Sunday, July 21 (O.S., July 8), 2019: 5th Sunday after Pentecost; Great Martyr Procopius of Caesarea in Palestine.
Ss Cyril & Methodius Church
Epistle: Romans 10:1-10
Gospel: Matthew 8:28-9:1
Glory to Jesus Christ!
One of the great temptations we face is forgetting that we are human. Or, maybe more accurately, I am tempted to forget that my neighbor is human.
This most frequently takes the form of imagining that I am somehow exempt from the faults I see in others. But the fact that I recognize them in others strongly suggests that these are rather more than possible for me. If I recognize them in you, it is because they are my shortcomings as well.
Accepting this about myself, helps me understand St Paul when he says his “heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved.” He recognizes an obstacle to the salvation of his kin because he sees a similar temptation in himself. Just as the former Saul, “they have a zeal for God” but “not according to knowledge.”
St Augustine says zeal without knowledge is symptomatic of living by “self-confidence” rather than “grace.” As he goes on to say that
…they were ignorant of the righteousness of God, not that righteousness whereby God is righteous but the one which comes to man from God (Grace and Free Will, 12.24).
Like Israel, I am enslaved to sin and controlled by my passions not because I am ignorant of God but because of a poverty of self-knowledge. I remain unrepentant not because I don’t know the glory and majesty of God. What I don’t understand is that all I have, all that I do, all that I am is first and foremost God’s gift to me.
This is precisely the situation of the demons in today’s Gospel. They recognize Jesus as the Christ “and tremble” (see James 2:19) but don’t understand, or rather won’t accept, that they live because of His great love for them. This makes the presence of Christ and the announcement of grace–as the demons themselves say–a torment.
There is though a difference between the demons and the human heart. To see this, we need to read a bit more of the Gospel.
The demons ask to be sent into the swine while the herdsmen ask Jesus to “depart.” The fathers of the Church are divided in how they understand this request from the herdsmen.
While “many believe” they make their request “out of pride,” St Jerome this they do so because
They judge themselves unworthy of the Lord’s presence, just as Peter after the catch of fish fell before the Savior’s knees and said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” (Commentary on Matthew, 1.8.34)
Jerome, I think, is correct. For all that it can at times seem otherwise, human beings are not demons. Even at our worst, we are no more than poor imitations.
More importantly, God becomes Man, not an angel; Jesus shares in our nature, not the angels’ and this makes all the difference. While everything that exists, exists by the grace of God it is only human beings who were created to share in the divine nature.
The angels worship God as “outside” themselves as it were. We, however, worship God Who not only “dwells among us” (See John 1:14; Revelation 21:3) by His incarnation but in us (Ephesians 3:17) by baptism and, above all, the Eucharist.
Just as we say that Christ is “the end of the law” because He is “the cause of it” (St Ireneaus, Against Heresies, 4.12.3), Christ as the Creator of All is the fulfillment of each human heart. This means that however tenacious the hold of unbelief on society and the human heart, we should never underestimate the presence and power of Christ in both.
My brothers and sisters in Christ! The most basic truth about everyone they meet is that they are loved by God. It is out of this great love that God in Christ joins Himself to the whole human family personally. God dwells with all even if not all dwell with Him.
Our task as Orthodox Christians is to first accept God’s love in Jesus Christ of us and then to help others see that they too are loved by Him. Everything else we do, good as it is in itself, serves these two goals.
It is only the love of Jesus Christ for all that make lasting sense of human life,