Homily 244 – Thirtieth Sunday after Pentecost
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
January 15, 2017
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.
This encounter is fairly well known to us, and the interpretations also. We often hear of the commandment to sell everything, give to the poor and follow Christ.
And that is a correct and worthwhile message.
Perhaps there is another, less visible, message embedded in the passage.
Perhaps it tells us about our role in salvation – what Jesus expects from us.
The man told Jesus he had followed all the commandments, what else did he need for salvation, and Jesus responded, “Sell all you have, give to the poor, and follow me.” And the man went away sorrowful.
Jesus didn’t catch him and say “Just kidding! We can make an exception.” Nor did he cajole the man – “Hey, didn’t you hear what I said? Why are you not posting for sale notices on Craigslist?” Nor did he condemn the man – “If you keep walking, it is hell and damnation for you! You’ve heard the truth, now obey!”
Rather, my take is that – as the man walked away, sorrowful, imperfect – Christ was also sorrowful at the lost sheep, wandering off of his own accord, refusing to hear the voice of the Master.
But, had the man later decided to follow that instruction and return to Christ, he would be welcomed as the Father welcomed the returning prodigal son.
Today, we – at least some of us – are fond of being the voice of Christ to our world. We perhaps think that when we reveal the Truth to someone – regardless of who they are – they then have an obligation to accept that Truth and behave accordingly.
This is particularly true of what are called “social issues” – a misnomer by the way, as “social issues” are always, without fail, spiritual issues.
Issues like abortion, same-sex marriage, universal health care, anti-poverty programs. There are positions the Church has, because they are concepts given to us by Christ.
Concepts like “life is sacred”. “Blessed are the meek.”
“It is more difficult for a wealthy person to enter heaven than a camel to pass through the needle’s eye.
But just because the Church teaches these things, offering application to Christ’s commands, doesn’t mean that everyone is obligated to follow these things.
Same is true in social or human law. There is no compulsion to obey. People can and do murder, and steal, and defraud.
People even, as difficult as this may be to believe, exceed the speed limit. Our role is not to be law enforcement – nor should we compel obedience by pulling into the left lane and driving exactly one mile per hour below the speed limit.
It isn’t our responsibility. It isn’t our role. It’s also illegal, by the way!
Same is true of the universal Truth embodied and proclaimed by Christ and His Body, the Church.
We do not compel. We do not force. Neither do we punish.
Christ said the apostles would judge the nations – that we would judge angels. But we’re not there yet. Not now.
We have to allow people the freedom to reject God. To reject Truth.
Because it is only through that freedom that people can accept God – accept Truth.
Even when those rejections come from people we love – family, friends, children, parents, siblings.
And those are hard. Very hard. They hurt.
But we should not, cannot, and will not control or manipulate others. That is a sin, also. Our message doesn’t change – but our message will never include compulsion.
Compulsion is not love.
There are no shotgun weddings in Christ. And there never will be.
So what are we to do?
Sometimes people will reject our message – reject Truth. Like Christ, we have to let them walk away.
We continue to love them. We continue to care for them, and sacrifice for them. Because that is what Christ did and does for us.
And like Christ, the father of the prodigal son, the shepherd of the Lost Sheep, we look for their return – with anticipation, and longing.
And when they return, we receive them with joy. Just as we are received.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Glory to Jesus Christ!