Sunday, August 13, 2017: 10th Sunday of Matthew; Apodosis of the Transfiguration, Maximus the Confessor, Our Righteous Fathers Sergius, Stephanus, Castor and Palamonus, Dorotheus, Abba of Gaza, Tikhon of Zadonsk

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 4:9-16
Gospel: Matthew 17:14-23


Glory to Jesus!

What does it mean to be a fool for Christ’s sake?
Some Orthodox Christians think that this means that the Church doesn’t value human reason or education. Wrongly the imagine that the Church doesn’t value science or other forms of secular knowledge.

This would have surprised St Basil the Great, who compares the place of secular learning in the life of the Christian to leaves on a fruit tree.

Just as it is the chief mission of the tree to bear its fruit in its season, though at the same time it puts forth for ornament the leaves which quiver on its boughs, even so, the real fruit of the soul is truth, yet it is not without advantage for it to embrace the pagan wisdom, as also leaves offer shelter to the fruit, and an appearance not untimely.

Looking at the examples of Moses and Daniel, St Basil says these men were fools not because they were uneducated. No, their folly was that were obedient to the One God rather than to any earthly prince. As for their “severe” training in “the learning of the Egyptians” and “the sacred teachings” Chaldeans, these they placed wholly and unreservedly at the service of God (Address to Young Men on the Right Use of Greek Literature, III).

Though the circumstances of our lives are different from theirs, we share one vocation with Moses and Daniel. Like them, we are called to serve God in all we do.

And like the Apostle Paul we have been set aside as disciples of Jesus Christ and it is our great honor to “bless” those who revile us, to remain faithful to Christ even when we are persecuted and to forgive and reconcile to Christ even those who slander us and reject us “as the refuse of the world, the off-scouring of all things.”

All of this is folly in the eyes of the world.

What we need to struggle against is the temptation to respond harshly to those who reject us. A harsh response serves no one and it harms our witness. When I give in to anger and resentment, I’m not being a fool for Christ’s sake. I’m simply a fool.

But I can hear the counter-argument. What about Jesus in the Gospel you ask? Doesn’t He at times response harshly to people? Doesn’t He respond harshly to His disciples in today’s Gospel?

St John Chrysostom says that Jesus speaks as He does to the disciples because they are afraid that they have “lost the grace with which they had been entrusted” to cast out demons. More importantly, Jesus speaks to the disciples as He does to prepare them for the events of Holy Week. They know, Chrysostom says, that Jesus is going to die “having heard it continually.” What they don’t know is the “kind of death” He’ll suffer. Much less do they know about who Christ’s Resurrection on Pascha will being the “innumerable blessings” (The Gospel of Matthew, Homily 58.1 in ACCS vol Ib: Matthew 14-28, p. 62).

But Jesus does speak a harsh word to the boy’s father and the Jewish people. Even here, though, the point is not to alienate others but to draw them closer to the Kingdom of God. And so immediately after speaking harshly to them, He heals the boy. The harshness of His words is tempered by a tangible demonstration of God’s love and mercy.

What should we take from this?

First, we need to keep in mind that witnessing to Christ will sometimes bring us into conflict with others. Sometimes even someone we love. To paraphrase the Apostle James, friendship with God will bring us into conflict with the world (see James 4:4). While I ought not to go out of my way to find conflict, shouldn’t be afraid of it when it comes my way.

Second, when conflict does come I have to balance my hard word with a tangible demonstration of affection for the person. But, how do I do this?

When I disagree with someone, I need to actively search for what St Basil calls “the silhouette of virtue”(X). I need to look for a least faint glimmer of goodness in the person.

Yes, it’s easier to think there isn’t anything good or true or beautiful in those who hurt me or to imagine our disagreement is because of your bad will. But to say this isn’t simply to offend against the person’s dignity and moral worth, it is also to deny God.

When I refuse to see at least “the silhouette of virtue” in others I deny they’re created in the image of God. And isn’t this refusal to see other people as icons of God what it means to live a life apart from Christ?

My brothers and sisters in Christ, just as God sees what is good, true and beautiful in us, we must do the same with others. To be a true fool for Christ is to see “the silhouette of virtue,” the intimation of God, where the world sees only evil, lies, and ugliness

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory