Reason & Rejoicing

April 21 (O.S., April 8), 2019: 6th Sunday of Great Lent; Palm Sunday: Entrance of Our Lord into Jerusalem.

Ss Cyril & Methodius Orthodox Church
Madison, WI

Epistle: Philippians 4:4-9
Gospel: John 12:1-18

Glory to Jesus Christ!

The Apostle tells us that we are to “rejoice always”! This is not a command to ignore injustice or the other manifestations of sin.

It is also not a command to adopt some kind of “positive thinking” or to stand before a mirror reciting self-affirmations like “Everyday, in every way, I’m getting better and better.”

We get a sense of what St Paul means in the final verses of today’s reading: “whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.”

But just as “rejoice always” doesn’t mean what we might at first think it means, the objects of our mediation are not simply those things that please us or to which we are attracted. The true, the noble, the just, the pure, the beautiful and the virtuous are all those things that manifest the will of God.

As we’ve seen before, the Scriptures and so the Church Fathers, have a deeper, richer and more expansive view of human reason. Today we tend to limit “true” to what is empirically verifiable because we limit what reason can know to sense data.

But the Scriptures have a more “catholic” view of reason. Human reason has the ability to grasp, even if not fully understand, the divine plan. We have the ability to see events in a larger context than how they affect us at the moment.

To see the truth of something is not to see it just in itself but within the context of God’s will for all creation. To know something means to see how it fits within the whole economy of salvation.

When St Paul then tells us to “rejoice always” he is commanding us to see our lives within the context of God’s salvific will. To do this, I must learn to see events not simply in terms of how they affect me but how they fit into God’s plan of salvation.

This has the practical effect of always challenging me to transcend, to go beyond, my own narrow perspective. Joy can’t find a home in a self-absorbed heart.

We need only look at the Gospel to see how joy is lost.

Today we commemorate Palm Sunday, the Triumphal Entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem.

The children of Jerusalem greet Jesus with palms branches and songs. Rightly, they see Him as the One Who will liberate them from the tyranny of Rome. But in a few days, they will turn against Him. Why? Because their view of liberation is too narrow. They limit liberation to the political dimension. In their own way, they are as materialistic as any contemporary secular American.

For the Jews, the love they feel today will turn to hatred because their expectations are not met. And their expectations are frustrated because their vision is too narrow.

This is no different for us.

Disappointment can breed hatred. Whether it is my expectations for my own life–or for you–the experience of disappointment is an invitation to lay aside my own narrow views and see events within the context of God’s salvific will.

And not simply His will for me. This is why S Paul commands us to meditate on things true, noble, just, pure, beautiful and virtuous. I must cultivate a more catholic vision, that is, a vision of how God’s grace is at work in the lives of all men and women and in all creation.

By brothers and sisters in Christ! To “rejoice always,” to enter into the “joy of the Lord” (Nehemiah 8:10), requires that we lay aside our narrow, everyday vision of life.

And its place?

In its place, we must open ourselves to the infinitely more expansive vision of God’s will for all humanity and all creation. We must be willing to see the myriad epiphanies of God’s grace that surround us.

We must be willing to see ourselves and those around us as loved by God.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Homily: What God Wants From Us

April 1 (O.S., March 19), 2018: Sixth Sunday of the Great Lent: Palm Sunday, the Entry of the Lord into Jerusalem; Martyrs Chrysanthus and Daria, and those with them at Rome: Claudius, Hilaria, Jason, Maurus, Diodorus presbyter, and Marianus deacon (283). Martyr Pancharius at Nicomedia (ca. 302).

Epistle: Philippians 4:4-9
Gospel: John 12:1-18

Glory to Jesus Christ!

Today’s readings are odd.

The epistle doesn’t mention at all our Lord’s entrance into Jerusalem. Instead, St Paul tells us to “Rejoice in the Lord always!” And, lest we miss what he means, he repeats himself and says again we are to rejoice.

He then goes on to explain to us what it means to rejoice.

We are to be gentle, to lay aside anxiety in favor of prayer, and with a thankful and peaceful heart ask God for what we need.

He concludes by encouraging us to reflect on all things that are true, noble, just, pure, and lovely. We are to concern ourselves not with human failure but with what is virtuous and praiseworthy.

Importantly, the Apostle doesn’t tell us to limit our mediation to those things which are specifically or explicitly Christian. No, whatever form it takes, if it is true, noble, just, pure, or lovely we are to reflect on it and allow it to shape our lives.

But, in all this, there is not one word about Jesus.

As for the Gospel, the events we are celebrating this morning are almost an afterthought. Unlike the Gospel at Matins (Matthew 21:1-11;15-17), most of the text is devoted to the events surrounding Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem.

As is so often the case, those around Jesus–even those closest to Him–misunderstand. The Apostle John says that the disciples–and he–“did not understand” what was happening.

Judas misunderstood because he was consumed by greed.

The chief priests misunderstood because they were consumed by jealousy.

Even the crowds came “not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead.”

The only one who seems to have any sense of what is happening is Mary the sister of Lazarus. Mary knows that Jesus is going to die. And so she “took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.”

Like the disciples, I often misunderstand the will of God because, to return to today’s epistle, I give myself over to grumbling. Frankly, I have an almost unending list of complaints and disappointments. In my more lucid and honest moments, I realize how easy it is for me to find fault with others and myself. I hold on to injuries and resist forgiving those who have wronged me.

This is why I am forever misunderstanding what God asks of me.

Since St Paul sees fit to say what he did to the Church at Philippi, it seems likely that–for all my shortcomings–I’m really no different from any other Christian. We all need to be reminded to attend to the myriad signs of God’s grace and love for us. We all of us need to cultivate a sense not simply of gratitude but celebration.

And if we take St Paul’s counsel to heart, we must cast as wide a net as possible. We must thank God for whatever is true, noble, just, pure, or lovely.

Only in this way, to work backward through the text, we acquire a spirit of gentleness.

Only in this way, will we find the boldness to ask God for what we need.

Only in this way, will we fulfill the command to rejoice in the Lord always.

The crowds, the high priests, Judas and the disciples all of them had the opportunity to sit and eat and drink and talk with God. And all of them allowed that opportunity to slip through their fingers because they “did not understand.”

Instead, they preferred signs and wonders or power and wealth. All good things in themselves to be sure but not the point.

My brothers and sisters in Christ! Each day, each moment, Christ comes ready to enter into our lives. He stands at the door to our hearts knocking. If we open our heart to Him, He will come in and dine with us (see Revelation 3:20).

What God wants from us is not palms or hymns. What He wants from us is simply this: He wants us.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory