Sunday, November 17 (OS 4), 2019: 22nd Sunday after Pentecost; Ven. Ioannicius the Great of Bithynia (846). Hieromartyrs Nicander, bishop of Myra, and Hermas, presbyter (1st c.). Ven. Mercurius, faster of the Kyiv Caves (14th c.).
Ss Cyril & Methodius Orthodox Church
Epistle: Galatians 6:1-18
Gospel: Luke 8:41-56
Glory to Jesus Christ!
We saw last week that we are naturally attracted to goodness. This why in the moments of their greatest need, both Jarius and the woman with the issue of blood reach out to Jesus. Goodness is naturally attractive to us. This is all the more true in the moments of our greatest need.
It is however not enough to be attracted to the Good. Loving what is good is only possible to the degree that I become good myself. This is why St Paul tells us that “if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
Jesus has called each of us personally to be both gentle and effective in our love for others. We are each of us called, personally and by name, to become good.
It is easy to correct someone else. But whether we do it bruskly or, as Paul tells us, gently if we don’t do it in a way that helps lift the burden of error from another, then we are no better then the scribes and the Pharisees who Jesus condemns for “bind[ing] heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay[ing] them on men’s shoulders; but … not mov[ing] them with one of their fingers” (Matthew 23:4, NKJV).
Too frequently, as one of my youth ministry students pointed out this week, Christians–and this includes Orthodox Christians–are better know for what we are against than what we are for. If I’m not careful, and sometimes even when I am, I can slip into merely criticizing others. It is easy to tell others they’re wrong; it’s much harder to help liberate them of whatever error is constraining their freedom.
Recently, I was asked to sign a public letter written by a friend of mine who pastors a large, Evangelical church. In the letter, my friend criticizes a proposed change in public policy.
I won’t be signing because as I read it, I realized three things about it.
First, I share my friend’s concerns. Whatever our theological differences, I think morally his concerns are legitimate. Public officials are pursuing a fundamentally unjust policy.
Second, as I read the letter, I also realized that it offered no practical way forward. The letter failed to acknowledge that while the policy was immoral, the underlying concern was legitimate. The policy was pursuing a morally good goal but with morally dubious means.
Third, the takeaway from the letter is that “we” are right and “you” are wrong. True after a fashion but in any case, not helpful.
Jesus Christ has called us not only to love what is good but to be good ourselves. To be good means to help others become themselves good. We are called to help lift from people the burdens that bind them and to heal the wounds that make goodness elusive for them.
Some of these burdens are moral, others material or social. Whatever the burden, our task is to lighten it, to help others become free from what constrains them.
In this process, God has given us among other things the sacrament of confession. When I notice in myself an indifference to what is good or an inclination to criticize rather than help I need to bring these things to confession.
Loving the good makes me good but becoming good means repenting and rooting out my own sinfulness. let me go back to my student’s observation. If I am to be an effective witness for Jesus Christ, it isn’t enough for me to condemn sin in myself or others.
I must also free myself from my own sin so that I can, in turn, help others free themselves from theirs. In this, the sacrament of confession holds pride of place.
My brothers and sisters in Christ! Let us not only love the good but become good ourselves!