Sunday, July 9, 2017: 5th Sunday of Matthew; The Holy Hieromartyr Pancratius, Bishop of Tauromenium in Sicily, Dionysios the Orator, Metrophanes of Mount Athos, Patermuthius the Monk, Euthymios of Karelia, Methodios the Hieromartyr, Bishop of Lampis, Michael Paknanas the Gardener
The readings this morning contain an implicit challenge: Who would we not see saved?
Look at the Gospel. Jesus comes to redeem even those who despise Him. St Paul, likewise, preaches “in season and out” (see 2 Timothy 2:4) in the hope that those who despise him might themselves one day be saved. For both Jesus and Paul, everything is secondary to the salvation of others.
Jesus goes “to the country of the Gergesenes,” to those who are not of “His own city” but Gentiles. Once there He encounters two demons who, St John Chrysostom says, were engaged in acts of “horror … incurable and lawless and deforming and punishing” against the residents of that place. Evil though they were, even the demons knew they deserved condemnation.
Rather than turn His back on the Gerasenes, Jesus casts out the demons. For their part, the Gentiles are moved to repentance by the mercy Jesus shows them. St Jerome says that the residents of the city ask Jesus to leave “not out of pride … but out of humility.” Like St Peter, the Gergesenes “judge themselves unworthy of the Lord’s presence.” Though their words are different, their intent is the same as the Apostle’s. As one, they fall “before the Savior” and say “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (see Luke 5:8).
Like his Lord, St Paul has only one goal, that “all might be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (see 1 Timothy 2:4). For the Apostle, the salvation of the Jews is so important that, as he says in another place, if it were possible he would himself be “accursed from Christ” so that they could be saved (see Romans 9:3). The salvation of his fellows Jews matters more to the Apostle to Gentile than does his own.
And so I return to where I began and ask myself who would I not see saved?
Would I exclude those who, like the Jews, had zeal without knowledge?
Would I exclude those who my own people tell me to despise?
Would I exclude those who hate me and work against me?
Would I exclude others by remaining silent when, in my heart, I know I should speak about Christ and the Gospel?
Who would I exclude from the Church? Who would I not see saved?
These are hard questions.
Yes, I rarely explicitly seek to exclude others from the Kingdom of God. What usually happens is that I remain silent when I know I should speak. It’s all too easy to leave undone what I can do to fulfill Jesus’ command to “preach the Gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15) and to “make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28:19).
Or maybe like the Gergesenes I’m overwhelmed by the sense of my own sinfulness and inadequacies. Maybe it isn’t a matter that I don’t want others to be saved but that I’m not sure of my own salvation.
Maybe it isn’t so much that I doubt God’s love for you as it is that I doubt His love for me.
But listen again to what Paul tells us this morning about God’s love for each of us:
The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart (that is, the word of faith which we preach); because, if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For man believes with his heart and so is justified, and he confesses with his lips and so is saved.
Through Baptism, Chrismation and above all Holy Communion, Christ has come to live in our hearts, in your heart and mine. He does this out of His great love for each of us.
For our part, all that remains is for us, as St Augustine says, to “profess with our lips the faith we carry about in our heart.” We can only do this, he says, if we are motivated not simply for our own salvation but our neighbor’s as well.
To profess Christ for our neighbor’s salvation can never be a purely formal action. There can be nothing mechanical about sharing the Gospel with others. What we say must be the fruit both of our love for Christ and for the person with whom we are speaking. If love is missing, whatever I say will be artificial or manipulative. It will feel to people as if I’m trying to win an argument or, worse, humiliate them.
So what should we do?
Paradoxical as it sounds, we must first learn to remain silent. When God speaks to us He does so out of silence. Jesus is the Word spoken out the profound silence of the Father.
And when He speaks, Jesus points not to Himself but to Him Who sent Him. In other words, when Jesus speaks He invites us to enter more deeply into a relationship of love with the Father.
None of this can happen however if I fill my life with noise. Hard though it can be to do so, I need to carve out moments of silence in my life. It is in these moments, brief though they might be, that I’m able to hear the Word.
My brothers and sisters in Christ!
Let us pledge to keep silent so that we can hear. And then, having heard, let us then speak of the mysteries of grace God has entrusted to us. And finally, let us do this not only for our own sake or for the salvation of others but for God’s glory.