Tag Archives: Matthew 9:27-35

Homily: Don’t Be A Busybody!

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. 

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Homily: What Love Demands

Sunday, July 23, 2017: 7th Sunday of Matthew; Phocas the Holy Martyr, Bishop of Sinope, Ezekiel the Prophet, Pelagia the Righteous of Tinos, Trophimos & Theophilios and the 13 others martyred in Lycia, St. Anna of Levkadio, The Icons of the Most Holy Theotokos of Pochaev, Icon of the Mother of God

Epistle: Romans 15:1-7
Gospel: Matthew 9:27-35

When the Apostle James reminds us that faith without works is dead, by “works” he means our acts of practical, and this is the important point, effective charity. Wishing someone good luck and that they are “warm and well-fed” it isn’t enough. Put another way, while good intentions matter they aren’t sufficient.

Turning to this morning’s epistle, St Paul tells us to “bear with the failings of the weak.” Paul isn’t counseling “tolerance” as it is often understood in our culture. God doesn’t call us to moral indifference. In this life, we regularly meet people whose lives are marked, scarred really, by serious moral failing. Paul doesn’t tell us to turn a blind eye to this.

So, to understand what the Apostle means when he says “we who are strong,” we need to read on.

First, compassion for others is not about pleasing myself but pleasing my neighbor. Charity for my neighbor isn’t about doing something that makes me feel good about myself. In fact, if I take charity seriously, there are times when doing the morally and practically right thing will be costly. Failure to pay that cost because I don’t want to make the sacrifice is bad enough. But failing to do what love requires because it contradicts my self-image? This is by far an even worse sin because it makes my own comfort rather than Christ the standard of my life.

So, to understand what the Apostle means, we need to read on.

To please my neighbor doesn’t mean to do what he wants. Rather it is to act, as Paul says, “for his good, to edify him.” I must be for you, as Christ is for me. To do what is good for my neighbor is to do not what I want or even what my neighbor wants. It is rather to do what God wants from me for my neighbor.

Love, properly understood, means I want what God wants for you. And because “faith without works is dead,” love in its fullness always includes a practical dimension. God doesn’t simply desire our salvation, He does what our salvation requires even when doing so is costly to Him. “Christ did not please himself; but, as it is written, ‘The reproaches of those who reproached thee fell on me.’”

To avoid the temptation to sentimentality, to “faith” without works, we need to remember that actions worthy of the name “charity” demand practical skills. While our emotions have a role to play in our spiritual lives, like good intentions, they aren’t sufficient. More importantly, and again like good intentions, detached from the moral obligation to practical and effective good works, our emotions can easily deceive us.

To grow in holiness, I need to guard against prelest; I need to guard against spiritual deception or delusion. This doesn’t just mean not thinking that I am better than I am. I also need to avoid thinking I am worse than I am. Both self-aggrandizement and self-degradation are the fruit of pride.

Our need for realistic self-knowledge is why repentance (metanoia) is important. St Theophan the Recluse, “Repentance is the starting point and foundation stone of our new life in Christ; and it must be present not only at the beginning but throughout our growth in this life, increasing as we advance.” Where we often go wrong, is that we assume repentance means to think less of ourselves; it doesn’t

St Theophan the Recluse, “Repentance is the starting point and foundation stone of our new life in Christ; and it must be present not only at the beginning but throughout our growth in this life, increasing as we advance.” Where we often go wrong, is that we assume repentance means to think less of ourselves; it doesn’t

To feel bad about my past actions isn’t repentance. Rather, repentance means to accept with thanksgiving that I am loved and accepted by God. This transforms not only how I see myself but changes my relationship with you. This is because the same God Who loves and accepts me also loves and accepts you. And if we love someone don’t we naturally, spontaneously love what they love?

It is this conviction that everyone is loved by God that gives us the courage to do as Paul tells us, to act on behalf of our neighbor’s good. But what about those times when I don’t have the practical ability to care for my neighbor?

As we grow in our experience of God’s love for us and for our neighbor, something changes in us.

Like when we’re children, at the beginning of our spiritual life, will have a sincere but narrow sense of what love means. In our culture, that usually takes the form of refraining from judgment. This isn’t bad but (again!) it isn’t enough.

One of the great strengths of our culture, and especially of the young, is the importance we place on not rejecting others because of our moral disagreements. At the same time, we are called to something more.

Not just to refrain from judging but to help people grow in the knowledge of God’s love for them and, in so doing, become who God has called them to be.

Put another way, because we love others, we refuse to judge them or turn away from them because of their failings. But, because we love not only our others but God, we want for our neighbors what God wants for them. The power of our witness as Orthodox Christians is that we know from our own experience, that metanoia is wholly positive. It is through repentance that we are freed to not simply to be who we are but are freed to love our neighbor and to do so practically and sacrificially.

And what we want for others is they too have what God has given us.

Part of the sacrificial character of love is realizing that there are times when my practical skills are simply not sufficient to my neighbors need. But if I have come to accept God’s love for me, and so accept who God has created me to be, I can be at peace with my limitations. Not only that, but I can see my limits as an invitation to draw others into the circle of charity.

No, maybe I can’t help you in the way that you need. But I may know someone who can.

Love worthy of the name looks not only to serve but to help other also learn to serve. In Christ, I rejoice in my weaknesses, my practical limitations, because they make room for you to serve those who I can’t serve.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, God has called us not simply to do good for others but to help others become good according to the path God has called them to walk. What better way is there for us to live than this?

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory