Tag Archives: 2 Corinthians 6:1-10

Profitable Servants

September 16 (O.S., 3) 2018: 16th Sunday after Pentecost; Hieromartyr Anthimus, bishop of Nicomedia. Martyrs Theophilus deacon, Dorotheos, Mardonius, Migdonius, Peter, Indes, Gorgonius, Zeno, the Virgin Domna, and Euthymius (302). St. Theoctistus (467), fellow-faster with St. Euthymius the Great. St. Phoebe, deaconess at Cenchreae near Corinth (1st c.). Martyr Basilissa of Nicomedia (309). Hieromartyr Aristion, bishop of Alexandria, in Syria (3rd c.).

Ss Cyril & Methodius Ukrainian Orthodox Mission

Madison, WI

Epistle: 2 Corinthians 6:1-10
Gospel: Matthew 25:14-30

Like shepherds, merchants were held in low repute by most of the ancient world.

A shepherd was all but synonymous with “thief.” Alone with the flock, shepherds (who were frequently hirelings), could easily help themselves to a lamb or a sheep. If confronted, he could claim the animal either wandered off in the night or was killed by wolves.

Given this background, it would have been jarring for people to hear Jesus refer to Himself as the “Good Shepherd.” Contrary to all expectations, Jesus says of Himself that He is a shepherd Who will protect the flock and be faithful in His accounting to the Owner.

But to his listeners, this would have sounded as nonsensical as Jesus calling Himself an “altruistic thief”!

As with calling Himself the “Good Shepherd, ” Jesus referring to His disciples to be “profitable servants” inverts cultural expectations.

In the ancient world, hard cash was rare. Most of the economy ran on barter. Given the limited viability of bartered goods, profit like that in the parable was unheard of. While some individuals had more than others, the fabulous wealth like that of the profitable servants could ordinarily come only from corruption.

The truly wealthy, those who had large reserves of gold for example, were wealthy because they were able to exploit political connections. Emperors, governors, government bureaucrats, soldiers, tax collectors could all become wealthy because they all had the ability to exploit and extort others.

So when Jesus calls us to be “profitable servants”?  This would have been as jarring as when He called Himself a Good Shepherd.

And yet,  Jesus is the Good Shepherd and we are called to be His profitable servants.

Just as there is a way to be a good shepherd (John 10:11-18), there is a way to be a profitable servant.

We have all of us had the experience of feeling cheated. At some point, we all of us wonder if the merchant or the car dealer, the mechanic or contractor hasn’t been dishonest with us.

On the other hand, we have also all had the experience of making a purchase in which we felt truly cared for. It’s not for nothing that we use the phrase “goods and services” to describe the myriad economic exchanges we make daily.

The morally good way to acquire profit isn’t simply to meet the customer’s desires or needs. No, the morally good merchant, tradesman or professional also gives evidence of caring for us personally; of caring sincerely for our well-being and dignity.

Just as in the economic realm, the morally and spiritually profitable servant is the one who serves others, who fosters the well-being of his or her neighbor. This is the life to which we are called this morning by Jesus.

And like the servants in the Gospel, we all have talents that can be put at the service of others. For many of us–and this is important–those talents include technical knowledge. We are (or are preparing to be) scientists, professors, attorneys, business people, health care professionals, and teachers.

We all of us have technical expertise and in our baptism, Jesus has called us to put these not just at the service of others but to use them for their salvation. Whatever trade or profession, the skills we possess are meant to help others come to know and follow Jesus Christ as His disciples and witnesses in the Orthodox Church.

Let me pause for a moment here and say something that may sound harsh.

I think often the clergy fail to value properly the technical knowledge and expertise of the laity. Clergy tend, if I’m honest, to reduce the evangelical witness and pastoral life of the Church to the theology and the precincts of the church. While the fathers, the Creed, the Liturgy, the sacraments and the worship of the Church are all essential to life in Christ, they don’t exhaust what it means to be an Orthodox disciple of Christ.

Whether clergy or not, we minimize the technical knowledge of the laity because we fail to appreciate the evangelical witness that is inherent to excellence in the trades and professions. Through the service the laity–the service all of you–provide daily in the workplace and the home, others are being prepared to receive Christ.

How does serving others, prepare their hearts to receive Christ? In many ways.

Think, for example, of the sense of gratitude you have when someone goes even a little bit beyond what’s required by their job. The server in a restaurant or checker in a grocery store who takes an interest in your day. The tradesman or salesperson who puts your needs before his or her own economic interest. The physician or teacher who speaks to you not simply as a patient or as a student but as someone he or she truly values and appreciates.

All of these experiences can lift us out of our selfishness and foster in us an experience of gratitude. Over time, these experiences lead us to seek the Source of this goodness we see in others. And we come to want ourselves to be kinder.

All of these experiences, in other words, can inspire us to faith in Jesus Christ.

My brothers and sisters in Christ! In baptism, God has given each of us, given each of you, talents that allow you to be profitable servants. Through the everyday exercise of these talents, God has called you to prepare the hearts of all you met to receive the Gospel.

God has called you, in other words, to be profitable servants through your service of others.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Like Paul! Living in Joy, Without Fear!

Sunday, February 7, 2016: Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost & Sixteenth Sunday of Matthew

After-feast of the Presentation (Meeting) of Christ; Parthenios, bishop of Lampsakos; Venerable Luke of Hellas; New-martyr George of Crete

Epistle: 2 Corinthians 6:1-10

Gospel: Matthew 25:14-30

Reflecting on his own ministry, the Apostle Paul says that he “put no obstacle” in the way of anyone who—having sensed that “now is the day of salvation”—wished to become like him a “servants of God.” Paul then goes on to enumerate the cost he’s paid for fidelity to the evangelical work of the Church. He has had to bear “afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, tumults, labors, watching, hunger.” All this and more he endured so that others could come to experience in their lives “the power of God.”

Not only does Paul suffer at the hands of the Gentiles, he is persecuted by the Jews. Nevertheless, he has freely and enthusiastically preaches the Gospel, “the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute” at the hands of unbelievers.

But at the ends of his recollections, his focus shifts; he hints that he suffers at the hands of those who have accepted the Gospel. Paul even suffers at the hands of other Christians. It is his fellow apostles and evangelists, not the Gentile and Jewish authorities, that treat Paul as an imposter, as someone unknown to Christ.

And yet, in spite of all this, he remains faithful to Christ and committed to “making many rich” even though he himself is “poor.” Because of his heroic fidelity to Christ and the work to which he is called, Paul who has “nothing” in the eyes of men, “possess[es] everything” in Christ.

Turning from the epistle to the Gospel, we see the example unfaithful servant who is the anti-type or moral opposite of Paul. This man allowed fear of his master to overwhelm him. Ironically, this results in his fears being realized. He is punished by his master, cast “into the outer darkness” there to weep and gnash his teeth.

On closer examination, though, we see that the unworthy servant was motivated not simply by fear of “a hard man.” No, the servant was gripped by despair; he had no confidence, no trust, no hope in the future. And all this because he simply had no confidence in his master and the gift his master gave him. He also he had no trust in himself because he had no faith in his master.

Yes, the master was “a hard man” who reaped where he didn’t sew and who gathered where he didn’t winnow. But this hard man had confidence in his servants. To be sure varying degrees of confidence signified by the greater or lesser amount of money entrusted to them. Nevertheless, the master was confident in his servants and their abilities to be profitable for him. The servant’s self-doubt and despair are the bitter fruit of his lack of faith in his own master.

On this difference hinges the difference between my being like Paul or being like the wicked and slothful servant. We usually think of sloth as laziness. While there is some overlap between them, sloth is less a matter of not doing what’s right and more of not taking joy in doing it. The slothful person is indifferent or even opposed to the joy that comes from being faithful and obedient to God.

At its foundation sloth is a refusal to accept with gratitude and joy my life as it has come to me from the hands of a loving God. Small and few though they seem to me, the gifts God has given me are able to bear fruit if only I am faithful to God. Joy, to say nothing of progress in the spiritual life, are the fruit of fidelity to our personal vocations.

This is why St Paul takes pains to say again and again that he puts “no obstacle” in the way anyone coming to Christ. Having experienced the joy of discipleship in his own life, he can’t but desire that for others. Having experienced the love of God for him, Paul wants others to come to know God’s love for them. This is why even though he was persecuted by the civil and religious of his time, even though he was criticized and rejected by some in the Church, Paul preached Christ and Him crucified (see 1 Corinthians 2:2), in season and out (see 2 Timothy 4:2). His life was rooted in faithful, hopeful ad loving obedience to Jesus Christ and not the passing approval of men.

When I look at my own spiritual life, do I see a life characterized by gratitude and joy? Reflecting on this morning’s epistle and Gospel makes me ask why do I lack the confidence of St Paul? Might I be more like the unfaithful steward and fear of my master, the Lord Jesus Christ?

Paul’s life reflects the healthy and wholesome self-confidence that is the fruit of fidelity to God. Such fidelity can’t be abstract or merely theoretical; it isn’t a matter of words, ideas or feelings. Fidelity to Christ is the fruit of the careful discernment of our own, personal vocation and our subsequent obedience to the contours and content of the life and work to which we have been called.

How do I know if I am faithful? How do I know if my self-confidence is healthy and wholesome?

We find our answer again in the person of the Apostle Paul. The sign of vocational fidelity and Christ-like self-confidence is joy. Specifically, our ability, like Paul, to rejoice in gifts God has given others and to work to foster their fidelity to what God asks of them. We do this because we know that “if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it” (2 Corinthians 12:26. NKJV). Joy in the honor God bestows on others is the sign of our own fidelity to the will of God. To live otherwise is to fall into the divisions that plagued the Church in Corinth. Such joy is balm for a world battered and broken by sin and death and is certain and trustworthy evidence “for the hope that lies within” us (see 1 Peter 3:15).

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory