The Gift that Makes All Gifts Possible

Sunday, August 4 (O.S., July 22), 2019: Seventh Sunday of Pascha; Holy Myrrh-bearer and Equal-to-the-Apostles Mary Magdalene (I); Translation of the relics (404) of Hieromartyr Phocas, bp. of Sinope (117); Virgin-martyr Marcella of Chios (c. 1500); Ven. Cornelius of Pereyaslav (1693).

Ss Cyril & Methodius Orthodox Church
Madison, WI

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

Glory to Jesus Christ!

During the lifetime of Jesus, the Law contained almost twice as many discrete commands as there were days in the year. This means that for the Pharisees in today’s Gospel there were some 600 laws that had to be kept.

In addition to the number of requirements, the actual implementation depended on a complex moral calculus that sought to determine the relative moral importance of the different commandments based on the circumstances.

The laudable goal of all this was to secure the person’s relationship with God; the practical effect was to corrupt charity. However well-intentioned, the one thing we thing God wants for and from us –love–was lost.

It is easy, too easy to tell the truth, to look back at the Pharisees and fail to see ourselves, to see myself, in them. While the particulars are different in every age and in the life of every person, in our fallen state, human beings are always tempted to forgo charity for some kind of transactional calculus.

We all of us have a list of things we think we must do and avoid to earn and keep the love of God. And to this list for ourselves, we add a list for others.

While I might sincerely think my list for you comes God, the speed with which I am disappointed in you or get angry at you for not keeping it argues otherwise. While I appeal to God for the list’s authority, the reality is it reflects my own ideas of how you ought to live.

None of this is to say that we can’t know the will of God–we can–or that God doesn’t require things from us–He does. It is rather to say that I all too easily confuse my will, my desires, for His.

And all this I do because I don’t know, don’t really believe, that God’s love for me can’t be lost because it isn’t earned. God’s love is a free gift.

The irony here is all the things I do for God, I can only do because God loves before I do them. All the good things a person does, are possible because of God’s prior love.

And this is true not only for the good a person does but even for the sins committed. All that we do, for good or ill, in obedience or rebellion, we do because God first loved us.

The absence of charity we see around us and in our own hearts is what lead the Pharisees to accuse Jesus of casting out demons with the aid of the demons themselves. The lack of charity we see in human affairs is the poisoned fruit of a heart that doesn’t know it is loved by God. I become short-tempered and disappointed with others, I withhold my love or respond with condemnation, not because of what they’ve done but I think God only loves me when I meet His expectations for me.

This not only corrupts my relationship with God and neighbor, it paralyzes me. It makes me incapable of accepting with thanksgiving the good things in my life or of correcting the things that are sinful. Seeing myself as unloved or only conditionally loved by God moves me to a crippling frenzy as I try and earn what can’t be earned God’s love. Why can’t it be earned? Because it has already been freely given.

St Paul was keenly aware of all of this. He knew what it was to try and earn the love of God. He also knoew to his grief how trying to do so, so corrupts charity that murder seems God-pleasing.

And so he tells us “bear with the failings of the weak.”

We are not to call evil, good. Rather we are to remember that the weakness we see in others afflicts us as well,

Everyone we meet has a secret list of things they think they must do and avoid if they are to be worthy of love. Whether Christian or not, whether male or female, young or old, rich or poor, everyone strives futilely to earn the love God has already given and which can never be lost because “God is faithful” (1 Corinthians 1:9).

My brothers and sisters in Christ! This is the evangelical vocation of the Church. We are each of us called to tell people that they are loved by God.

This doesn’t mean we remain silent in the face of sin and moral evil; we must not fail to speak out against that which is wrong. But sin against which we speak and which we must always condemn is sin precisely because it hardens the human heart against the love of God.

And it is this love that is Gift that makes all gifts possible.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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