Homily 550 – 3 APE
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
June 25, 2023
Epistle: (88) Romans 5:1-10
Gospel: (18) Matthew 6:22-33
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God.
There seem to be two ideas floating around in today’s Gospel reading. The first, something about eyes and light, then an exposition from our Lord about the material blessings versus our needs.
But going back a couple of verses in Saint Matthew’s Gospel, we can begin to see that there aren’t two ideas at all.
This reading comes from the Sermon on the Mount – it is worth reading the entire thing. From this sermon, which is really the only one we have preserved in the Gospels from our Lord, we get much of our understanding about ascetical behavior – that is to say, the behavior of self-denial, and the idea that self-denial, or maybe better said, self-abandonment, is the central key to salvation for us all. The Gospel of St. Matthew, chapters 5-7, record the entire sermon. Again, well worth the read.
But if we go back to Chapter 6, verse 19, immediately preceding today’s Gospel reading, we find Jesus speaking about not laying up for ourselves treasures on earth, but storing our treasurers in heaven. Where our treasurers are, our heart is.
Then, the passage we read begins about the eye being the lamp of the body, continuing on to not serving two masters, money or material wealth, and God.
There must be a bit more to this eye being the lamp of the body than just light and enlightenment. It may have something to do with possessions, given that it is in the middle of a passage about possessions.
In fact, the passage does have to do with possessions, and not light. It is a Hebrew idiom – a saying that on its face doesn’t mean what we think it means in the hearing of the listener of that day. We have all kinds of idioms in English – like yesterday morning it rained cats and dogs. Or, it’s not rocket science. Or, kill two birds with one stone. Those are idioms.
Hebrew has similar idioms. In the Proverbs, there is mentioned the idea of an “evil eye”. Proverbs 23:6 and 28:22, Sirach 14:10 and 31:12-13 are a few places. The Hebrew is Ayin Ra’ah, and literally means “bad eye”, but means “stingy”. A good eye is Ayin Tovah, literally “good eye” but understood to mean generous.
So, the way the passage was understood was something like this: If you are generous, you whole body will be full of light, but if you are stingy, your whole body will be full of darkness.
It isn’t about perspective or intent or anything of the sort, but rather generosity. Generosity is central, absolutely central, to the Gospel message and to our salvation.
So – that may cause many of us who are so used to trying to take care of ourselves and provide for ourselves now and in the future some deep anxiety. Fear.
To which Christ continues and answers: You can’t have split loyalty here. God will provide for us, or we will provide for ourselves (which is Mammon). If we provide for ourselves, we don’t need God’s provision. That is what we are saying – we are self-sufficient.
And that is what Adam and Eve, the first parents, said in the Garden when contemplating the fruit. We are self-sufficient. That, dear brothers and sisters, is the chief lie of the evil one.
Now, we have an entire scriptural basis of God taking care of His People we can recall. Most prominently God saved the Hebrews from Egypt, and provided food for them each day – manna and meat – while they wandered in the desert. That is the subject of a separate study, but we can learn a lot from exactly how God provided for His people in the past.
One of the things that the Psalms offer for us is the remembrance of God’s provision for His people throughout history.
So here, when Christ tells us to not worry, to not be anxious, it isn’t without a track record. God takes care of us – we will have our needs met, because if God cares for the birds and the grasses, He will care for us and meet our needs. God has proven dependable. We aren’t starving to death. Most of us live a comfortable life, even those in poverty.
The result of all this – we can live life with abandonment to fear of the future. We can abandon our chase for the material needs of this life, and seek righteousness. And we can do so knowing that we will be fine. We will receive what we need.
This instruction, the idea that we can be wildly generous, foolishly generous, is the foundation and first step in self-denial. Christ’s command to deny ourselves, take up our cross – His cross – and follow Him, starts here. We start by beginning to give up the thing that most of us worry and stress about most.
The future, and our provision in that future.
So, how can we start? For me, I read this passage, every day, morning and night, for several years. We begin to reprogram our brain, our thoughts, to trust rather than distrust God.
Over time, we begin to release our grip on the material things that enslave us. We begin to be generous, with abandonment. We begin to experience freedom – from worry, from anxiety, from everything that sucks joy from our lives.
Further, we need to teach this detachment to our children. It is part of our faith – just as much as the fasting disciplines and the prayer rules, and going to confession. Let go of the hold on stuff, and be generous, recognizing that it is God that has given these to us.
Salvation begins and depends on generosity. Have a good eye – and be filled with light, the Light of Christ.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Glory to Jesus Christ!