Me, myself, and I

Homily 335 – 26th after Pentecost
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
November 25, 2018
Epistle: (229) Ephesians 5:9-1 9 and (318) Hebrews 7:26-8:2
Gospel: (71) Luke 13:10-17 and (54) Luke 10:38-42; 11:27-28

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

On many occasions in the Gospel, our Lord tells the Jewish people, particularly the Jewish leadership, that they have the wrong idea about the Torah – the Law.

Frequently, Jesus calls the Pharisees “hypocrites.” There isn’t a good way to spin that – it isn’t a positive reflection.

So it is maybe appropriate to ask why? What did the Pharisees, and the Jews, get wrong about the most central aspect of their faith and religious devotion?

Jesus focuses on the Law. St. Paul focuses on the Law. And neither of them say the Law is no longer valid.

What they say is that how the Jews, and us, take the Law and live it the wrong way.

The Law said that working on the Sabbath day, the day of rest, was prohibited. And the interpretation of that Law was that any work – walking, preparing a meal, lighting a fire, and even healing – anything requiring effort, no matter how small, were not allowed.

All of this – from the commandment to remember the Sabbath to keep it holy. Six days to labor and do all your work.

Everybody rests on the Sabbath. You, family, visitors, livestock, even strangers.

Same with other critiques – Christ tells the Jews that their interpretation of giving to the temple instead of caring for parents is a violation. He says that looking on another with lustful thoughts or intent is wrong, not just the physical acts of adultery.

See, the law was not intended for us to hold one another accountable. It was given to us that we might hold ourselves accountable.

Looking back, we can see that the Law is ascetical. It is self-sacrificial. We understand that the central objective of the Law, whether in the Old Testament or now, is self-denial.

It is interesting that after the delivery of the Law on Mt. Sinai the Lord instituted a unique government among the Jews – they had Judges.

Each person was to keep the Law. If you were wronged in some way, you appealed to the judges.

You didn’t get to tell somebody else what to do, or how to behave. The Judge could do that.

But over time, the Rabbinic system developed from this, and the Rabbis had the ability to tell others their opinion, their judgment, of what the Law was, and how it should be implemented.

The only thing they could utilize in their rulings were what other Rabbis had said previously – this was called the Midrash.

But Jesus didn’t cite what other Rabbis had said. Rather, He created a stir because it was observed that He spoke as someone with authority.

He speaks for Himself – and for God – because He is God.

So when He heals the woman on the Sabbath, in the synagogue, the message is clear – you treat animals better than people. Because you are completely missing the point.

The Law was being used by the Rabbis, and the leaders within the Jewish communities, to enact their power, and their authority. They used it as a tool, rather than a means of reunification to God.

In some ways, what Jesus said was that the Jewish leaders and Rabbis were acting abusively in their role as authority. Which was hypocritical, since Jesus was true and real authority!

The Lord came from His place at the right hand of the Father – His eternal place – but rather than demanding respect and authority and all the other trappings of worship, He came to us in a modest way – not to be served, as is His due – but to serve.

He emptied Himself and took the form of a servant. He showed us how to deny ourselves because He denied Himself.

We can also learn from this that our asceticism, our rules, are not set before us to somehow enforce on others.

When we fast, when we pray, when we give alms – we only examine our actions, not those of others.

We can advise each other, encourage each other – but never demand anything of each other.

We serve others. And in so doing, we make ourselves open to God’s healing. Just as this child of Abraham was healed.

As we continue through the fast, in preparation for welcoming the coming of our Lord in the flesh, remember that the coming of Christ is the humble coming of the Creator of everything, the Lord of everything.

And in His coming, He calls us to change not our brother or sister. He calls us to change ourselves.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Glory to Jesus Christ!