Tag Archives: Romans 10:1-10

It’s About God’s Love

Sunday, July 21 (O.S., July 8), 2019: 5th Sunday after Pentecost; Great Martyr Procopius of Caesarea in Palestine.

Ss Cyril & Methodius Church
Madison, WI

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,

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Join Zeal to Knowledge, Faith to Works, Piety to Technique

Sunday, July 1 (O.S., June 18), 2018: Fifth Sunday after Pentecost; Martyrs Leontius, Hypatius and Theodulus, at Tripoli in Syria (73); St. Leontius, canonarch of the Kyiv Caves (14th c.).

Epistle: Romans 10:1-10
Gospel: Matthew 8:28–9:1

What might St Paul mean when he criticizes the Jews for having “zeal without knowledge”?

The first thing to keep in mind is that when in his letter to the Romans the Apostle criticizes–or for that matter, praises–the Jews he does so to make a similar point about the Gentile converts to Christ. St Augustine puts it this way: “Paul begins to speak of his hope for the Jews, lest the Gentiles in their turn become condescending toward them.”

The bishop of Hippo goes on to say that if the Jews were proud “because the gloried in their works,” the Gentiles became proud because of their mistaken belief of “having been preferred over the Jews” (On Romans, 66).

Zeal without knowledge isn’t, in other words, an intellectual deficit but a lack of charity born of pride. It is “faith without love” (see 1 Corinthians 13:2).

The sign that my faith lacks love, that I have zeal without knowledge, is that I lack patience, that I am unkind or even cruel. Zeal without knowledge is revealed in the person who is envious, who acts immorally, is proud, ambitious or self-seeking (see 1 Corinthians 13:4-8). The person whose zeal lacks knowledge does all these things and “teaches others to do so” (Matthew 5:19) by his actions if not always by his words.

This is why Paul reminds the Romans that they must not only confess with their “mouth the Lord Jesus” but believe in their “heart that God has raised Him from the dead.” While words are easy, heartfelt belief requires repentance and a radical transformation in how I treat others. For those of us who are in Christ, there is no escaping the practical demands of charity.

Here then is the temptation we face. Or at least which I face.

I am tempted not only to separate my faith from charity but to separate my charity from the skills which God has given me as part of my natural talents and which he has helped me develop through grace as my life unfolds.

Given the practical demands of charity that are essential to life in Christ, how do I guard against the trap of “zeal without knowledge”?

I must cultivate through practice the abilities God has given me.

St Gregory of Nyssa writes

When people are feeble, although many may wish the sufferer freedom from his pain, it is only those who have the technical skill that can make their choice effectual and cure the patient. This means, in effect, that [practical] wisdom must always be closely allied to [moral] goodness (Oratio Catechetica, 19).

Piety, in other words, is no substitute for technique. It isn’t enough for me to have good intentions. I must, as the Apostle James reminds us, be able to translate my compassion for others–like my faith in God–into action.

We see this ability to match deeds to intention in the Gospel. Jesus doesn’t simply want to liberate the men from the demons. No, he actually does something to free them. Jesus joins good intention to effective action, piety to technique, faith to works, zeal to knowledge.

It’s worth noting that while the residences of the nearby city were impressed by Jesus’ actions, they wanted nothing to do with Him. There is something similar that can happen in our spiritual lives or the life of the parish.

Like the residence of the city I may not welcome zeal combined with knowledge, right faith joined to good works, or piety to technique. Sometimes, I prefer pleasing thoughts about Christianity to actually being a Christian to paraphrase St Ignatius of Antioch.

What I mean here is this.

It is, unfortunately, an all too common occurrence that when we come to church, we leave our talents and our professional training at the door. I confuse “laying aside the cares of this life” with coming before God as if I was someone else, someone who didn’t have the skills or competencies that I have.

To do this, to neglect the abilities that God has given us, to imagine that they are of no value in our spiritual life or, what is worse, that they are somehow obstacles to our life in Christ and not bridges for us and others to Christ is to harbor a misunderstanding of what it means to be an Orthodox Christian. That this misunderstanding is common makes it no less wrong.

Your natural talents, your spiritual gifts, your professional, technical or artistic knowledge and training, all of these are given to you by God. And they are given to you not only for your salvation and the salvation of the world but also for God’s glory. And in the Scriptures, the “Glory of God” is the most Real of all real things.

The besetting sin, if I may speak boldly, of Orthodoxy in America, is that too often, we tell the laity to leave their professional and technical competencies at the door to the Church. We–and by “we” I mean primarily (though not exclusively) the clergy–encourage people to pretend to be someone other than who they really are. We do this when we do not welcome, bless, and make use of their abilities for the salvation of the world.

And frankly, we do (o rather don’t do) this out of pride. Welcoming others and valuing their gifts this requires that the clergy not only guide the laity but be guided by the laity.

My brothers and sisters in Christ! When you come to the Divine Liturgy, don’t leave your abilities at the door! Bring them in, offer them to Christ in the sacrifice of the altar and receive them back purified and transformed in Holy Communion!

And then, be bold in the exercise of your abilities not only in the workplace but in the Church.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Homily: Who Would You NOT See Saved?

Sunday, July 9, 2017: 5th Sunday of Matthew; The Holy Hieromartyr Pancratius, Bishop of Tauromenium in Sicily, Dionysios the Orator, Metrophanes of Mount Athos, Patermuthius the Monk, Euthymios of Karelia, Methodios the Hieromartyr, Bishop of Lampis, Michael Paknanas the Gardener

Epistle: Romans 10:1-10
Gospel: Matthew 8:28-34; 9:1

The readings this morning contain an implicit challenge: Who would we not see saved?

Look at the Gospel. Jesus comes to redeem even those who despise Him. St Paul, likewise, preaches “in season and out” (see 2 Timothy 2:4) in the hope that those who despise him might themselves one day be saved. For both Jesus and Paul, everything is secondary to the salvation of others.

Jesus goes “to the country of the Gergesenes,” to those who are not of “His own city” but Gentiles. Once there He encounters two demons who, St John Chrysostom says, were engaged in acts of “horror … incurable and lawless and deforming and punishing” against the residents of that place. Evil though they were, even the demons knew they deserved condemnation.

Rather than turn His back on the Gerasenes, Jesus casts out the demons. For their part, the Gentiles are moved to repentance by the mercy Jesus shows them. St Jerome says that the residents of the city ask Jesus to leave “not out of pride … but out of humility.” Like St Peter, the Gergesenes “judge themselves unworthy of the Lord’s presence.” Though their words are different, their intent is the same as the Apostle’s. As one, they fall “before the Savior” and say “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (see Luke 5:8).

Like his Lord, St Paul has only one goal, that “all might be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (see 1 Timothy 2:4). For the Apostle, the salvation of the Jews is so important that, as he says in another place, if it were possible he would himself be “accursed from Christ” so that they could be saved (see Romans 9:3). The salvation of his fellows Jews matters more to the Apostle to Gentile than does his own.

And so I return to where I began and ask myself who would I not see saved?

Would I exclude those who, like the Jews, had zeal without knowledge?

Would I exclude those who my own people tell me to despise?

Would I exclude those who hate me and work against me?

Would I exclude others by remaining silent when, in my heart, I know I should speak about Christ and the Gospel?

Who would I exclude from the Church? Who would I not see saved?

These are hard questions.

Yes, I rarely explicitly seek to exclude others from the Kingdom of God. What usually happens is that I remain silent when I know I should speak. It’s all too easy to leave undone what I can do to fulfill Jesus’ command to “preach the Gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15) and to “make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28:19).

Or maybe like the Gergesenes I’m overwhelmed by the sense of my own sinfulness and inadequacies. Maybe it isn’t a matter that I don’t want others to be saved but that I’m not sure of my own salvation.

Maybe it isn’t so much that I doubt God’s love for you as it is that I doubt His love for me.

But listen again to what Paul tells us this morning about God’s love for each of us:

The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart (that is, the word of faith which we preach); because, if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For man believes with his heart and so is justified, and he confesses with his lips and so is saved.

Through Baptism, Chrismation and above all Holy Communion, Christ has come to live in our hearts, in your heart and mine. He does this out of His great love for each of us.

For our part, all that remains is for us, as St Augustine says, to “profess with our lips the faith we carry about in our heart.” We can only do this, he says, if we are motivated not simply for our own salvation but our neighbor’s as well.

To profess Christ for our neighbor’s salvation can never be a purely formal action. There can be nothing mechanical about sharing the Gospel with others. What we say must be the fruit both of our love for Christ and for the person with whom we are speaking. If love is missing, whatever I say will be artificial or manipulative. It will feel to people as if I’m trying to win an argument or, worse, humiliate them.

So what should we do?

Paradoxical as it sounds, we must first learn to remain silent. When God speaks to us He does so out of silence. Jesus is the Word spoken out the profound silence of the Father.

And when He speaks, Jesus points not to Himself but to Him Who sent Him. In other words, when Jesus speaks He invites us to enter more deeply into a relationship of love with the Father.

None of this can happen however if I fill my life with noise. Hard though it can be to do so, I need to carve out moments of silence in my life. It is in these moments, brief though they might be, that I’m able to hear the Word.

My brothers and sisters in Christ!

Let us pledge to keep silent so that we can hear. And then, having heard, let us then speak of the mysteries of grace God has entrusted to us. And finally, let us do this not only for our own sake or for the salvation of others but for God’s glory.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory