the root cause of one’s sinful behavior and to aim to correct the thinking or beliefs that have allowed one to choose wrong behavior.  Correct theology then is not just a set of intellectual premises which we affirm through rational logic, but rather is the healing antidote to what ails humanity and leads us astray from God.  Correct theology is both the light that shows us the right path and the proper path itself.   As Jesus Himself said:

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.”   (John 14:6)

“I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”   (John 8:12)

Protestant Theologian Jeremy S. Begbie writes:

By “the gospel” I mean the announcement that in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the Triune Creator, the God of Israel, has acted decisively to reconcile the world to himself. Here is theology’s raison d’etre and its lodestar – theology is not free-floating speculation, but it is disciplined by this gospel and seeks to interpret the whole of reality from this center. Just because it is so motivated, the theologian is ultimately responsible to a living God: the God of the gospel is not an inert presence but personally active, continuously at work to transform his creatures and his creation. Hence learning about God is undertaken in the context of learning from God, as God relates to us and we to God. This means, in turn, that theology is inseparable (though distinct) from prayer and worship – thinking appropriately about God means regularly engaging with God. . . .  Precisely because it relates to the whole of us and concerns the energetic, life-transforming God of the gospel, theology has a practical orientation.

One of the best ways to express this is to speak of theology fostering wisdom. In the so-called Wisdom literature of the Bible (for example, the book of Proverbs), gaining wisdom concerns much more than amassing data for the mind’s scrutiny. It is practically geared. To be wise means being able to discern what is going on in specific, down-to-earth situations and to judge what it is right to say and do in those situations in a way that is faithful and true to God. We become wise in order to live well. As “lived knowledge,” wisdom is directed toward a lifestyle thoroughly “in tune” with God – godly living – that resonates aptly with the Creator’s intentions for us and his world.

(Resounding Truth, p. 20)

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.   (Colossians 3:16-17)

Becoming A Child of God

“Some Christians relate to God as slaves in the narrowest sense. They accept his will and obey his commandments and do what is required of them out of fear, out of the impending judgment, of the wrath to come (Matt. 3:7-12). But the spiritual life is not managed only through fear. Other Christians enter into the spiritual warfare as hirelings, as laborers or as soldiers in the pay of the king, as people who give themselves to God as for hire, accepting the responsibilities of the Christian life for the sake of reward (Lk. 6:35). Unlike the slave who acts out of fear, the hireling acts out of duty and obligation. He joins the ranks of God’s army to wage battle against the passions, against the evil forces of darkness that are in him and around him in the fallen world, because he is assured of God’s faithfulness to fulfill his promise to pay him just reward (1 Cor. 3:8; 2 John 8).

But greater perfection is expected of us. To be complete one must become, by grace, not only a slave or a hireling but also, and above all, a child of God, a brother – by adoption – and a friend of Christ. As a friend Christians accept God’s call with gladness of heart and act in all things out of love for the Master, who has loved them first (1 John 4:10). Friendship with God is unconditional because God’s love is unreserved, free, and absolute. Friends of Christ enjoy a deep, intimate personal relationship with him and come to know the hidden truths of the Gospel. They obey the commandments out of love, expecting nothing in return. “You are my friends if you do whatever I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:14-15).

(Alkiviadis C. Calivas, Aspects of Orthodox Worship, p. 32)

Kindness

Kindness does not mean overlooking people’s sins; it means forgiving them. Kindness also does not mean “being nice” to everyone whoever they are and whatever they do. It does not mean “going along” with others in every way. A kind person will correct others, if need be, and his very kindness will be shown by his care and concern for the well-being of his fellow creature “for whom Christ died” (Rom 14.15).

(Fr. Thomas Hopko, The Orthodox Faith Vol. 4 Spirituality, p. 85)

Every Day Should Be Thanksgiving Day

Then as He entered a certain village, there met Him ten men who were lepers, who stood afar off. And they lifted up their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

So when He saw them, He said to them, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And so it was that as they went, they were cleansed. And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan. So Jesus answered and said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner? And He said to him, “Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well.”   (Luke 17:12-19)

In this Gospel lesson we learn about something that Jesus values.  Something He expects to find in us.  What is it?

Gratitude

Jesus values a heart that is grateful for the blessings it has received.

St. Paul exhorts us to give thanks in every circumstance (1 Thessalonians 5:18).  Yet, we often wonder how that is possible.  The ancients believed it possible because they saw gratitude as well as happiness as a choice we make in life, not a response to circumstances.  They cultivated happiness and gratitude in their inner selves so that they could have them no matter what circumstance they found themselves in.  For us on the other hand, we seem to think that happiness and thankfulness come to us from outside ourselves.  Thus we blame friends, family, spouses, neighbors, and country when we aren’t happy.  We somehow imagine it the job of everyone else to make us happy.  In the ancient world, they knew better than that.  They knew the truth that happiness and gratitude were a chosen way of life, not dependent on circumstances.  Despite all our advances is science and technology, the ancients still knew things we do not.  No wonder drug abuse and addiction are so prevalent in our culture.  We are demanding the external world make us happy and thankful.  We see ourselves as the victim of circumstances, rather than doing the hard work to chose happiness and gratitude as how we want to live and be.

Our God wants us to have an inner disposition of thankfulness.  That is one of of our tasks in life.  Be people who chose gratitude and happiness as your perspective on the world rather than a reaction to what is happening.

Gratitude means to be thankful for what we have received.  In Luke 17:12-19, 9 of the 10 lepers who were healed did not stop and give thanks to Christ.  All ten found their voice when they wanted to request something, but only one thought it right to come back and give thanks.

They lacked the virtue of gratitude.

Sadly, giving thanks does not occur automatically even when we receive what we want.  All day long most of us are receiving some things that we want, yet we are not thankful for these things.  We don’t thank everyone who gives us what we want.  We fail to be thankful if we have any food to eat, or a bed to sleep on  or clothes to wear.   We take it for granted that there should be heat in the buildings and running water and paved roads and the trash removed.   We want these things, and when we get them, we feel no gratitude.  Thankfulness is not an automatic human response, we have to cultivate it.

Disciples of Christ are to be thankful people. We are to be thankful for everything, even for the things we pay for and  also in the times when things fail us.

In the Gospels, we see Jesus Himself giving thanks:

Just before feeding the thousands when He multiplied the loaves and fishes in    Matthew 15:36:

he took the seven loaves and the fish, and having given thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.

Just before raising His friend Lazarus from the dead in John 11:41-42:

So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. I knew that thou hearest me always, but I have said this on account of the people standing by, that they may believe that thou didst send me.”

Christ gave thanks to His Father for the things His Father had hidden and for the things He had revealed in Matthew 11:25-26:

At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.

And of course, and perhaps most famously, Jesus gave thanks at the Last supper, Matthew 26:27:

And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

Jesus knew he was going to be murdered.  And on that very night in which he knew he was to be betrayed, arrested, denied, tortured and executed, he still sat with His disciples and gave thanks to God!

In imitation of Christ we too give thanks for everything.  “Eucharist” means thanksgiving, we thank God for that night in which Jesus was tortured and executed.  We join in with the disciples in receiving Christ’s Eucharist at each and every Divine Liturgy.  We participate in Christ’s thanksgiving.

Sixty-seven times some form of the word “thanks” appears in the New Testament.

Did the apostles only give thanks only because things were going good for them?  NO, they gave thanks in times of suffering as well.

In Acts 5:41, we read:

Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.

Think of St. Paul and how often he gives thanks to God even though constantly suffering.  In Every single letter of St Paul, he offers thanks.

Acts 27:35-36 in the midst of shipwreck and sea disaster St Paul takes time to offer thanks:

And when he had said this, he took bread, and giving thanks to God in the presence of all he broke it and began to eat. Then they all were encouraged and ate some food themselves.

Let your hearts and minds be filled not with complaints, criticisms and accusations against one another but rather be filled with thanksgiving, always for everyone and everything.    We should embrace the attitude expressed in the AKATHIST: Glory to God for All Things.   And we should remember the words of the Apostle Paul in Philippians 4:6:

Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

Learning the Skill of Charity

One person has the skill to hammer brass into the most exquisite shapes and to engrave elaborate patterns on to it.

Another has the skill to make furniture, joining together different pieces of wood so firmly that no one can break them apart. A third person can spin the finest yarn, while a fourth weaves it into cloth.

A fifth craftsperson can lay stones one on top of the other to build walls, while a sixth puts a roof on top of the walls to make a house. Indeed there are so many different skills, each one requiring many years to attain, that it would be impossible to list them all.

So what is the skill that rich people should acquire? They do not need to fashion brass or wood, or to build houses. Rather, they must learn how to use their wealth well, to the good of all the people around them. The ordinary craftsperson may think that that is an easy skill to learn. On the contrary, it is the hardest skill of all. It requires both great wisdom and great moral strength. Look at how many rich people fail to acquire it, and how few practice it to perfection.

(St. John Chrysostom, On Living Simply, p. 14)

The Door Through Which Christ Passed

Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.   (Revelation 3:20)

“The door through which Christ passed in order to come into the world was his love for man.  It is this divine love that St Symeon the New Theologian addresses, asking that it may be for us too a door bringing Christ close to us:

‘O divine love, where are you holding Christ?  Where are you hiding Him? …  Open even to us, unworthy though we are, a little door, that we may see Christ who suffered for us…  Open to us, since you have become the Door to His manifestation in the flesh; you have constrained the abundant and unforced compassion of our Master to bear the sins of us all…  Make your home in us, that for you the Master may come and visit us in our lowliness, as you go before us to meet Him.’

The door of love through which Christ passed in order to come into the world was opened by the Mother of God.  Her holiness attracted divine mercy to the human race.  Through her ministry in the mystery of the divine economy, the Mother of God became the ‘Gate that faces east’ (cf Ezek 46:1, 12); the ‘Gate that looks towards the east’  from which life dawned for men and scattered the darkness of death.”

(Hieromonk Gregorios, THE DIVINE LITURGY , p 36)