Homily 560– 15 APE
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
September 17, 2023
Epistle – (203) – Galatians 2:16-20 and (176) – 2 Corinthians 4:6-15
Gospel – (37) – Mark 8:34-9:1 and (92) – Matthew 22:35-46
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God.
The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Galatians is one of the most difficult to understand, because he writes of the mechanics of what God does, and what we do, for what is called in the English translation, justification.
The Greek word is δικαιοῦται di-kay-OH-tay and if you look it up in a Greek Lexicon – which as you might guess, I already have, the meaning is one of enacting justice and being righteous. We find this word in the book of Job, Chapter 33 verse 32, where Elihu rebukes Job, and says, basically, Job, I’m trying to defend you. This element of defense is critical.
Just before saying that, Elihu is saying he sinned and perverted what was right, yet that wasn’t repaid to him. He says, “He – meaning, God – has redeemed my soul from going down into the pit, and my life shall look upon the light.”
The word is also used in Matthew 12, where Christ talks about the tree being known by its fruit. He mentions that by our words (meaning, by our external activities or what is seen by others) we will be justified, or condemned.
So, all this talk about condemnation, and defending ourselves, leads St. Paul to question why we do this? We aren’t justified by our keeping commandments – keeping Torah – we are justified, we are defended, by our faith in Christ Jesus.
The key question that St. Paul doesn’t really insert here is “what is faith in Christ Jesus?” It is fascinating that the Church puts this Epistle reading with the passage from Mark about how faith behaves.
But the question still isn’t answered – what is this faith? What is this “thing”, this action, or this mentality, or this behavior, that is called faith?
In the Gospel of St. Mark, Jesus says, “Whoever wants to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” He goes on: “Indeed, whoever wants to save his life will lose it; and whoever will lose his life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News will save it. What will it profit if someone gains the whole world and loses his life? Or what will someone give in exchange for his life?”
What is this Good News? What life must we give up?
We are weaving together a story here. The Good News is that Christ has restored humanity to the communion with God we had before the fall. Christ has restored humanity by placing the ego below and subservient to all the other faculties of humankind. Particularly, that of the nous – the Greek word for the part of Humanity that interacts with God.
Christ has purified the human nous, which is no longer fallen, or neglected. Instead, we have to give up our life in order to save it. That is to say, we have to give up the “my” in “my life”. A restored human’s life is no longer controlled by the ego, and as such, it is no longer “ours” or “mine.”
We crucify our ego – we give up our lives – and allow the nous, allow God Himself, to take the lead over our heart, our desire, our intellect, our reasoning – all of us.
And in return – no, better said – as a result of this, we attain life. True life. It isn’t a transaction where we trade God our ego and get life. Rather we are healed. We are restored. We who were dead in our self-centeredness, we who were and are anti-Christ because He is perfectly self-less, are healed.
So, if we want healing, we give up our (quote) “self”, our ego, and we pick up our cross – now, hold on. Here is a new thing. Pick up our cross.
In hindsight, we see the Cross of our Lord as an instrument of torture, and of death. Certainly that is not for all of us, because if we take that literally, no one since the time of Christ has been saved, because no one has been crucified on the Cross in a couple of millennia.
What the Cross tells us is something much deeper. The physical Cross is Christ carrying out His promise to God the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane. When Jesus prays to the Father, asking that if it were possible the death – His death – might pass over Him as it were, as it did in the time of Moses, the precursor for the Exodus itself, Christ says, “Nevertheless, not My will but Your will be done.”
That is the Cross of Christ. That is the restoration of Humanity to the Creator. That is the death of the human ego. Christ didn’t fear death, because He had already said that if the earthly body were destroyed, He would rise again in three days, the sign of Jonah. We sing that Christ ascended the Cross to His voluntary crucifixion and death. He reminds us that He could have called 10 legion of angels to defend Him, but that would be His human ego, not God’s will.
So, voluntarily, we too give up our “selves” – our life, our ego – and we too are restored to life.
This is the faith, this is the defense, we should be preparing to offer when we pray for a good defense before the dreadful judgement seat of Christ. Our own crucifixion of our ego.
And if we refuse to do so, we demonstrate that we are ashamed of Christ, preferring instead to highlight our ego – our actions of the Law and of the commandments. And Christ will honor our choice, and be ashamed of us.
When we say we adore the Cross, and when we express that adoration by bowing or prostrating, what St. Paul says is that we aren’t offering thanks that Christ did everything for us. That there is nothing for us to do.
But rather, Christ showed us the way, by His example. He fulfilled the Law by crucifying the human ego, placing the human will back in the appropriate relationship with God. We have to do the same – not by following the Levitical Law or the ritual law.
We do the same by denying ourselves, crucifying our own ego, and then living with absolute and total love to those around us. That is the example Christ gave. That is the example that is the Way to salvation.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Glory to Jesus Christ!