Sympathy and salvation.

Homily 373 – 11th after Pentecost
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
September 1, 2019
Epistle: (282) – 1 Timothy 2:1-7 (Indiction) (141) – 1 Corinthians 9:2-12 (Sunday) and (258) – Colossians 3:12-16 (St Simeon)
Gospel: (13) – Luke 4:16-22 (Indiction) (77) – Matthew 18:23-35 (Sunday) and (99) – Matthew 11:27-30 (St Simeon)

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

Happy New Year! Today is the Indiction, the beginning of the Church year.

There are a lot of moving parts today – it isn’t often that we have the confluence of three epistle readings and three gospel readings.

So today, we have the readings for the Indiction, the readings for the 11th Sunday after Pentecost, and the readings for St. Simeon the Stylite.

The theme of the Indiction is creation – and the Creator. Metropolitan Tikhon has issued an encyclical that talks about this theme, and I encourage you to read that and contemplate its meaning.

For me, the Gospel for the Resurrection, the 11th Sunday after Pentecost, is the message we may need to hear. The one I need to hear, certainly.

The story is familiar, hopefully. A man owes someone a great deal of money. Ten thousand talents. One talent was the equivalent of 20 years’ wages for a common worker.

So, at minimum wage, working six days a week and 10 hours a day, one talent was worth about $527,800. Ten thousand of those would be $5.3 billion.

In the case of the money he was owed, it was 100 denarii. One denarius was equal to about $80. So he was owed about $8,000.

OK, so we understand – the slave was forgiven an unimaginable sum, but demanded payment of a tiny sum, and that didn’t sit well with his Master. We understand it – but sometimes perhaps we don’t think it applies to us.

After all, we are pretty good people. We love God, we try our best to obey God. In short, we don’t behave as if we are forgiven at all. In fact, many of us look at God and believe He owes us something for our love and devotion.

And that, dear ones, is a lie from the Evil One. He twists the Truth of God’s promises into a belief that “God owes us that – God promised.”

But there is only one truth. And that truth is that God’s promises have to be voluntarily accepted by us, and they come with a response.

We need to remember how much we have been forgiven. We have been forgiven – healed – of our self-focus and our ego. We have been forgiven for being unfaithful to God.

That is a frequent message of the Old Testament. God made a covenant with the descendants of Israel. That covenant was one of marriage. God will be devoted to his people, and His people will be devoted to Him.

That was and is the deal. But we, humanity, don’t keep our end of that covenant. We are unfaithful to God.

In the midst of our unfaithfulness to Him, though, He stands ready to reconcile with us. He doesn’t give up on us. He offers to us a path of reconciliation.

What God does for us, we are to do with everyone around us. Forgive. Reconcile.

That is the mistake this slave made. He was forgiven, and the expectation was that because he was forgiven, he would then forgive in a similar way.

Christ makes that explicit. Lend, expecting not to be repaid. In other words, give, don’t lend. If you expect something in return, then it isn’t a gift, but rather a transaction.

And thank God – our Lord is not transactional. Because as St. Paul tells us there is nothing we have to offer to God.

It does us good, spiritually, to remind ourselves of our own selfishness. All the distractions that exist – rather, that we choose – to avoid God. We might desire that God simply leave us alone until we call Him.

Which we will, when we need Him. Unfortunately for us, that point of realizing our need for God has moved further and deeper and more painful into our lives.

In former days, we might turn to God in the midst of a drought. That would be enough to remind us that God is in control, not us.

Today, it takes much more than that, to the point that most of us don’t consider drought to be serious at all.

It takes things that we call “tragic”. A life ended too soon. Violence. Illness.

We have taken so much control away from God that the realization of His control requires more and more significant attention getters than we’ve experienced in the past.

We’ve gotten so far away from God that our repentance is further and more difficult than ever in recorded history.

The Romans weren’t as far from God as we are. They were a society of debauchery and narcissism, but they still had their gods – and understood that they were dependent on those gods. The Christians said, “hang on – there is but one God, and we are dependent on Him.”

But today we say there are no gods and we are dependent entirely on ourselves. As a result, it takes a lot to get our attention.

Thankfully, though, once we turn our attention back to God, and understand how much He has forgiven us for our unfaithfulness to Him, perhaps then we can start to forgive those who have offended and been unfaithful to us.

And then, we will have peace. At last.

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