Homily 431 – 17th Sunday after Pentecost
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
October 4, 2020
Epistle: (182-ctr) – 2 Corinthians 6:16-7:1
Gospel: 26) – Luke 6:31-36
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.
Hopefully, we all know the golden rule: Treat others as you would be treated. That is the essence of the gospel reading, and one of the two keys to the entire Old Testament Law of Moses.
Simple enough, right?
People often get it wrong, though. Often, we treat others the way they treat us. Sometimes intentionally, sometimes not. Unless we are incredibly thoughtful about our behavior, and completely in control of our reactions, we will often time re-act, rather than act.
Furthermore, there are the people we encounter who we don’t know. We can’t re-act to them. Nothing to re-act to!
As the Gospel makes clear, there is zero focus on the other person’s behavior in determining our own.
If they love us, if they support us, if they agree with us – then returning that behavior is easy. So easy in fact that everyone does it, including those who don’t follow Christ, and including those that don’t even believe in God.
Subtly, almost imperceptibly, this commandment is actually quite revolutionary. Quite counter-cultural.
It asks us to do things that the people around us – the world around us – would never do. What it asks is explicit in the last line – Therefore, be merciful, even as your Father, with a capital “F”, God Himself, is merciful.
Something simple suddenly became something nearly impossible.
We may well begin with the word “mercy.” “Pity” is what one translation of the Greek offers us. Or mercy. Or compassion, or tenderhearted. The prayer of blessing at the hours – God have pity on us and bless us, show his face to us and have mercy on us.
The root Greek word is the word for “house”. “Oiktirmos” is the word here, while “oikos” is the word for house.
Maybe it isn’t too far of a stretch to say that the word for mercy has the implication of taking up dwelling with the other person. To exist in their house, in their world – whether painful, or poverty-stricken, or tragic. Or even joyful!
Whatever their situation – not our situation but their situation – we live there with them.
We take up residence, abandoning our own world, and becoming to them a servant in their household.
It’s difficult to imagine, isn’t it? In our day and our time, rejecting and neglecting ourselves in order to become one with one in difficulty and pain not as a helper – but as a servant. A slave, even.
How unfair of God to ask that of us! To place us in the position of sacrificing ourselves and our dreams and goals, even sacrificing what God has asked us to do.
It amazes me frequently as I look at my own life how often I push aside others in order to “do God’s work”. To my shame, I disregard what God actually says for me to do, in order to accomplish what I think He says for me to do.
Because what He says to do is quite clear. Right here. In this passage. Be merciful.
By the way, God being the good manager and leader, He doesn’t ask us to do anything He Himself isn’t willing to do.
What He Himself hasn’t already done. Our Lord, the God of Creation, the second person of the Divine Trinity, had compassion on us. Pitied us.
And left His dwelling, and took up a dwelling with us. As a servant. Even though we had done zero to deserve it.
He owned nothing. His reason for being incarnate on Earth was to enter into our suffering and our fallen-ness. To reunite us to God through obedience to God’s will, to the point of offering Himself into the hands of the political authorities to be crucified.
That is what love looks like. That is what mercy looks like.
I will admit, brothers and sisters, that I don’t comprehend what happens here, because if I did, I would be continually on my face on the ground before the most Holy God of creation, unable to move, telling Him to depart, for I am sinful and unworthy of His holiness and mercy.
The absolute least I can do is serve. The least any of us can do is serve.
Paradoxically, that is also the most we can do. It is the only thing we can do. It is the only response we can make to God.
How is it that I can partake of the Body and Blood of my Lord at His holy table? Only at His commandment that I do so. Not because I am worthy, because I most certainly am not worthy.
Because He asks me to.
My brothers and sisters, this day, this time, this hour: contemplate the majesty of God. Contemplate how utterly unthinkable for God to bring Himself to our level.
Think on this. Then, use that to direct how we interact with everyone else.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Glory to Jesus Christ!