Sunday, July 16, 2017: Sunday of the Holy Fathers; Athenogenes the Holy Martyr of Heracleopolis, Julia the Virgin-martyr of Carthage, 1,015 Martyrs in Pisidia
Epistle: Titus 3:8-15
Gospel: Matthew 5:14-19
The epistle this morning begins and ends with St Paul telling Titus to encourage the faithful “to apply themselves to good deeds.” Paul is here repeating what Jesus told the disciples that we must be “the light of the world” and must live in such a way that seeing our “good works” those outside the Church will “give glory” to God.
For many Christians, the centrality of good works to our salvation is much contested. And even when it isn’t, many Christians get anxious whenever they hear someone say that there are good deeds are expected of them. So what do we mean by “good works”?
Paul tells us that good works are those deeds that “are excellent and profitable to men.” More specifically, we are “to help cases of urgent need.” As used in the New Testament, “good works” are more than simply the result of a vague, philanthropic sentiment.
In the verses that immediately proceed those we just heard, St Paul says that disciples of Christ must “be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all” (vv. 2-3). Within the limits of the law of God, we are to be good citizens and good neighbors. Yes, as Paul makes clear here and in other places (see, Galatians 2:10), we are to help those in need, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ.
But our good deeds can’t be limited simply to caring for those in urgent need. Again, we are to be good citizens and good neighbors. In other words, our philanthropy isn’t a “one off” event, it isn’t something we do “now and then.” It is rather the fruit of a virtuous way of life.
A life of Christian virtue has implications for how we live as citizens. We cannot divorce our life in Christ from how we engage in the political life of our city, county, state, or nation. We cannot and must not separate our political decisions from what we believe as Orthodox Christians.
Likewise, what we believe has implications for how we live not only our private lives in our homes but also our social lives. Not only the books we read, the television we watch but also the social events we take part in and how and what we do in the workplace, these are meant to reflect our commitment to good works.
For the Christian, there can be no area of life that remains untouched by the Gospel and so no part of human life that can’t be transformed by grace. This is why, to return to this morning’s Gospel, Jesus tells us that our good works fulfill the teaching both of the Law and the Prophets. We must live, I must live, so that in each moment of my life God’s mercy and love for humanity is made clear to those around me.
We have to live this way because it is our calling as Orthodox Christians to be co-laborers with Christ. In each moment of our life, in each encounter with our neighbor, God is present. This means in each moment of life, the possibility exists for someone to meet Christ in us, in you.
Today we remember the fathers of the seven ecumenical councils. Each council dealt with its own, unique, dogmatic questions. What unites them, however, is a concern to defend and proclaim the truth of the Incarnation. That in Jesus Christ, God the Son truly becomes Man.
The Son becomes as we are, says St Irenaeus, so that we can become as He is. That God truly becomes Man, takes on our nature in the technical vocabulary of the councils; isn’t just an abstract dogmatic concern. As St Gregory of Nazianzen writes, “What has not been assumed has not been healed.” If the Son doesn’t take on all of human life–including our life of social involvement–then we aren’t saved.
But because the Son does assume the whole of human life, all of our life, of your life and mine, is revealed to be a sacrament of God’s presence. In each moment of our lives, in all that we do and say, we have the ability by grace to do “good works,” that is to make tangible God’s love for humanity.
My brothers and sisters in Christ! When Jesus and St Paul encourage us to do good works what they are asking us to do is become who we are!
By God’s grace, we are set apart as witnesses and sacraments of God’s love. This necessarily touches and transforms the whole of our lives.
Let us now become who we are!