Sunday, August 9 (OS July 26), 2021: Tone 6; 7th Sunday after Pentecost; Hieromartyrs Hermolaus, Hermippus, and Hermocrates at Nicomedia (ca. 305); Ven. Moses the Hungarian, of the Kyivan Caves (the Near Cave) (1043); Martyr Parasceve of Rome (138-161); Ven. Gerontius, founder of the Skete of St. Anne, Mt. Athos (13th c.)
Epistle: Romans 15:1-7
Gospel: Matthew 9:27-35
The Apostle Paul ends his exhortation to “bear with the scruples of the weak” by telling us to “receive one another, just as Christ also received us.” To bear with the weak, to serve our neighbor, and work for his salvation even when he criticizes and condemns us for doing so, all these things glorify God.
And not only does this glorify God; it builds the unity of the Church. By bearing with each other we slowly learn to think and speak “with one mind and one mouth.”
To this though, I need to set aside the besetting sin of the Pharisees. For all their learning and authority in the life of the Jewish People, the Pharisees were simply busybodies. It offended them that somewhere, someone had an experience of grace that they–as the “leaders” of the People–hadn’t first approved and sanctioned.
Look at the Gospel we heard this morning.
Once again, Jesus restores sight to the blind and casts out a demon. And, once again, what is the response of the Pharisees, those self-appointed guardians of Israel’s social order and false peace with Rome? They ignore what their eyes tell them and condemn Jesus. “He casts out demons by the ruler of demons.”
And though He is, once again, rejected by the religious leaders of Israel, Jesus doesn’t turn His back on the People of God. Even as the words of condemnation follow Him, Jesus goes to “all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom, and healing every disease among the people.”
The Pharisees, these self-appointed guardians of an unjust and uncharitable worldly order, find Jesus to be so offensive because He is truly free. And, once again, they make clear that human freedom is as much an affront to the busybody as any self-serving politician or tyrant.
Our freedom is not found in the crass ability to choose between options. As we’ve seen before, whatever practical value it might have, freedom of choice is inherently self-limiting. Money spent for this is no longer available for that; time that is given to complete this or that project or task vanishes in the doing.
When I limit freedom to merely the exercise of discrete choices, life becomes an unending series of tasks; of ever-increasing costs and ever-decreasing benefits. There is never enough time, there is never enough money, there is never enough help. When freedom is for no more for me than the ability to pick between “A” and “B” or between “B” and “A,” communion with God and neighbor slowly evaporates into a life of anxiety and resentment.
And then, one day, I wake up and realize for all the success, for all the people in my life, I am alone and feel like a failure.
It is this life of ever greater loss and increasing isolation that characterizes the life of this world, of the Pharisees, of the busybody. The anger and the jealousy, the divisions, and bitter words, the petty frustrations, anxieties, and fears that characterize the world (in both its secular and religious forms) are the fruit of pursuing a communion that always slips away.
But, to return to St Paul’s admonish this morning, we who are in Christ are called to a different kind of freedom; the freedom of self-sacrifice, of bearing with others in their weakness, of welcoming the stranger, of putting the whole of our life at the service of the salvation of others. When we live in this way, we are not simply imitating Christ, we are not simply channels of grace but ourselves reservoirs of grace from which others can draw as needed for their own salvation.
The Christian’s new freedom doesn’t ignore the practical details of life that so often drive us to distraction. Piety without technique is simply another way of pursuing faith without works and
What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead (James 2:14-17, NKJV).
So what must we do? How then are we to live?
Let me suggest this. Take a moment and simply stop.
And when you stop, say the Jesus Prayer, read a short passage from Scripture, or simply speak to God as one friend speaks to another.
The things that distract me, the obligations that seem to pull me this way, and that are usually not only unavoidable but important and necessary. The temptation is that I all too often allow the good things in life to overwhelm me.
This happens because I see them merely as tasks to be completed, responsibilities to be met rather than what they are.
We are, the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas says, made of our responsibilities for “the widow and the orphan, the stranger and the sojourner.” We have these responsibilities, however, because God has invited us to share in His great love for the world.
In all this, however, God is not a harsh taskmaster or judge but an indulgent Father Who takes delight not only in our success but also accepts our well-intentioned failure. God knows that I am weak and that I struggle to love as He calls me to love. And when, as I inescapably do, I fall short of what love demands, He is there to lift me up, to heal me, and free me from the chains that bind me.
And not just me but you as well.
God knows that we only slowly grow in love for Him and for our neighbor. But, like Jesus in the Gospel this morning, the Father never turns His back on us even when we fail or when, like the Pharisees, we turn our back on Him.
We can love not simply because God loves us but because He will always love us.