Taking Jesus literally.

Homily 231 – Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
October 2, 2016

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

The Gospel passage this morning is one of the shortest we read for a Sunday. Perhaps that means the homily should be one of the shortest too.

I doubt it. Because the passage may be short, but it implies a lot of things. It is provocative. It is shocking. It, in many ways defies rational thought.

And it is still true, and still perfect, and still holy.

People have attempted at length to dismiss the statements our Lord made. Weeeelllllll – He didn’t really mean what he said. It is hy-per-bo-le, designed to make a point, not to be taken literally.

Perhaps that is true.

But it strikes me that Jesus took it very, very literally. He gave his life, expecting nothing from us. He forgave those who crucified Him.

Most importantly here, He tells us the way to be like God. The Most High God – who is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.

Sinners – that is, those who set themselves apart, and perhaps above, God – those sinners look at what’s in it for them.

It is what the lawyers call a quid pro quo. You scratch my back, I will scratch your back. You do something for me, I’ll do something for you.

However – you do something to me, and you can expect the same in return. Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.

Like Sean Connery’s character in “The Untouchables”: They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue.

I know, many of you weren’t born. Look it up.

That is worldly justice, worldly fairness. That is what society deems as appropriate in our fallen world.

Our Lord has other plans. Blasphemous plans, at least to our society. Foolish, silly plans to the intellectuals among us.

Love your enemies. Do good to them. Lend, expecting nothing in return – which is called in my understanding “a gift.” Not a loan.

Can Jesus really mean this? I think He does. I don’t think this is exaggerated.

Why do I think this? First and foremost, the Gospels themselves say it is so.

Jesus gives to us the criteria on which we will be judged. It won’t be about our prostrations, or headscarves, or superior morality.

It won’t be because we were faithful to our spouses, and saved ourselves for marriage, and went to confession every week for 60 years and fasted every Wednesday and Friday and all of Great Lent.

Jesus tells us that we will be judged on if we cared for the sick, sheltered the homeless, visit the imprisoned, cared for the orphans and the widows.

In other words, loved as He loved. Helped those in need.

And it won’t be if we advocated for it. If we worked hard to pass legislation for it. If we consistently voted for it.

We have to do it. We have to do it. We have to do it.

And we can’t distract God by pointing to someone and saying, “Well, look at that person! They are horrible people who kill babies and flaunt their sexuality, and try to alter their own gender. At least I’m better than them.”

I can just imagine Jesus saying, “Really? Really? Do you really want to go there?”

Because brothers and sisters we aren’t better than them. We are also sinners.

We all sin. Every waking moment is a sin. That is perhaps why Jesus didn’t say stop sinning, but rather repent. Sin is already forgiven. Repentance – change – is what is demanded of us.

Jesus did say, Go, and sin no more. And maybe a few were healed enough to live up to that standard.

But that was not the norm. There was a time when one sin would excommunicate us from the Church. One slip. One denial.

The Church very early on recognized that God forgives, and we have the Sacrament of Confession and Reconciliation as a result.

But with every sin, comes repentance. And that isn’t contrition – that is change. Repentance isn’t being sorry, it is changing course.

And we do it every single day. Every single moment.

What about those pieties that I threw out earlier? Living a superior moral life, being faithful with our sexuality, preserving life? Are those of no worth at all?

Far from it! They are all extremely valuable. But they are not the end – they are the means. They are the method by which we repent. Don’t get wrapped up in the means.

It does no good to train and train and train, and never enter the race. To practice, and never perform.

Worry about the end. The place where we no longer care about our own well-being and wealth, and focus entirely on the well-being of others.

Which is what Christ did, and continues to do, for us.

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