Homily 549 – 2 APE
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
June 18, 2023
Epistle: (81-ctr) – Romans 2:10-16 and (330) – Hebrews 11:33-12:2
Gospel: (9) Matthew 4:18-23 and (10) Matthew 4:25-5:12
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God.
Liturgically, the reading for All Saints of North America is the same as last week’s readings for All Saints of the Church. It comes from Matthew 4, and is perhaps better known as the Beatitudes. We sing them most every Divine Liturgy.
Many may have it memorized – music makes it easier to memorize for most of us:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven!
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted!
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth!
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled!
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy!
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God!
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God!
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven!
Blessed are you when people revile you, persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for my sake!
Rejoice, and be extremely glad, for great is your reward in heaven!
Many of the early Church commenters on the Beatitudes focused on the different characteristics – mournful, meek, pure, etc. But I’ve always wondered – perhaps you have too – what does it mean to be blessed?
I know what I think it means, but is that what it really means?
The Greek word translated here as “Blessed” is the word mak`arioi “makarioi”. Another translation is “happy,” or “fortunate.” OK, not a lot of insight there. But there is something important in how the word is used in Greek, versus how we understand it to be used in English.
English sentences need a subject. Blessed is a verb. So, what is the subject? Who is doing the blessing? Well, it’s implied – God blesses. The people with the characteristic being described are the objects of the blessing. That’s the way English sentence structure works.
But in Greek, it isn’t so clear. The English makes the word blessed, makarioi, seem like it is some sort of contract or transaction – we do this, God does that. We seek righteousness, and God blesses us. And, by the way, we usually think of blessing in terms of material goods, thanks to our pilgrim heritage in the United States.
In Greek, though, it isn’t this way at all. Blessed, makarioi, is a condition, a state of being. A better translation might be “content.” Content are the poor in spirit, for they are living in the Kingdom of Heaven. Content are those who mourn, for they find comfort.
What we seek is not blessing – it isn’t something we don’t already have. It is contentment – as St. Paul says we learn to be content in our circumstances, by being humble, meek, seeking righteousness with the same vigor as a hungry person seeks food. Even in the midst of all the calamity and noise and confusion the world has to offer us, we can find contentment.
The writer Kurt Vonnegut was at a party hosted by a billionaire hedge fund owner on Shelter Island, on Long Island in New York, and was standing with one of his friends, Joseph Heller, who wrote Catch-22. Vonnegut commented to Heller, “Joe, how does it make you feel to know that our host only yesterday may have made more money than your novel Catch-22 has earned in its entire history?”
And Heller responded, “I’ve got something he can never have.”
Vonnegut asked him what on earth that could be.
And Heller responded, “The knowledge that I’ve got enough.”
Enough is everything – particularly when we’re speaking of the Kingdom of God, and the spiritual realms. There is never enough for the world – there is always someone with more, someone with what we consider better, someone who we, frankly, lust after their lives.
That is the cause of our stress, our anger, our worry, our discontentment with the lives we have been given. The pursuit of “more”, be that money or wealth or possessions or power or status or fame, the pursuit of “more” hides from us what we already have. Family. Relationships. Love. Memories.
We have enough. God gives us an abundance – and we see it as somehow lacking, because it isn’t what we desire. Dare I say we desire the wrong thing? Should we desire the world, or peace?
It is said that the poor are significantly happier than the wealthy. Now, there is a caveat here – the poor need to have a place to live, safety, food to eat, the basics of life.
What they don’t need is more than that. More than that comes in the form of family, and friends, and neighbors. They have peace. They have contentment, true contentment. They have love. They have enough.
The rest of us, who run the rat race and not the race to Christlikeness, have no peace, no contentment, never enough. We have stress and strained relationships and suspicion about all the people we know who are obviously out to try to get what I have.
Instead of contentment, we have paranoia.
So today, using the example of the saints of North America, take the exit off the fast lane of the world, and experience being content. Become poor in spirit and meek and mourn for your sins and the perversion of the world, and hunger and thirst after righteousness, and be merciful to everyone, and make peace among everyone, and endure persecution.
Because the contentment, the peace, that you will experience – just by saying “enough” – is absolutely priceless.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Glory to Jesus Christ!