Tag Archives: Luke 19:1-10

Being Christ’s Witness

Sunday, Jan 22, 2017: 15th Sunday of Luke; Timothy the Apostle of the 70, The Righteous Martyr Anastasius of Persia, Joseph the Sanctified

Epistle: 1 Timothy 4:9-15
Gospel: Luke 19:1-10

St Paul in his epistle, tells St Timothy to “not neglect the gift” he was given “by prophetic utterance” and the laying on of hands. Timothy wasn’t consecrated as a bishop because of he was talented; he wasn’t made a bishop because of any personal quality that he had. No, he becomes a bishop for the same reason St. Mathias replaces Judas. God chose both men. He makes clear His will to the Church that it is these men who have He has called to lead His People.

The gift that Timothy must not neglect is much more his ordination as a bishop; it is his membership and role in the great prophetic community which is the Church. Like all bishops, Timothy’s unique task is to lead that band of prophets called the Church. He is to be for them “an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” He is to listen daily to the Scriptures and to share the fruit of his mediation in preaching and teaching “so that all may see your progress.”

Again, St Paul’s words to St Timothy, are applicable to all bishops.

The bishop in an exemplar—as “canon” or “standard”—of the Gospel in the life of the Church. The bishop reminds us that there is an objective content to our prophetic witness that endures throughout the history of the Church. As Paul writes, “God is not the author of confusion but of peace” (1 Corinthians 14:33. NKJV). It belongs to the bishop in his diocese, and the all the bishops assembled in local and ecumenical councils, to guard and protect the peace that God grants to His Church.

This peace is maintained in the Church not by suppressing different viewpoints. Much less is peace protected by punishing honest disagreement. No, peace in the Church, in the family and in the human heart, comes when we are faithful to that “faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3). The bishop is the canon of faith because he is himself a disciple of Jesus Christ and a witness to the resurrection. He guards the faith by boldly preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ without apology or compromise.

To paraphrase St Augustine, the bishop is all this for us, because he is first with us a Christian.

But to say that the bishop is the canon of faith is to say not only something about him but about ourselves.

As the bishop is for the members of his diocese, so the Christian must be for the world. The bishop leads a band of prophets, of witnesses to the Resurrection of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ. For this reason, it is not enough for us merely to affirm the Creed. It is not enough for us to learn theology or sing the hymns of the Church. No, it is not enough for us to be anything less than witnesses to the Resurrection!

And so all too briefly, let us turn to the Gospel and example of that “man named Zacchaeus” a chief tax collector.

To be a disciple of Jesus Christ, to be a witness of His Resurrection, means to be like Zacchaeus. St Cyril of Alexandria says that the story of Zacchaeus “contains a puzzle.” There is no way, the saint says, a person can “see Christ and believe in Him except by climbing up the sycamore, by making foolish” all that the world values and so become a fool in the eyes of the world (“Commentary of Luke,” Homily 127 in ACCS, vol III: Luke, 290).

St Augustine makes the same point.

The wise and powerful “of this world laugh at us about the Cross of Christ.” They taunt us saying “What sort of minds do you people have, who worship a crucified God?” Caustically, Augustine answers back:

What kind of minds do we have? They are certainly not your kind of mind. “The wisdom of this world is folly with God” (1 Corinthians 3:19). No, we don’t have your kind of mind. You call our minds foolish, but for our part, let us climb the sycamore tree and see Jesus.

To be a disciple of Christ means not only to rise above the foolishness of this world, but to be a fool in the eyes of the world. Just as “Zacchaeus grasp[ed] the sycamore tree,” we grasp the Cross of Christ “fix[ing] it on our foreheads, where the seat of shame is” (Sermon 17.3 in ACCS, vol III: Luke, 290, 291).

And when we lay aside the concern for the world’s opinion of us, what do we discover but a deep, and abiding concern for the life of the world? This is what Zacchaeus discovered and this why he said, “if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.”

Alright, maybe I haven’t defrauded anyone.

Maybe I’m not guilty of any, truly heinous sin.

But can I really say that I haven’t at least is small ways, by my many little acts of indifference robbed others of that peace that comes from faith in Jesus Christ?

Aren’t there times in my life, however fleeting I think they are, that I failed to bear witness to the Resurrection? How little it costs me to smile, to say a kind word, to offer a short pray silently in my heart. And yet, how frequently am I unwilling to make even this sacrifice.

My brothers and sisters in Christ! We shouldn’t make complex the simplicity of the Gospel.

… as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him (Colossians 3:12-17, NKJV).

Let us at each moment, do what good we can, commending ourselves, and one and other, to Christ our Lord, to Whom be glory and honor forever, Amen!

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Like Timothy! Like Zacchaeus!

Sunday, January 31, 2016: 32nd Sunday of Pentecost & 15th Sunday of Luke (“Zacchaeus”); Holy and Wonderworking Unmercenaries Cyrus and John; Martyrs Athanasia and her daughters Theodota, Theoktiste, and Eudoxia of Egypt; New-martyr Elias in the Peloponnesus; Nikita of the Kiev Caves, bishop of Novgorod

Epistle: Timothy 4:9-15
Gospel: Luke 19:1-10

Through the sacraments (mysteries) of the Church, God pours out His grace into our hearts and gives us spiritual gifts (charisms) for our salvation and the salvation of the world. As the Apostle Paul reminds Timothy, this happens at ordination. In and through the sacrament of holy orders, a man is set aside to serve God and the Church as a deacon, priest or bishop through prayer and the laying on of hands. It’s noteworthy that this happens not as a result of merely human reason but through “prophetic utterance.”

As the Apostle Paul reminds Timothy, these are given at ordination. In and through the sacrament of holy orders, a man is set aside to serve God and the Church as a deacon, priest or bishop. This happens through prayer and the laying on of hands. It’s important to keep in mind that this ordination is not a merely human action or the fruit of human reason but the result “prophetic utterance.”

The bestowal of charisms, however, isn’t exclusive to the priesthood. In all of the sacraments, God pours out His grace we need so that, like St Timothy, we are able to live as disciples of Christ. As part of our discipleship, and again like Timothy, we are given spiritual gifts. These gifts enable us to be “an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” of the Gospel. Just as much as the clergy, the laity as well are called and equipped by God as to be His witnesses to the Gospel of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. All of us, each in our own way and in the circumstance of our everyday lives, have been set aside by God to “preach Christ and Him crucified” (see 1 Corinthians 2:2) through the example of our words and deeds.

Whether we are clergy or laity, male or female, young or old, we are all of us called to be disciples of Christ and His witnesses “to all creation” (see Mark 16:15). We should speak in such a way that when others hear our words, they hear the Word of God and they see our deeds, they see the works of God. And all this is so they will become disciples and witnesses of Christ and join us in going out to all the world and inviting others to become disciples and to be “baptized in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (see Matthew 28:1-20).

All of this, taken in its totality, reflects the prophetic nature of the Church.

In the Old Testament, prophets didn’t so much predict the future—though frequently they did—rather they declared with power and authority the will of God for His People. Christians are a prophetic people; we are called to declare—with the same power and authority as the prophets of old—the Gospel of Jesus Christ and of Him crucified, buried, risen and ascended. In different, though complementary, ways, the laity by virtue of their baptism and clergy by virtue of their ordination are both called by God to a prophetic office exercised for the life of the world.

While the distinction is not hard and fast (God can do as He wills), it belongs to the laity to preach the Gospel to the world. They do this primary by shaping the world according to the Gospel. In the ebb and flow of daily life, the grace of baptism enables the Christian to bring the world into an ever greater harmony with the Gospel.

As I said a moment ago, to accomplish this God gives each of us a unique constellation of spiritual gifts. Some might have the gift of hospitality, others prayer. Some might be easy to talk to and have the gift of wise counsel. Some will exercise their gifts as artists, others in the trades or professions. Above all, these gifts are exercised in and through marriage and family life. Husband and wife together are called to offer their lives to God and make their home, in St John Chrysostom’s phrase, a “domestic church.”

But in whatever arena they struggle, and make no mistake this a real (though joyful!) ascetical struggle (podvig), the vocation of the laity is to bring the order and beauty of the Gospel to the material world and human society.

So if the laity are prophets for “the life of the world,” what about the clergy? What is their role? Especially as part of their obligation to govern the Church, the clergy are called to be prophets

Especially as part of their obligation to govern the Church, the clergy are called to be prophets within the Church. All the clergy, but especially the bishop, are called by God to be witnesses to the Church. It belongs to them to help discern and foster the gifts God has poured out on His Church. Above all, it is the responsibility of the clergy to guard, strengthen, deepen and expand the bonds of charity that hold the Church together.

Too frequently, let me say just in passing, clergy are tempted to impose our own vision on the community entrusted to our care. Typically, we do this not out of malice but because we are unaware of the true character of what it means to govern the Church. Too frequently, we substitute secular models of authority because we don’t have a lively, lived sense of the grace we’ve been given in holy orders.

In any case, where then do we as laity and clergy begin? This morning’s Gospel points the way.

Like Zacchaeus, I must desire to draw close to Jesus. No matter what the obstacle, no matter how foolish I look in the eyes of the world, I must lay aside any obstacle that keeps me from committing my whole life to the Lord Jesus Christ. I must, in other words, first desire to live as a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Having made this commitment personally, I can find assistance in the ascetical and liturgical life of the Church. From the former I will learn to purify my desires. A life centered around prayer, fasting, almsgiving and manual labor will help me come to know myself. As I clear away the accumulated consequences of sin, the liturgical tradition of the Church will help me see myself as God sees me.

And as I begin to lay aside all the small acts of selfishness and indifference to others I will come to experience God’s love for me. I will hear in my heart the words Jesus spoke to Zacchaeus: “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Secure in His love for me I will, again like Zacchaeus, begin to live sacrificially. “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” While I may not have formally defrauded anyone, as I grow in my understanding of God’s love for me, I will begin to recognize all the ways in which I have cheated others (and myself) by my indifference to loving sacrificially.

My brothers and sisters, let us like Timothy have confidence in the gifts God has given us. And let us, like Zacchaeus, desire nothing more than to draw close to Jesus and to serve Him as His disciples!

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory