Neither With Fear Nor Contempt

Tuesday, March 27 (O.S., March 14), 2018: Tuesday of the Sixth Week of Lent; Venerable Benedict of Nursia († 543); New Hieromartyr Priest Basil († 1943); Holy Hierarch Theognostus, Metropolitan of Kiev and All Russia († 1353); Right-believing Great Prince Rostislav-Michael of Kiev († 1167); St. Euschemon the Confessor and Bishop of Lampsacus (9th C); Theodore – Kostroma Icon of the Mother of God (1613).

Sixth Hour: Isaiah 49:6-10
Vespers: Genesis 31:3-16
Vespers: Proverbs 21:3-21

We have throughout our reflections on the Lenten readings seen that the Old Testament values wealth and power as morally good. This makes some Christians uncomfortable. They see the acquisition of wealth as tantamount to avarice and the pursuit of power as exploiting the weak.

These and other temptations are real and should be guarded against. At the same time, we can’t be indifferent to the harm by those who don’t understand the uses and limitations of wealth and power and so think Christians should have nothing to do with either.

Isaiah reminds us the blessings God has given the Jewish people are so that they can fulfill their vocation to be “a light to the nations.” God’s material blessings as much as His spiritual blessings are bestowed on Israel so that “salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

We can’t pursue wealth and power for their own sake. When we do, they become idols. The Old Testament is clear on this point. When we situate the Old Testament’s teaching on wealth and power within this context, we see that the right use of wealth and power preparations for the Gospel.

We can’t simply dismiss wealth and power as if they had no positive role to play in salvation. How much harm has been done, how much good has been left undone, by well-meaning Christians who simply didn’t understand how to use money or to exercise authority?

Look at the example of Jacob. God teaches him how to deal with his dishonest father-in-law.

Laban is frankly a cheat. He is willing to harm Jacob and so his own daughters in pursuit of wealth. Rather than having Jacob deliver a sermon, or stand passively and be cheated, God engages in a little sharp dealing.

Every time Laban changes which goats Jacob will receive as his wages, God changes the outcome. When Laban tells Jacob, “’The spotted shall be your wages,’ then all the flock bore spotted; and if he said, ‘The striped shall be your wages,’ then all the flock bore striped. Thus God has taken away the cattle of your father, and given them to me.”

God impoverishes Laban as punishment for trying to cheat Jacob.

Solomon is clear. The wise man knows how to use wealth and exercise authority not simply for his own sake but for the sake of others. “To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice. Haughty eyes and a proud heart, the lamp of the wicked, are sin. … He who closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself cry out and not be heard. … He who pursues righteousness and kindness will find life and honor” both in the eyes of God and neighbor.

Christians can’t be either afraid or contemptuous of wealth and power. We must rather learn to acquire and use them in ways that are pleasing to God and to advance the Gospel.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Without Wisdom There Is No Love

Thursday, March 1 (O.S., February 16), 2018: 2nd Thursday of the Great Lent; Martyrs Pamphilus presbyter, Valens deacon, Paul, Seleucus, Porphyrius, Julian, Theodulus, Elias, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Samuel, and Daniel, at Caesarea in Palestine (307-309). St. Macarius, metropolitan of Moscow, the apostle to the Altai (1926). New Hieromartyrs Priests Elias Chetverukhin (1934) of Moscow and Peter Lagov (1931). New Hieromartyr Paul priest (1938). St. Marutha, bishop of Sophene and Martyropolis, and others with him in Mesopotamia (422). New Monk-martyr Romanus of Carpenision, who suffered at Constantinople (1694) (Greek). St. Mary the New of Byzia in Thrace (9th c.). St. Basil Gryaznov of Pavlovo-Posadsky (1869).

Sixth Hour: Isaiah 6:1-12
Vespers: Genesis 5:1-24
Vespers: Proverbs 6:3-20

An ancestor of Christ (Matthew 1:8), King Uzziah began his reign as a young man of 16. Thanks to the prophet Zechariah, the young king “did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord” (2 Kings 15:3; 2 Chronicles 26:4-5).

As an old man, his pride gets the better of him. and he tried to usurp the prerogatives of the priests and offer incense to the Lord. Afflicted with leprosy, the king spends the last 11 years of his life in “a separate house” and his kingdom ruled by his son Jotham (2 Kings 15:5, 27; 2 Chronicles 26:3).

The immediate context of Isaiah’s encounter with God is one that makes clear the devastation that follows when even God-given authority is devoid of wisdom. Uzziah is a king, not a priest. His authority is divinely circumscribed. There are things he cannot do, places he cannot go. These limits aren’t arbitrary but reflect God’s will for His People.

God calls Isaiah to make clear to people that, like their late king, they have sinned. Uzziah sought to imitate the rules of the Gentiles who held but civil and religious authority as living deities. The Jewish people had allowed this and so God makes their hearts “fat, and their ears heavy.”

God will leave them in their sins “Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without men and the land is utterly desolate, and the LORD removes men far away, and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land.” He does this not out of malice but because it is the way His People will understand the corrupting influence of sin on the heart and the community.

We see also see this corrupting power in Genesis. From Adam to Enoch, as sin takes an ever firmer hold on us, we die at ever younger ages until most of us live only “threescore years and ten” and those who live longer do so in “labour and sorrow” until we are “cut off, and we fly away” (Psalm 90:10, KJV).

What then are we to do?

Solomon tells me I need to appraise soberly my situation. I too easily give others responsibility for my life. Like the Jews at the time of Uzziah, I take direction not from God but from other, fallen human beings.

So first I must cultivate detachment from others. I must struggle against vainglory, the tendency to seek the approval of others rather than God.

This a lifelong labor. And so Solomon tells me “Give your eyes no sleep and your eyelids no slumber.” Like the ant, I must labor to cultivate the life of virtue. I must be obedient to God rather than seek the approval of powerful men, “of chief, officer or ruler.”

While never denying the command to love others, Solomon is aware of how easily I can fall into sin when I seek my neighbor’s good opinion of me. Seeking the approval of others will make me a “worthless person, a wicked man.” In time I will become duplicitous and manipulative; a man of “crooked speech” and sly “winks.” I will scrap my feet to avoid work and prayer, and I will be always ready to point an accusing finger at others.

Eventually, my neighbor’s good opinion of me becomes so important that “with perverted heart” I will “devises evil” for others and seek to sow “discord” between my neighbors. Tragically, I will not stop until “calamity” comes upon me and I am ”broken beyond healing.”

As we’ve seen with material wealth, without wisdom I am as prone to corruption by my friend’s love for me as a ruler is by political power. Without wisdom, wealth, love and authority–all good in themselves–become occasion for my fall.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory