The pain of repentance.

Homily 591 – 5 GL
Holy Transfiguration, Ames, Iowa
April 21, 2024
Epistle:  (321-ctr) – Hebrews 9:11-14 and (208b) – Galatians 3:23-29
Gospel:  (47) – Mark 10:32-45 and (33) – Luke 7:36-50

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

The Gospel reading, on it’s face, troubles me a bit.  Maybe that’s the point.  We are in Great Lent with 5 days left, then Palm Sunday and Holy Week.  So perhaps we need to be troubled.

What troubles me is this:  Even the apostles closest to Jesus let their ego get the better of them.  St. James and St. John, ask Jesus for the positions of authority and honor in the Kingdom.  The way it is presented to us in the readings, this comes immediately on the heels of Christ describing to them the way he would be tortured and ultimately killed by the Romans.

It makes me want to scream out to James and John, “Weren’t you listening?  Did you not hear what our Lord, your Lord, just said?”  But yelling this would make me a hypocrite, too.  I too want to be favored by Jesus.  I too want to dwell in His Kingdom, basking in His Glory – and hoping that a bit of that Glory reflects on me.  And that people notice.  I want to be able to hear the voice of my Heavenly Father saying, well done, good and faithful servant.

Christ deals with this in a very interesting way.  Christ reminds James and John of what He, their Lord and Master, will go through, and are they prepared to do that as well.  To which they respond, “We are able!”  Then, Jesus lets them know that indeed they will endure the same fate as He does.  But they won’t necessarily be given anything – those places of honor are not Christ’s to give.

What Christ tells James, John and all the disciples and apostles, was that the Kingdom doesn’t operate the way the world does.  To put it another way, everything we think we know about how the world operates – what is right, what is fair, what is worthy – is not applicable to the Kingdom of God.

In the world, who do we see as our leaders?  The ones with success, with money, with power, with prestige, with honor (perhaps) and with intellect.  What we used to see, but I fear we have lost as a society, is what Jesus tells the disciples:  The important traits of the Kingdom are service.  Humility.  Love.  Sacrifice of ourselves on behalf of others.

And then, we also encounter the reading from St. Luke, the reading for St. Mary of Egypt, about the woman sinner at Christ’s feet.  The scriptures use the term sinner euphemistically.  The term is being kind to the woman.  She was like St. Mary of Egypt, perhaps like St. Mary Magdalene before she was delivered from the demons.

This past Thursday, had we served the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete, we would have read the life of St. Mary.  As your priest and pastor, I chose not to read it last night at Vespers as we have in the past, out of sensitivity to the presence of the youngest and most innocent among us.

If St. Mary of Egypt is the model, then her behavior was sufficient to make the most vile and corrupt and perverted among us blush.  She makes prostitutes look positively angelic.  If you haven’t read her story, you should make a point of doing so today.  Then in addition to their own edification, parents can determine when their children can hear the story, and how that story needs to be relayed.

It is truly a scandalous story, but one that results in the only thing we seek in this life – repentance.  St. Mary of Egypt, and this woman in the Gospel reading, both were great sinners.  And needed great repentance.  The thing about sin is this:  It literally means to miss the mark.  And repentance, literally, means to change course.  It might best be called a course correction.  For those who miss the mark greatly, require the greatest course correction.

In our day and age, we miss the mark more than perhaps ever in history.  We are selfish, and self-absorbed.  We no longer believe we can accept what God tells us as truth.  Rather, society – we – reject God’s message and guidance and say that we will determine who and what we are.

It began in the Garden of Eden.  And it ended in the Garden of Gethsemane.  If we would only let it end!

But in our time, society accelerated our movement away from the right course in the post-World War II era, when free love and rejection of all authority became the norm.  We didn’t have a protestant reformation against the Church, we had a societal reformation against everything.

Some of the abuses that were ended were appropriate.  We began to recognize that the roles we play in society should have little to no influence on our value as human beings.  Our race and our gender are unimportant as icons of our creator.  The roles gender played in our society was just wrong.

Yet, society also threw out the valuable things.  The value of marriage.  The love in the nuclear family.  The nurture and growth of children.  Even the idea of God Himself got thrown out.  “God is dead” the magazines wrongly proclaimed.

In a time when our heading is the opposite of God, and pointed squarely toward ourselves, repentance will be more painful that the ones who just deviate a bit from Christ as their target and goal.  St. Mary of Egypt spent the remainder of her life in the desert – 47 years – without contact with another human being.  Tortured by her memories of the pleasures of the world.

But her repentance, as difficult and painful as it was, provided her with what Jesus gave to the sinner woman anointing his feet at the Pharisee’s table.  In the end, Jesus told her, “Your faith has saved you.  Go in peace.”

As we enter into this home stretch of Great Lent, and enter with Christ into Jerusalem, and experience with Christ our own betrayal, crucifixion, and our own death and resurrection, remember the sinners who have gone before us.  Let them show us that way of repentance, of self-denial, and of endurance, that willingness to sacrifice everything in this world.

So that we also may obtain the Kingdom of God.

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