Sunday, December 24, 2017 (December, 11 OS): 29th Sunday after Pentecost. Tone 4; The Sunday of the Holy Forefathers; Ven. Daniel the Stylite of Constantinople (490). Martyr Mirax of Egypt (640). Martyr Acepsius and Aeithalas at Arbela in Assyria (VII). Ven. Luke the New Stylite of Chalcedon (979). Ven. Nicon the Dry of Kyiv Caves (1101).
Epistle: Colossians 3:4-11
Gospel: Luke 14:16-24
The violence and compulsion that always seem to travel along with the Kingdom of God are wholly of my own making. Let me explain.
St John Chrysostom tells us that when we hear about God’s anger, we shouldn’t think that God’s anger is like our own. I get angry because I am offended or afraid. Even when my anger is righteous, there is something sinful mixed in. My anger always reflects my over-attachment to my own will, to my own plans and projects.
For God, however, “even if He punishes even if He takes vengeance, He does this not with wrath, but with tender care, and much loving kindness.” This why Chrysostom concludes that when we sin we should be courageous and “trust in the power of repentance.” Why? Because God doesn’t react out a sense of His own wounded dignity but rather “with a view to our advantage, and to prevent our perverseness becoming worse by our making a practice of despising and neglecting Him.” While it may feel like an affront or even a punishment, what God does, He does not to “[avenge] Himself on account of our former deeds; but because He wishes to release us from our disorder” (An exhortation to Theodore after his fall,” 1, 4).
The more I have rebelled against God the more His will feel to me like an act of violence. The more I give my heart over to created reality rather than to God, the more it feels like, in the words of today’s parable, that God is “compel[ling]” me to “come into [His] house.
The more I love the creature more than the Creator, the more it will always feel as if God is compelling me, forcing me to do His will. The violence, however, is not committed by God.
Rather, I am the one who commits violence against myself. It isn’t God who violates my freedom or wounds my dignity. I do these things to myself when I resist His grace. When I refuse to, as St Paul says, “put to death” all that is earthly in me, I make Adam’s transgression my own and become my own worst enemy.
This is why it is important at times simply to stop. To take the time to keep silent, to pray and reflect on my life. I need to remind myself of all the ways in which I prefer the creature to the Creator and my own will to the will of God. To avoid harming myself I must, in the words from the Liturgy, live a “life of repentance.”
We need to pause at this point to avoid making the mistake of thinking that to prefer the Creator to the creature or the will of God to my own will, means to ignore the personal and work demands of everyday life. Nothing could be further from the truth!
In fact, what we need to do is learn to see the demands made on us in light of the Gospel. The obligations that make up life are an intrinsic part of the everyday asceticism that God asks of us. Our daily obligations, the myriad little and great tasks of my life, must be seen within the wider context of the “Grace, mercy, and peace” that comes “from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love” (2 John 1:3, NKJV).
Here’s the great blessing that I often overlook in my short-sighted pursuit of my own will.
Apart from God, even the very best thing in my life will, even those things and people that bring me the greatest sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, will eventually become sources of bitter disappointment and division.
In Christ, the people and tasks in my life, my successes as well as my failures, all these become sources of healing, reconciliation, and communion.
In Christ, that is undertaken with a spirit gratitude to God, everything in my life becomes a moment of divine grace.
And as if this wasn’t enough…
In Christ, all that we do not only glorifies God but also is a step along the way to becoming more fully the man or woman God has created us to be.
Reflecting on the Magnificat, St Ambrose of Milan points out that “the human voice can[not] add anything to God.” Even the best of my accomplishments or the purest expression of my love, adds nothing to God. But, Ambrose reminds us, still we can say that God is “is magnified within us” because when “the soul does what is right and holy, it magnifies… God, in whose likeness it was created and, in magnifying the image of God, the soul has a share in its greatness and is exalted” (Commentary on Luke, II, 19.26-27).
My brothers and sisters in Christ, when we “put off the old man with his deeds, and … put on the new man,” the myriad tasks and relationships of our lives take on a lasting and eternal character.
Likewise, as we set aside our own sinfulness–that, is through repentance–we are “renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created” me, we become more fully the men and women who God has created us to be. And it is in this that we find the justice and peace and the mercy and love that is always escaping even the best of our merely human intentions.