Sunday, July 14 (O.S., July 1), 2019: 4th Sunday after Pentecost; Holy and Wonderworking Unmercenaries Cosmas and Damian, Martyrs at Rome (284); St. Angelina, despotina of Serbia (XVI); Martyr Potitus at Naples (II). St. Peter the Patrician, monk of Constantinople (854).
Epistle: Romans 6:18-23
Gospel: Matthew 8:5-13
Glory to Jesus Christ!
The Holy Apostle tells us that once we were held under bondage to sin but now we under bondage to Christ. Though he is speaking “in human terms” his assertion that “having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness” is still an affront to our sense of freedom.
For most of us, freedom means freedom of choice. But the naked ability to choose between options is not real freedom. Think about it for a moment. To be here this morning requires giving up being somewhere else.
As important as freedom of choice is to our moral life and our life in Christ–and let’s not make any mistake, freedom in this sense is essential–it is inherently self-limiting. When deciding between options we quickly discover that every “yes” contains within itself a “no.” This is why even the best of our choices restrict our freedom.
Returning to St Paul, we can grasp easily enough why sin undermines our freedom of choice. We all know what it means to be trapped by anger or resentment or worry. Try as I might in these moments, I can’t do what I want because my negative feelings don’t just bind me, they tear me apart.
This is what the fathers mean when they talk about the “passions.” Sin cripples me by fostering in me evil habits. I am enslaved to habits of thought and action that cause me to turn my back on God and neighbor. The fact that these habits arise from my own desires only compounds the tragedy of sin.
I am enslaved to my passions and it is from the passions that Christ comes to free not only me but all of us by His death and resurrection. We can summarize the whole of the sacramental and ascetical life of the Church as one as being progressively freed from the passions.
But this still leaves us with the Apostle’s provocative statement that we are now “slaves of righteousness.”
Freedom is not simply a matter of choice. If I seek freedom here I will in short order discover, as I said a moment ago, that I have enslaved myself to my own desires.
Seen in this light, we can understand why freedom is not doing what I want but, as Paul suggests, doing what I ought. That is to say, doing the will of God.
To those who associate freedom with freedom of choice, obedience to God seems an unbearable imposition. To those who value above all the human ability to choose, obedience to God is an offense and assault against human nature.
But again, let’s think a moment about what it means to do the willing of God.
Far from limiting your freedom, love opens a world of ever-increasing possibilities. Commit yourself to love your neighbor as yourself, make this the choice that guides all your choices and you never want for new opportunities.
Not only that. As you love this person you learn at the same time how to love more fully not only this person but all other persons.
Likewise, forgiveness liberates you from resentment, faith from a life of distrust and even as hope liberates you from anxiety for the future.
To see how this happens, we need only look at the Gospel.
It was unheard of for a centurion, a Roman officer, to approach a Jew for help. No Roman would humble himself to become a supplicant to a Jew. And yet, the centurion does exactly this because he loves his servant.
The centurion’s love is not only of benefit to the servant; it is to his benefit as well. Likewise for all of us, love for our neighbor blossoms into the love of God. The real, if limited, love of one man for another opens up to the unending love of God.
We can look as well at Ss. Cosmas and Damian whose memory we celebrate today.
Skilled as they were in the technical demands of being physicians, their faith in Jesus Christ able them to heal the soul as well as the body. As physicians of the body, they were able only to delay death; as physicians of the soul, they offered their patients eternal life.
When I understand freedom not as doing what I want but what I ought, I transcend the inherent limits of the former and enter into the unending possibilities of the latter.
My brothers and sisters in Christ! To be truly free means to do the will of God; nothing more and certainly nothing less.
May we live our lives from this day forth as free men and women in Christ.