Then it happened, as He was coming near Jericho, that a certain blind man sat by the road begging. And hearing a multitude passing by, he asked what it meant. So they told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. And he cried out, saying, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Then those who went before warned him that he should be quiet; but he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” So Jesus stood still and commanded him to be brought to Him. And when he had come near, He asked him, saying, “What do you want Me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, that I may receive my sight.” Then Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he received his sight, and followed Him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God. (Luke 18:35-43)
Soteria is the Greek New Testament word often translated as “save.” It is a derivative of the verb sozo, which means “to heal:” The Latin equivalents are salvare (to heal) and salvus (made whole or restored to integrity). Thus, the words for salvation in New Testament Greek and in Latin denote therapy and healing. The Gospel writers take advantage of this denotative meaning when they record Jesus’ healing miracles. An example is St. Mark’s story of Bartimaeus the blind beggar (Mark 10:46-52), who enthusiastically chases after Jesus on the road from Jericho, boldly addresses Jesus by the Messianic title “Son of David” and earnestly beseeches Jesus to restore his sight.
The New Jerusalem Bible renders Jesus’ answer to Bartimaeus as “Go; your faith has saved you:” The Revised English Bible translates this as “Go; your faith has healed you:‘ while the Revised Standard Version reads, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” All three of these modern translations are “accurate:” But not one alone captures the complete meaning of the passage. The healing miracles certainly concern physical cure; but they are not limited to physical cure. All four of the Gospels emphasize that Jesus’ acts of physical healing are charged with spiritual and eschatological significance as well.
But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore He says: “When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men.” (Now this, “He ascended” – what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.) And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:7-13)
Now when Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, He departed to Galilee. And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, by the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles: The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death Light has dawned.” From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:12-17)
Our Epistle today, Ephesians 4:7-13, quoting from Psalm 68:18, mentions Christ ascending and descending. He ascended to God’s throne above the heavens after His resurrection, and also descended into Hades upon His death on the cross. This Ephesians reading for the Sunday after Theophany is tying together for us several ideas that the Church wishes to emphasize in its proclamation of the Good News. Of course there is that cosmic picture of Christ who is God the Word descending to earth to be born in a cave and laid in an animal manger – an event we celebrate as the Nativity of Christ. But Christ continued His descent, dying on the cross, being buried and descending into Hades to free all the dead from imprisonment and slavery to Satan. Christ ascended from Hades to appear on earth to show us all His resurrection. He then continued His ascent all the way to the throne of God’s Kingdom above the heavens.
And this cosmic picture of Christ ascending from Hades to the height of heaven which is also our salvation is foreshadowed in the events of Christ’s descending at his baptism down into the Jordan River and then ascending out of the River to be proclaimed God’s own son. Baptism as we all should know is exactly an image of being buried beneath the waters and then raised from the dead to new life. Christ foreshadows his death and resurrection with His dying and rising at his baptism in the River Jordan.
Additionally, at the baptism of Christ, the feast we call Theophany, the Holy Trinity is revealed to us as well as to the entire world. This is the great Light which has dawned for us that is mentioned today’s Gospel lesson.
The connection between Theophany and Christ’s descent into Hades was made at one point in Orthodox history when numerous Orthodox churches took to painting on the back (west) wall of the Church, two icon frescos, one on top of the other. The upper panel/fresco had the Baptism of Christ from Theophany in which the Trinity is revealed to us. Beneath that icon was the icon of Christ’s Descent into Hades with those saved souls looking up to the icon of the Baptism of Christ. They understood the Baptism of Christ was the prefiguring of His descent into Hades. In those churches with the large fresco icons one on top of the other, the door to the church was located in Hades as well. On Holy Saturday, the congregation in the church would watch as the newly baptized were brought into the church literally passing through their own death and sojourn to Hades where they were united to and saved by Christ. All of that is still remembered in our Church on Holy Friday when we enter the church after our procession and all pass beneath the winding sheet and we have the ideas that we are passing into the tomb of Christ as into Hades itself where we proclaim and celebrate the resurrection!
The Epistle mentions Christ leading the captives out and bestowing on them gifts. We understand this as our being led out of imprisonment in Hades, slaves to death. The gifts given to us are those Christ bestows on His church as mentioned in today’s epistle.
Christ creates the Church and all the offices of the Church and gives spiritual gifts for all the personnel He needs to carry on His ministry. He gives us spiritual gifts so that we can accomplish His will on earth. For Christ passes on to us that we as members of the parish and as members of the Body of Christ are to be the light of the world:
“You are the light of the world. . . Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)
The Great light which has dawned and which people see is not Christ alone, but us as the Body of Christ. All of us united to Christ as His Body, the Church, for as St. Paul says in 1 Cor 3:16
– You (plural) are God’s temple. You (people) have God’s Spirit living in us.
The Church is not a building, but the people of God. The Church is you and I doing God’s will on earth.
When people come and see the Orthodox Church, they might come and look at the beautiful, interesting and ancient icons on the walls of the building, but they should come to see the living temple, the living icons – namely you!
It is not the building that makes us Orthodox. It is not the building that makes the Orthodox Church. It is you people, the parishioners, the members of this parish!
We extend an invitation to others to come and see the Orthodox Church, we should also be inviting them to see
How we live
How we love God and neighbor
How we worship God.
How we love one another.
How we are like Christ.
People need to come here not only to see icons or to see the Liturgy and Orthodox worship but to see us –
St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 –
Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? . . . For God’s temple is holy, and that temple you are.
God entrusts us to make His Holiness present on earth and available to all who wish to enter into Communion with Him. God wants us to be witnesses to the Light, but also to be that Light to the world.
“The story of Job serves to renew hope within us. Even though God’s image in man has been spoiled by the sin of Adam and Eve, by the sin of Cain, and by the sins of each one of us, Job allows us to hope for the coming of One—just and suffering, patient and triumphant—who will resist with courage and perseverance the assaults of the Evil One and will triumph over him, thereby restoring in mankind the divine presence which had been lost through sin and reestablishing in us the divine image in the fullness of its beauty. To do this, God sends among us the very Model according to which He had originally created us.
Just as a faded print can be restored by reapplying the original stamp so the Son of God, who reflects the glory of God the Father (Heb. 1:3), can enter human nature by clothing Himself with it as with a garment, and thereby can create a new Adam, a perfect Man, a radiant Image of God. This occurs by what theologians call the Incarnation. This decisive event took place on the day of the Annunciation, when Gabriel, the messenger of God, visited a young virgin of Nazareth in Galilee called Mary.”
When we read the Scriptures with the Church we realize how much of the Old Testament speaks of Christ. Job prefigures Christ – as Job remains faithful to God despite his suffering Job defeats Satan. Job shows what a true human is like. When Christ comes to earth we realize how the story of Job helps us recognize God’s faithful and suffering servant. The Book of Job thus prepares us for the Nativity story of Christ, in which we see evil acting against the Christ, but Christ remains faithful to God even to the point of death on the cross. Christmas is not mostly a sentimental tale, but rather in all its details reveals to us God’s battle with the forces of evil and the price God is willing to pay for the salvation of the world.
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.”
It is obvious that the Feast of the Entry of the Theotokos into the Temple is a very theological feast in Orthodoxy. Few historians would give it any factual credibility and recently even some Orthodox scholars acknowledge its importance is far more theological than historical. It is a theological meditation on the incarnation of God, and all of the events which led to the incarnation. Many Orthodox writers and saints through the centuries have treated it as a historical event, but that isn’t what makes the Feast significant.
So consider somethings we can glean from this Feast as well as from other Feasts of the Theotokos and the Lord:
Long before Mary was conceived on earth, God had conceived of her – for God’s plan for all humanity involved the incarnation, which means it required a woman to be mother to the God who entered into the world. God conceived of a Mary, chose motherhood and willed her existence before the world was made. Before God created anything, God knew the need for a mother, Mary, to fulfill His plan for humanity. From all eternity God knew what was needed for our salvation. The incarnation is not an after thought, a reaction to sin, but rather the plan hidden from all eternity revealed in Jesus Christ(Ephesians 3:9-13, Colossians 1:25-27). If there was to be an incarnation in which God became fully human, there had to be a mother in which the incarnation would occur.
God knew His plan of salvation, knew He needed a mother to make the incarnation possible, and God planned this salvation before Mary was ever born.
Mary, for her part, carried the Word of God in herself long before she conceived God in her womb. She heard God’s Word growing up in a pious Jewish family, and so was prepared to recognize God’s voice and to obey God’s Word.
Mary longed for God’s Word with all her heart, which is why she found favor in the eyes of God and why she was chosen to be the mother of God’s son. God saw His plan for the salvation of humanity realized in a woman who was capable of being the Mother of God. Mary is, after all, the one conceived of by God to bring His plan of salvation to fruition. She is the one God needed to carry God’s Word on earth. She is the temple God wished for Himself to dwell on earth from the beginning.
As it turns out, the temple in Jerusalem was a mere foreshadowing of Mary who became the temple of God on earth, the one in whom heaven was united with earth to become the dwelling place of God. The feast of the Entry is thus much more a celebration of what happened theologically, than what happened historically. The temple was real and historical, and Mary is real and historical. Their relationship is a theological truth to which the Feast draws our attention.
And for those who believe in God and God’s plan for our salvation – we are God’s people, God’s vineyard. God plants His vineyard, cultivates and nurtures it, so that it would bear fruit for Him. God chose His people and for centuries prepared them to be the location for His dwelling on earth. Mary is the choice fruit of God’s vineyard. She is the best product of God’s people, for in her God’s plan is fulfilled, and brought to fruition. God comes to dwell in His people, and begins that in the Virgin’s womb. The Feast of the Entry is simply making for us the connection between God, the temple and our salvation.
We fulfill our task by completing the words of our Lord Jesus:
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you. (John 15:4-7)
We should ask ourselves, on his Feast Day, what am I going to do today that is distinctively Christian? What am I going to do today that non-believers aren’t going to do or can’t do or won’t do?
As Christians we need to think in those terms.
Like the Virgin Mary, we too have a distinct vocation in the world. We are God’s chosen people. It is up to us to hear God’s Word and incarnate that Word in our hearts and minds, in our lives, in our homes and families and in our parish community, so that the rest of the world has a chance to hear God’s Word and see God’s light.
We are the living temple of God and when we live our faith, others in the world are given opportunity to find God as well.
St Ephrem writes that God the Father recognize that Christ is with every human being. The Father wishes His Son to save all. St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:22
that he has “become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.” It isn’t God’s wish that only some be saved (see for example Ezekiel 18:23, 33:11).
“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people” (Titus 2:11).
One of the many images we find in the Scriptures are those of garments and their relationship to God and God’s salvation.
In the hymns of the Church and in the writings of many Patristic writers we note that Eve and Adam are stripped naked by their own sinfulness. A nakedness which God in His love and mercy chooses to cover as God covers both our sin and shame:
In Paradise of old, the wood stripped me bare, for by giving its fruit to eat, the enemy brought in death. But now the wood of the cross that clothes mankind with the garment of life has been set up in the midst of the earth, which is filled with boundless joy. As we behold it exalted, people, in faith, let us cry out to God with one accord: Your house is full of glory! (Matins hymn, Feast of the Elevation)
In Genesis 3:21, after Eve and Adam had sinned, it is God Himself who is said to cover their nakedness:
And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins, and clothed them.
It is an act of mercy on God’s part for His human creatures who have through sin rebelled against Him. But we are pitiable creatures in God’s eyes, and God provides for us so that we can survive in the world of the Fall. The hymns of the Cross suggest it is through the Cross that we are clothed again with a garment of life.
In Exodus 19, the people of Israel are all told to wash their garments in preparation for the theophany that Moses was to experience on the mountain. The people themselves are forbidden from even approaching the mountain, and yet they are commanded to wash their clothes in preparation for what Moses would receive from God on their behalf. The washing of their clothes was a sacramental act as part of their cleansing themselves to meet the Holy God. In Christianity, we take that all a step further in baptism when we wash not our clothes but ourselves in order to put on Christ. We strip off our old garments belonging to the fallen world, and put on Christ as a garment as a sign of the new life we have embraced in Christ.
Garments play a significant part the sacramental life of Christians – through baptism we are given a special spiritual garment which we ask God in the petitions to help us “keep the garment undefiled”) and for which we will have to give an account on Judgement Day (“and preserve the baptismal garment undefiled unto the day of Christ our God”). This is symbolized in the white garment the newly baptized put on when they come up from the watery grave and rise to the new life. As it says in Revelation 16:15 – “Blessed is the one who keeps watch and preserves his garments in order not to walk naked and be shamefully exposed.”
So we pray at the baptismal service:
Preserve pure and unpolluted the garment of incorruption with which You have clothed him (her), by Your grace, the seal of the Spirit, and showing mercy to him (her) and to us, through the multitude of Your mercies.
The priest declares immediately after baptizing the person that:
The servant of God, ______, is clothed in the robe of righteousness, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
And then everyone at the baptism sings:
Grant to me the robe of light, O Most Merciful Christ our God, Who clothe Yourself with light as with a garment.
As many as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ. (Galatians 3:27)
The newly baptized is said to clothe himself/ herself in Christ our God. Which also resonates with the the Transfiguration account in which the very clothes of Christ are said to show forth a brilliant whiteness (Mark 9:3; Matthew 17:2; Luke 9:22).
Not only is each newly baptized Christian spiritually clothed with the garment of salvation at baptism, but also, the priests who serve God since the time of Aaron in the Book of Exodus, have been commanded by God to wear special garments. When Aaron is chosen with his sons to serve as priests, one of the first things God commands is: “And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty” (Exodus 28:2).
In Isaiah 61:10, we read these words which the priest prays as he vests himself with the priestly garments before the Liturgy:
I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
The garments as a sign of salvation are not just for this world but belong to the eternal life in God. In 2 Esdras 2:39, we encounter this prophecy of what we will receive in the glorious age to come:
Those who have departed from the shadow of this age have received glorious garments from the Lord.
For the Cross is Christ’s garment just as the humanity of Christ is the garment of the divinity. (Contemplating the Cross)
We put on Christ, Christ puts on our humanity. We are clothed in each other. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil stripped us bare when we ate of its fruit. Now the cross clothes Christ who is stripped naked and nailed to it. The images of clothing and salvation are common throughout the scriptures.
Here indeed we groan, and long to put on our heavenly dwelling, so that by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we sigh with anxiety; not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. (2 Corinthians 5:2-4)
The totality of the wondrous events performed by God, in order to bring man after his disobedience back to His house and make him His own once more, is called divine economy or dispensation: ‘The divine economy of our God and Savior is the raising up of man from his fallen state and his return from the alienation produced by his disobedience to intimacy with God’ (St Basil).
This reality of our salvation in Christ is what we experience at every Divine Liturgy, for which we give thanks to God: ‘The awesome Mysteries which are performed at every assembly of the faithful and which offer salvation in abundance are called the Eucharist [‘thanksgiving’] because they consist of the recollection of many benefactions, and reveal to us the culmination of divine providence’ (St John Chrysostom). The Divine Liturgy is the sacramental re-living of these things and the ‘recapitulation of the entire divine economy’. That is why at the end of the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the celebrant says: “The Mystery of Your dispensation, O Christ our God, has been accomplished and perfected.’
The mystery of the divine economy was made manifest at the same time as man’s disobedience. The Master who loves mankind ‘at once saw the fall and the magnitude of the wound, and hastened to treat the wound so that it would not grow and turn into an incurable injury…spurred on by His love, not for one moment did He cease to provide for man’ (Chrysostom). Through wonderful deeds and prophetic words, God prepared man to partake in the fullness of life and love.
And Jesus answered and spoke to them again by parables and said: “The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son, and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding; and they were not willing to come. Again, he sent out other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and fatted cattle are killed, and all things are ready. Come to the wedding.”’ But they made light of it and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his business. And the rest seized his servants, treated them spitefully, and killed them. But when the king heard about it, he was furious. And he sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city.
Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. Therefore go into the highways, and as many as you find, invite to the wedding.’ So those servants went out into the highways and gathered together all whom they found, both bad and good. And the wedding hall was filled with guests. But when the king came in to see the guests, he saw a man there who did not have on a wedding garment. So he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:1-14)
John A. McGukin comments:
The God of Jesus Christ, on the contrary, was a God very near, not far away; a God who needed no persuading at all to have mercy but who poured out his mercy with an almost reckless prodigality. This forgiveness of sins, freely given, freely received, in the wedding feast of God’s return to his people, was the heart of Jesus’ evangelion or “Good News.” It consequently must have struck him as perverse that many of his follows rejected this theology, and thus opposed his personal insight into religion and his claims to prophetic authority in preaching it.
These he characterized as the ones who refused to join in the celebration, those who would not come to the feast: “Tell the guests the banquet is all prepared: my oxen and fattened cattle have all be slaughtered. All is ready. Come to the wedding. But they were not interested.” The reaction of the elder son in the parable of the Prodigal Father who was too incensed at the “easiness” of forgiveness granted to his dissolute brother to be able to come to the celebration is a typical illustration of the case in point. (Witnessing the Kingdom, pp. 21-22)
Peace, peace, to the far and to the near, says the LORD… (Isaiah 57:19)
“For he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:14-22)
Willard Swartley (COVENANT OF PEACE: THE MISSING PEACE IN NEW TESTAMENT THEOLOGY AND ETHICS) contends that some modern biblical scholars and ethicists do not treat “peace” as prominent a theme as it deserves based on how frequently the word “peace” occurs in the New Testament. These scholars fail to see how “peace” is a lens through which we need to read the New Testament. In this the last post in this series we will look at a few things which Swartley notes from the epistles of St. Paul the Apostle. As mentioned in the previous posts, the word “peace” occurs 44 times in the greater Pauline corpus, while ‘God of peace’ occurs seven times in his writings. Paul never uses ‘God of wrath’ or ‘God of judgment’ as titles for God. Says Swartley: “Paul, more than any other writer in the NT canon, makes peace, peacemaking, and peace-building central to his theological reflections and moral admonition” (p 190). Just in the above quote from Ephesians 2:14-22, Paul uses the word peace 4 times and also uses the word reconciliation – this is Paul’s understanding of who Jesus is and what salvation He brings to the world. In Christ God is reconciling the world to Himself, as well as reconciling and bringing to peace both Jews and Gentiles. Additionally, Paul in using Isaiah 57:19 in his theology clearly ties the Messiah to the promise of peace which God made through the prophets.
In Ephesians 2:14-17 Paul draws on Isaiah, just as Jesus and the Gospel writers also did. Paul sums up Jesus’ life and work by joining two Isaiah texts, 52:7 and 57:19. Christ proclaims peace is from the rich Isaiah declaration, ‘How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace’ … This oracle continues by describing further this messenger as the one ‘who announces, who says, to Zion, “Your God reigns.”’ It concludes with the universal vision: ‘all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of God’ (52:10b). (p 200)
As noted in Ephesians 2:14-22, for St. Paul not only does Christ proclaim peace, He is our peace. It is in Christ that we are reconciled with God – made one with God, ending our enmity with God due to our sin, making us at peace with God – and also ending the division between Jews and Gentiles, making us all into one people again. We are all united to one another in Christ and made into the people of God who turn out to be a living temple for God. Salvation is thus for St. Paul not just something individualistic – something that happens between “me” and God – it is social and relational in its full dimension, establishing a proper relationship between each human and God, but also between every human with each other as well as with all humans and the rest of creation itself. God’s peace brings an end in each of us to personal desire which is opposed to the good of all because God’s peace also means loving everyone as well as all of God’s creation. The denial of self that Christ taught is so that we can love everyone else and live at peace with them. In this we imitate Christ who is our peace.
Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called the uncircumcision by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:11-13)
If we live in Christ, we live in Christ’s peace, because He is our peace. St. Paul describes what this means for us –
Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:17-21)
As with the idea of shalom in the Old Covenant, we the people have to live this peace.
…in Philippians 2:1-12 … (v.12) exhorting recipients of Christ’s salvation-work to ‘work out your salvation with fear and trembling.’ God’s gift of salvation-peace is thus matched by the human responsibility to ‘work it out,’ to do those things that manifest the new life of peace with God and peace with one another. (p 211)
We are to work out our peace with God, with neighbor, with enemy and with all of the created order. Thus being in Christ changes everything for us. No longer are we to live for the self, but rather we live in love for all and everyone which and whom God loves. St. Paul’s ideas of salvation are thus opposed to ideas that “I” am to be concerned about my salvation as opposed to everyone else’s. The Church isn’t set up for me to work for my salvation with no regard for anyone else. I am to work out my salvation in love for others and for creation itself. I am saved with others and with all creation. The “us vs them” thinking which sometimes almost seems to be a defining mark of various Christians denominations is thus not the life in Christ which St. Paul imagines. All dividing walls come down in Christ, which makes is possible for all to be reconciled in Christ. I am to live in peace with everyone and everything, not become disinterested, neglectful or indifferent toward others. Nor is it correct for me to see myself working out my salvation as disconnecting me from the rest of humanity. “I” work out my salvation with the rest of humanity. The freedom Christ brings us is not freedom from others, but the freedom to work out my salvation with all others. “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another.” (Galatians 5:13; see also 1 Peter 2:16). The Church opted in its history for a “catholic” vision rather than a sectarian one – for the life of the world (John 6:51) as Fr. Schmemann so famously proclaimed . As Swartley points out:
The aim of atonement is redemptive solidarity, not penal substitution. (p 193)
Christ dies for our sins not mostly to fulfill some legal demand by a wrathful God that someone has to suffer for our sins, but in order to end the walls of enmity that pitted us one against the other and against God Himself.
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. (2 Corinthians 5:17-21)
Not only are we reconciled to God in Jesus Christ, but we are to be actively reconciling the world to God. This is the very vision, mission and purpose of the Church.
God’s act in Christ reconciles humans to God (not God to humans by pacifying divine wrath) and that reconciled-to-God humans are then enlisted into the ministry of reconciliation. . . . Christ, who knew no sin, but became sin for us in dying on the cross, ‘so that we might become the righteousness of God’ (cf 1 Pet 2:24). (pp 203-204)
Salvation in Christ does not pit us against others – “we” are saved but “you” are not. Rather, in Christ, we work to be reconciled with all others in the world, so that we might bring all to Christ. Those tendencies in Christianity which cause us to want to run away from the world and not be tainted by the world, fall short of St. Paul the Apostle to the Nations vision of what it means that Jesus is Messiah and Savior of the world. Christ Himself proclaimed that His Body given as food is not just communion for the faithful few but is given as life for the world.
“I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:51)
We are to go into all the world, for the life of the world and to make disciples of all nations (Mark 16:15; Matthew 28:19). We are not called to withdraw into the salt shaker, but to be the salt of the world. We are not blessed to hide our light under a bushel, but rather to be a light to the world (Matthew 5:13-16)
In Christian terms, a prayer for world peace is a prayer that Christ will prevail – not only in the world but especially in our hearts and minds. We pray constantly in Orthodoxy “in peace”, for the peace of the whole world, for the peace from above, that we might spend the remaining time of our life in peace and repentance. This peace we pray for is Christ. If the words of our prayers are not to be emptied of all meaning, then WE have to live in peace with each other, with God, with neighbor, and even with our enemies. Peace is not something God will impose upon us, but rather something we must choose and we must will, for the kingdom of God is within us.
Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, Jesus answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Lo, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:20-21)