Homily 417 – 2nd Sunday after Pentecost
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
June 21, 2020
Epistle: (81-ctr) – Romans 2:10-16 and (330) – Hebrews 11:33-12:2
Gospel: (9) – Matthew 4:18-23 and (10) – Matthew 4:25-5:12
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.
It has been said by those much wiser than I that the Beatitudes are the 10 commandments for Christians. Meaning, they are our law, our Torah, just like the prefigurement, or type, of the law given to Moses on Sinai.
One of the things we can struggle with as Christians is the place that the Law holds in our life. We look at our Lord, who seemingly had endless criticism for the Pharisees who adhered mercilessly and meticulously to the law, and the interpretations of it.
It was like Jesus was saying to them – you’re missing the point. Almost like he was saying “the Law isn’t given to be obeyed.”
That’s a strong statement – before you check out and condemn me as heretical, let me explain what I mean.
In the Orthodox Church, a law or rule is known as a “canon.” Canon has a more diverse connotation than we currently give it. It means, basically, what is normal.
So, if something defines normal, then what role does it serve if not to be obeyed?
Simply put, it demonstrates what is normal, that we might see what is abnormal in ourselves. The canons, the law, act as a mirror or a diagnostic tool, allowing us to see ourselves as we are, and to see the areas of abnormality, the areas of sin – missing the mark – that exist in our lives.
The Law exists to reveal to us the defects in our lives.
We can see this manifested to us in the teaching of our Lord about forgiveness – that is, how God forgives us.
If God has already forgiven us for every wrong that we have done, are doing, and will ever do – which is the teaching of the Gospel – then why not just abolish the Law entirely?
The Law without a corresponding punishment is meaningless, isn’t it? That is what forgiveness does – we may still suffer the consequences, but not the punishment.
That is, in a way, what St. Paul writes about frequently in his teachings about the Law. His answer to that question is the Law isn’t abolished, but rather is fulfilled, and the purpose of the Law is revealed to us in truth.
The Law is useful because it reveals to us what sin is. It reveals to us the sin in ourselves – and then, as we are already forgiven for that sin, we can start again.
We can change. We can repent.
But not if we don’t know it.
One of the things the Holy Spirit continues to reveal to us is our sin. The places in our life where we continue to “miss the mark.” Thankfully, he doesn’t reveal everything at once.
I’m not sure we could tolerate that knowledge.
That may be what Isaiah the prophet meant when he was in the presence of God and exclaimed “woe is me, for I am sinful.” Or St. Peter after the catch of fish who said: “depart from me for I am sinful.” Or why the Gadarenes asked Jesus to leave their community after the demons were cast out of the man who lived in the tombs.
They all had their sins clearly revealed to them – and it was overwhelming.
Throughout our lives, we continue to see things in our lives that we recognize as sinful. Things that we didn’t necessarily see, or if we did see them, we perhaps didn’t recognize them as sinful.
And now we do.
A very important aspect of this is that we cannot use the Law as a mirror to reveal the sins of another to them. This is what a confessor does in confession, standing behind one as they look in the mirror, helping them to see.
We cannot, and must not, turn the mirror to them and say “see what you are doing wrong?” By definition, they see a different image than we do – not in Christ, but in themselves.
In fact, when we attempt to use the mirror to lead someone else to see what we see – it is ourselves we condemn – for it is only our image that we see. And only our sins are revealed.
The old adage is true: when we point a finger at others, we see three pointing back at ourselves.
You might well say, “But Father – if I see injustice, do I not have an obligation to speak?”
And right now, as we look around, there is a whole bunch of injustice existing in our world. So I would answer this way: Our response should not be to simply tell others not to be exploitive or unjust.
We are called to do something about it – to minister to the victims of injustice – even at great personal cost. Think of the Samaritan finding the man on the road, beaten and robbed. The Samaritan didn’t go looking for the robbers and try to convince them to change. He met the needs of the victim.
This is what Christ tells us will be the criteria by which we are judged at the last judgment. He will not judge us based on our political stances, or our strongly worded memes we share on social media.
Did you provide shelter for the homeless, food for the hungry, clothing for the naked? Did you sit with the bereaved and imprisoned?
Were widows and orphans, meaning those abandoned by society, cared for by you? By us?
When we see the Beatitudes, we can look and see ourselves, compare ourselves, to the ideals presented in them and embodied in Christ, who gave Himself, all of Himself, to all of us, for our life, and for our salvation.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Glory to Jesus Christ!