Ancient Answers

Guidance for Today from Scripture and Early Christianity


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From darkness to light

 

In today’s reading from Ephesians 5:8-19 Paul tells us to expose darkness and bring it into the light so it becomes light! This beautifully summarizes what was Jesus’ own customary way of healing and teaching, which was to bring people out into the open, where they could be healed and brought into communion with Christ. So in today’s Gospel reading. Was his purpose to destroy the rich man? No, his purpose was to expose him, to bring him into the light. The man walks away disappointed, but nowhere is it indicated that that was the end of the story. And after Jesus made is startling statement about how difficult it is for rich men to be saved, he followed up with more reassuring words: “With man this is impossible; with God all things are possible.” The rich man was brought into the light; we don’t know what was the result.

The gospel’s purpose is not to condemn people. The gospel’s purpose is not to separate people into ‘us’ and ‘them’. The gospel’s purpose is not to make some people puffed up because they are ‘saved’! The gospel’s purpose is to bring people into the light and to expose the darkness. And we expose the darkness not in order to humiliate people or to condemn them, but in order to make the darkness light – at least according to Paul in his letter to Ephesians (5:11-14).

Dear friends, the issue is not whether you go to heaven – however you visualize heaven. Like Jesus said, it’s impossible – but with God all things are possible. So let’s leave that business to God. Our purpose is not to worry about heaven. Our business is to be in communion with Jesus Christ, to participate in his life. As a matter of fact, participation is the way Orthodox theology likes to view salvation – participation in the life of Christ, becoming partakers of the divine nature, as 2 Peter puts – participants in the divine nature by being united with Christ, partaking of his life. Hebrews 3:14 calls us to be μέτοχοι τοῦ Χριστοῦ. I want to be μέτοχος του Χριστού. Don’t you?


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Trinitarian Community

We are living in treacherous and confusing times. In a recent book, I read the following: “the growth in Muslim populations across Europe since the mid-twentieth century runs parallel to secularization or, perhaps more aptly, de-Christianization. As Muslim populations grow and assert their religious identities in the public sphere, Christianity’s public role and influence fade. In other words, the increasing presence and vitality of Islam is accompanied by the decreasing influence and presence of traditional Christianity.” (Todd H. Green, The Fear of Islam: An introduction to Islamophobia in the West, Fortress Press, 2015, p. 157)

Please do not mistake the above quote; it’s not coming from a racist Islamophobe. The book is actually an attempt to understand and confront Islamophobia. But my purpose here is not to write about Islam, though the recent terror attacks in Paris have once again brought to the fore the worst forms of racist fear-mongering. No, what struck me in this quote is the term ‘de-Christianization’ that the author prefers to ‘secularization’.

It is all too easy to toss terms like ‘secular’ around whenever it suits us. It’s an easy way to complain about fake issues like the “war on Christmas”. There is no “war on Christmas”! Christmas was destroyed by Christians and our complete surrender to commercialism! Christians are the ones who have de-Christianized the European and North American societies in which we live. It is Christians, and not atheists, or secularists, or Jews or Muslims, who have trivialized Chistmas and have turned Christianity into a political slogan and a religious whitewash of ego.

Many Christians have forgotten the deep truths of our identiy and existence in the world. Christians have turned their God and their Lord into convenient labels that have no ontological depth. Quite simply, Christians have forgotten that we are meant to be trinitarian beings, living as reflections of our trinitarian God! And having lost our identity and the truth of our existence, we point fingers at others and we blame anyone other than ourselves for the fact that the ultimate truths of Christianity have been turned into mockery and cheap excuses for rampant commercialism. Go on complaining about a so-called “war on Christmas” if it makes it easy for you to ignore your responsibility for de-Christianization.

One of the first books of New Testament theology I bought (about 35 years ago) was by James D. G. Dunn, Unity and Diversity in the New Testament. It wasn’t required for a seminary course; its title simply caught my eye. The phrase “unity and diversity” perfectly summarizes my own way of looking at the New Testament. I see a message that unites all the various writings of the New Testament, and yet there is a diversity of how that central message, the gospel of Jesus Christ, is communicated, explored, and applied by the various writers whose writings make up the New Testament.

When I look at the church community I see a similar dynamic – except that I prefer to call it “unity in diversity.” We come from so many different backgrounds; we have so many different viewpoints among us; we often experience God and worship in our own unique ways in addition to the ways of Orthodox faith and tradition. We are a diverse community, very much a reflection of the world around us.

But with all this diversity we share a unity. And I am happy to say that the more diverse we become the more united we seem to be. There is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:5-6). We are united in the one faith that we call the Orthodox faith; we have one Lord, the Lord Jesus Christ. We share one baptism; and our church does not distinguish between baptism in the Orthodox Church, the Catholic Church, or most Protestant churches – we are all one with other Christians in our baptism! And finally, we have one God, whom we call Father, just as our Lord Jesus taught us to call our God.

Most people think of God as the supreme power, far remote from human experience. And so God is. But God the Father is not just the remote supreme being; our Father is “above all and through all and in all.” Our Father is indeed ‘above’ everything, but don’t miss the other two prepositions that Paul uses in this sentence: ‘through’ (δια) and ‘in’ (εν). God the Father is not only the supreme power in the universe, above everything; God the Father is also present in our lives and fills all things.

This should be the primary vision of our church community: to see God the Father in everything we are and everything we do. But God has chosen to be revealed not only as Father, but as Trinity. What a blessing that our church is the Church of the Holy Trinity. Let’s take the name of our church to heart and live the trinitarian life! The Father is the source of our unity. The Lord Jesus is our mediator (1 Timothy 2:5), our great high priest (Hebrews 4:14), who brings us into the unity that is ours through faith and baptism. And the Holy Spirit is the celebration of our diversity!

At a time of growing suspicion and divisions in the world, as violence and hatred, often in the name of ‘god’, spread everywhere, the trinitarian vision of community life is the only answer, the only way that unity and diversity can be perfected as unity in diversity. “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.” This is spoken by the priest at the Liturgy immediately after the Creed. The Creed is the Symbol of Faith, Σύμβολον της Πίστεως; it is a concise summary, sometimes using technical language, of the central dogmas of the Christian faith. It is a Σύμβολον because it brings together our fundamental dogmas. But the priest’s words after the Creed relate the doctrines of the Trinity to us: the love of God the Father, the grace of God’s Son our Lord Jesus Christ, and the communion (shared life) of the Holy Spirit.

The Father is the source, from whom everything flows and has its being. The Father is God in the purest definition. Worship in our Orthodox Church is primarily addressed to God the Father. It is to God the Father that we are accountable. The Father is the origin of life and the ultimate destination to whom we return. Our destiny is to be ‘one’ with the Father, just as Jesus was/is one with the Father: “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us,” Jesus prayed on the night of his arrest (John 17:21), “so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:26).

“God is love,” John wrote in his first letter, “and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them” (1 John 4:8 & 16). God is love, the purest and simplest name for God. But this is love in action: God’s love acts through the coming of Jesus Christ into the world. Everything Jesus did and spoke was a revelation of God’s love. Even when Jesus passed judgment and condemned certain individuals and their actions, it was still out of love – love for those who were abused and misused, or ignored, by those being judged by Jesus. This revelation of God’s love in action is what we call ‘grace’ – hence the prayer in the Liturgy, “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father…”

But it doesn’t end there. The Holy Spirit completes the trinitarian picture: “… and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” Communion, κοινωνία, is the shared life that is the gift of the Holy Spirit – shared with each other and shared with God. The unity with God that Jesus promised in chapter 17 of John’s Gospel is made real by the Holy Spirit; But it’s a unity in diversity, because the Holy Spirit is the giver and distributer of gifts and talents and abilities. Saint Paul in his letters repeatedly pointed to the role of the Holy Spirit in building the church as the body of Christ – a body made up of many members, with each member contributing to the well being of the whole. And the way we each contribute to the well being of the whole is by using the gifts that the Holy Spirit gives to each of us.

We are different, every one of us is unique and uniquely gifted. Even if two of us have the gift of singing, we are different in how we sing the same music; it’s called interpretation. If two of us have the gift of teaching, even if we teach the same subject matter, we teach it differently. This is the miracle of giftedness. No two musicians are alike; no two teachers are copies of each other; no two cooks will create the identical result from the same recipe. This is what makes us unique human beings; we put our own personal stamp on everything we do. And this is the work of the Holy Spirit. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are for the wellbeing of the body of Christ. Note how the apostle Paul states this truth while placing it in trinitarian language: “there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:4-7).

Here in this extraordinary, brilliant passage we see the trinitarian community in all its pageantry. Note the three consecutive statements phrased the same way: “there are varieties of…, but the same…” But these are not just statements about the three ‘persons’ of the Holy Trinity – Spirit, Lord (Jesus, the Son), and God (the Father) – and you can’t help but notice the ascending order from Spirit to God the Father. They are not just statements about the Trinity, because Paul connects each ‘person’ of the Trinity to a distinct aspect of our lives: gifts (χάρισμα) are connected with the Spirit; service (διακονία) with the Lord Jesus; activities (ενέργημα) with God the Father! The life we live in a trinitarian community reflects the trinitarian life of God: Our activities are reflections of God’s loving energy that makes everything possible; our activities are works of service and grace, just as the Lord Jesus served the purposes of God the Father; and we do everything with the gifts that we receive when we are in communion with the Holy Spirit and with each other!

Diversity in unity; unity in diversity. 

The miracle of trinitarian life!

P.S. I used an expanded version of this in our church newsletter.


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Life is the Politics of Jesus

It’s now a week since the Paris attacks and it has been a tense week, with hateful rhetoric flaring up in France and Europe, and the US. I continue to have reservations about Islam and its compatibility with our western values, but I am dismayed by the level of hate speech that has contaminated our ability to look at the world situation with some semblance of rational understanding. What concerns me most is that some of the most hateful and divisive speech has been coming from people who claim to be Christians and have Jesus as their Lord and Savior. They forget Jesus’ warnings that he will drive away from himself many who call him Lord; and he will say to them those bitter words, “I do not know you.”

ISIS wants hateful acts against Muslims to spread in Europe and North America. The hate-mongers in this country and in Europe are playing right into the hand of the jihadists and will lead us into disastrous consequences. Why can’t we co-exist? The only way we can decisively defeat ISIS is by making them irrelevant. And we make them irrelevant by rejecting hate speech and actions that divide people. Paris is slowly recovering its joie de vivre. The cafés are busy again, the Eiffel Tower is lit again, all the museums have re-opened. The dead are not forgotten, but life has returned to that city of life and lights. It reminds me of the words we announce at the Easter midnight Liturgy:

Ανέστη Χριστός και ζωή πολιτεύεται!

Christ is Risen and life reigns!

The Greek word πολιτεύεται actually means much more than ‘reigns’; it’s impossible to translate concisely into English. The word comes from the same Greek root that gave us our word ‘politics’. So yes, the resurrection of Christ brought life to the throne that governs human existence. At Easter midnight we proclaim that life and life only is the politics of Jesus! The resurrection of Christ showed the emptiness and vanity of all human attempts at power and control. The resurrection is the negation of the politics of hate and fear. So why do so many Christians prefer to follow the politics that reject the power of Christ’s resurrection?

If only Christians could be people of the resurrection again – not the resurrection of the ‘second coming’ that many Christians wait for with baited breath (the ‘Rapture’ nonsense), but the resurrection of Jesus and the power that it unleashed. The power to live as agents of new creation, to be peacemakers, to shelter the homeless and feed the hungry, to tear down boundaries and the walls that separate instead of building more walls. Where in the reactions to the Paris attacks do we hear anything that elevates life? Where is the teaching and vision of Christ in the hate talk of many ‘Christian’ politicians and citizens of this and other countries`?

I have concerns about Islam, just as I have concerns about much that passes as Christianity today. But when I allow my concerns to dominate my thought and estrange me from the spirit of Christ then I’m just a step away from becoming like the hate-mongers. I don’t have a solution to what is going on in the world. I have no answer to the challenge of separating dangerous extremists from ordinary Muslims and Syrian refugees who simply want to live in peace and productivity. I have no answers, no solutions. I only have my faith in Jesus Christ. Sorry if that sounds naive and inadequate, but the message remains:

Ανέστη Χριστός και ζωή πολιτεύεται!


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Farewell, René Girard

Girard in 1981

Girard in 1981

René Girard died November 4th in his home in Stanford, California, at the age of 91. Most probably you haven’t read any obituary about him, and I only learned of his death tonight when I went on the Girardian Reflections website. The reason why I went on the website tonight was because for the past few days I had been wondering whether Girard had expressed any thoughts on the terrorism now engulfing so much of the world. I knew he was sick and very old, but I still wondered whether he had expressed or written anything about recent events. And thus I learned of his passing into eternal life.

Girard was an anthropologist, social scientist, philosopher and literary critic, best known for the Mimetic Theory that became the key idea guiding most of his research and writing. Only one thing kept him from being better known: he was also a dedicated Christian, and that alone kept him from becoming a rock star among academic scholars. Academia generally is not too fond of scholars who are openly Christian. Thank God, Stanford University in California proved an exceptional place, where he could teach and write for almost 15 years until his retirement.

With his ideas of Mimetic Desire and “Scapegoat Mechanism” Girard was able to explain much of the violence that undergirds human history. As we continue to contemplate the aftermath of the Paris terrorist attacks and the broad state of war that now exists between western societies and Islamic ideologies, Girard’s ideas can become even more relevant as he also guides us to the core of the Christian gospel.

But I don’t want to write about mimesis and scapegoating at this time. I started to read one of his essays, “Literature and Christianity, A Personal View” and I came upon his personal testimony:

As far as I am concerned the subject of literature and Christianity is literally the story of my whole intellectual and spiritual existence. Many years ago, I started with literature and myth and then moved to the study of the Bible and Christian Scripture. Great literature literally led me to Christianity. This itinerary is not original. It still happens every day and has been happening since the beginning of Christianity.

I can honestly say this was also my experience. My own awareness of Christianity began in the summer of 1978, during my travels in France and Italy. Growing up in an ethnic Orthodox environment taught me nothing about God and Christ. I was a vacuum waiting to be filled. The filling began in the countless hours spent inside Gothic cathedrals and galleries of medieval art depicting so much of the Christian gospel and beliefs. Everywhere I went in France and Italy I bought the most detailed guidebooks that I could find so I could experience these masterpieces of architecture and art.

The North Porch at Chartres Cathedral (click to enlarge)

The North Porch at Chartres Cathedral (click to enlarge)

The south transept rose at Chartres Cathedral (click to enlarge)

The south transept rose at Chartres Cathedral (click to enlarge)

I will always remember the English guide at Chartres, Malcolm Miller, and the extraordinary insight he provided into the magnificent stained glass windows and statuary of that extraordinary cathedral. Chartres remains to this day my favorite Christian church in the entire world. Nothing compares to it. And Malcolm Miller is still there, according to the Chartres website! How I would love to listen to him again.

Chartres (click to enlarge)

Chartres (click to enlarge)

After France, Ravenna and Rome, where I came into contact with even earlier expressions of Christian art and architecture, almost all the way back to the time of the apostles. My understanding of Christianity was relentlessly expanding through art and architecture… and then came the literature. In Florence I started to read the Divine Comedy of Dante, in a wonderful translation by Dorothy Sayers which I still have as a prized memory. The first part of Dante’s trilogy, Inferno (Hell), simply blew my mind, and I continued into the second and third parts of the trilogy, Purgatorio and Paradiso, and I was getting a Christian catechism through the pages of this medieval masterpiece.

The cover of the Dorothy Sayers translation I read in Florence, summer of 1978

The cover of the Dorothy Sayers translation I read in Florence, summer of 1978

Art, architecture and literature. And let’s not forget music. How much of the greatest music of western civilization was created in praise of God and as an expression of Christian beliefs! From long-lost chants of the early church, to soaring melodies of Gregorian Chant, to ornate Byzantine creations, and then to the masterpieces of Bach, Handel, Mozart, Beethoven. Many of the greatest and most frequently performed works of classical music have religious texts and purposes: Bach’s Mass in B minor and the St Matthew Passion, Handel’s Messiah, Mozart’s Requiem, Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, Mahler’s Eighth Symphony, Britten’s War Requiem, and hundreds of other works that form the core of choral societies and symphony orchestras around the world.

Christianity has been the single greatest force to promote the finest, most profound and most beautiful, creations of human achievement and civilization. Christianity, whatever our faults and failures down the centuries, has inspired the best in human creativity; even science would be unthinkable without the spread of the Christian world-view, regardless of whether most scientists today consider themselves atheists or agnostics.

Perhaps that would be part of Girard’s message to ISIS and their brethren in brutal acts of violence. These subhumans inhabit a different world than Chartres, Dante and Bach – which explains why they destroy the architecture of Palmyra, a jewel of ancient civilization. Christianity humanized the world of barbarism. The great works of art and architecture, literature and music, raised the human consciousness to free contemplation of God and the beauties of creation. The subhumans of ISIS don’t see beauty; they don’t even see the beauty of the classic eras of Islamic civilization. They see only violence and the degradation and enslavement of men and women and children. They represent return to barbarism. And they attract soulless men, women and teens from Europe and North America who can only find purpose in carnage and destruction of human life.

René Girard used his theories of mimetic desire and the scapegoat mechanism to explain human violence, especially violence associated with religion. His ideas cannot be reduced to a few sentences and I’m not capable of even attempting such a thing. But violence is becoming increasingly a factor in our lives and none of us can feel secure or remote from the threat of violence wherever we live. Much as I admire Girard’s theories, I find comfort knowing that this man who delved so deeply into the origins and mechanisms of violence also found inspiration and meaning in the same great masterpieces of literature, music and art that have enriched my own life and the lives of countless human beings who have desired nothing else than to live in peace and enjoyment of what is best in us. René Girard was a magnificent example of a beautiful life. As one admirer expressed it: May our brother René Girard rest in peace and rise in the glorious love of God.


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The gospel of peace

 

How to speak of peace after the terrorist attacks in Paris? And yet peace is the message of both our readings today – especially Ephesians 2, but also the parable of the good Samaritan. Both readings are about peace, about breaking down the walls that separate and divide.

Icon illustrating the Parable of the Good Samaritan, with Jesus himself in the role of the Samaritan. He is our peace, our shalom.

Icon illustrating the Parable of the Good Samaritan, with Jesus himself in the role of the Samaritan. He is our peace, our shalom.

 

Every time there is an attack we hear the usual chorus: “Islam is a religion of peace.” Perhaps, but every day I come to doubt it more and more. But then Christianity is a religion of peace, isn’t it? Well, perhaps, but we certainly have a long and violent history that proves otherwise.

Ephesians 2 is magnificent:

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

Ephesians is a letter wrapped in peace; it is a liturgy of peace!

It opens with: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ…”

And it closes with: “Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Magnificent; but is it anything more than magnificent idealism? Except in cases of individual relationships, has this vision ever actually given birth to peace? Perhaps that is the problem: Christianity has been reduced to a religion of personal salvation. Jesus died for me! Yes he did, but I don’t come first, I come last. My salvation happens only as part of the bigger picture that Paul paints here. Paul declares that God’s plan for the “fullness of time” is to “gather up all things” in Christ (1:10).

The church is meant to be the place where this “new humanity” announced in our reading today is found. This is the key message of Ephesians. And so, the Christian church is required  to make “every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (4:3) through practices of humility, gentleness, patience, uplifting speech, forgiveness, mutual submission, non-threatening behavior, etc.

Peace is the heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the gospel preached by Paul. But not the peace that the world gives. Jesus said it clearly: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives” (John 14:27). And that’s how we understand Philippians 4:7, where Paul wrote about “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding.”

1 Thess 5:3 warns against false peace: When people say, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as travail comes upon a woman with child, and there will be no escape. ειρήνη και ασφάλεια, peace and security – the very words we hear from our politicians and world leaders.

So is it hopeless? Certainly not in the mind of Jesus and Paul. “Go and do likewise,” he tells us today in the gospel parable. Go and do likewise. Be a peacemaker. “Blessed are the ειρηνοποιοί, for they shall be called sons and daughters of God!” (Matthew 5:9)

Jesus himself is peacemaker. Ephesians 2:17 ἐλθὼν εὐηγγελίσατο εἰρήνην ὑμῖν τοῖς μακρὰν καὶ εἰρήνην τοῖς ἐγγύς. It’s almost as if Paul is quoting Isaiah 52:7 “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation…” πόδες εὐαγγελιζομένου ἀκοὴν εἰρήνης, ὡς εὐαγγελιζόμενος ἀγαθά in the ancient Greek translation (the Septuagint, LXX) of the Hebrew.

Christ announces peace and he is our peace – our shalom, our wholeness/healing. Healing is what the world needs above everything else. We can talk about strategies to defeat ISIS; there’s no shortage of politician and military rhetoric after a terrorist attack. That’s the “peace and security” that Paul warns against. It doesn’t last, because of human greed, hatred, divisiveness.

So how do we overcome the threat of ISIS and the other jihadist groups in the world? I don’t know, but we can begin by not fooling ourselves that Islam is a religion of peace. War and jihad are built into the heart of Islam. There is no equivalent of “the gospel of peace” in Islam as far as I can tell. Christianity and Islam are two totally different and irreconcilable religions. Certainly the jihadists agree! Enough with the political correctness; it has gotten us nowhere. It is time for the church to be the church that Jesus envisioned, that Paul describes in his letters.


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Come out from hiding!

 

Saint John tells us at the beginning of his Gospel: No one has ever seen God, but the only Son who is at the Father’s side has made him known.

The invisible becomes visible, the unknown becomes known. These paradoxes are at the heart of the Christian revelation. Revelation indeed means unveiling, uncovering – from the Greek verb, apokalypto.

Jesus’ mission on earth was to make the Father known, to reveal the Father’s love for the world. It was a love that drove Jesus even to a cross, so much did God love the world (cf. John 3:16).

But we cannot know God unless we know the neighbor. John wrote: “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him…. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us…. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them… Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also” (1 John 4:7-21).

No one has ever seen God, but the only Son who is at the Father’s side has made him knownThe Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of the only Son who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14-18 is thus telling us that it’s not only on the mountain of transfiguration that Jesus revealed the glory of God.

Every encounter is an opportunity for him to open our eyes to God’s love and Jesus’ glory. That’s why John also tells us, “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us” (1 John 4:12).

But to see God’s glory and God’s love you have to come out from hiding. Have you ever noticed how many of the encounters Jesus had with people were intended to bring people out from hiding? To make the “invisibles” visible!

The Woman with the Flow of Blood - Wall painting from the Catacomb of Saints Marcellinus and Peter in Rome, probably from the 3rd century or early 4th century. (click to enlarge)

The Woman with the Flow of Blood – Wall painting from the Catacomb of Saints Marcellinus and Peter in Rome, probably from the 3rd century or early 4th century. (click to enlarge)

You see it in today’s Gospel reading of the woman who touched his garment.

Then there was the Samaritan woman at the well.

He brought the rich ruler out into the open, forced him to stop hiding behind inherited laws and tradition.

He made Lazarus visible in last week’s parable.

And the tax collector in another parable.

He told Zacchaeus to come down from the tree.

In the parable of sheep and goats. it is all about seeing the other person, the neighbor, the brother or sister. “When did we see you…”

Jesus rebuked the man who hid his talent in the ground.

He exposed the demons by getting them to reveal their name, Legion.

Sometimes he provoked people in order to help them see the fuller reality – for example, the woman and the crumbs.

He did not hesitate to point out what was good in others: the centurion whose faith was greater than anyone else in Israel; the widow who gave out of her poverty…

How many times he exposed the thoughts of the pharisees and the others who opposed him. He wanted their thoughts out in the open! When they asked him about paying tax, he told them to look at the money they carried! Open your eyes and see what’s in front of you!

And finally, there is the walk to Emmaus after the resurrection. Their eyes were opened at the breaking of bread. This is where we come in. Here in the Liturgy we also break bread with Jesus. We come out of our own hiding places and leave this Liturgy with eyes open to see as Jesus saw, and to make the invisibles visible.


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People of the Second Coming

 

Touch is the message of today’s gospel reading. The poor man Lazarus was untouchable, except by the dogs who licked his wounds! He was one of the invisibles, one of the people that we choose not to see because they might trouble our conscience or our easygoing relationship with life. And he who did not touch Lazarus when he lay at his doorstep wanted to be touched by Lazarus in Hades. Touch or the lack of it joined them in life and in death. One refused, the other couldn’t because of the chasm.

An icon depicting the whole Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31)

An icon depicting the whole Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31)

There is an important message here: Be careful about what or who you reject! It leads to hardness and coldness of heart. That’s not exactly what happens in the parable, but the chasm that separates the two men after death is a symbol of the chasm that opens in our lives when we refuse to reach out and touch.

We need to start seeing our Liturgy as missional. What happens in the Liturgy? The Lord touches us and we touch the Lord – in communion, of course, but also when we greet and embrace each other! At the end of Liturgy, we hear the words, “Let us depart in peace” and we respond, “In the name of the Lord.” We leave the Liturgy “in the name of the Lord” by going out to touch the world as Jesus touched the world. “In the name of the Lord” means as representatives of the Lord, standing in the place of Jesus, doing what he would do! Too bad our Liturgy became a little cluttered with extra words over the centuries, but those words at the end capture the mission of Liturgy. Liturgy teaches us that we are here for the life of the world.

This is the Church’s moment, like it was 2,000 years ago. The world has lost meaning, like it did 2,000 years ago in the Roman Empire. The gospel spread like wildfire because it touched people with a genuine message and fellowship.

People wait for the second coming of Christ – but is it possible that the second coming has been present in the world for these 2,000 years? Of course we believe in the future return of Christ in glory, but is Christ not already present in the world? Is he not present in people like the poor man Lazarus (“inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these you did it to me”)? And is he not present in every one who strives to live as a disciple of Christ? Today’s saints are an example of that “second coming” that I speak of, the one already present in the world!

sfintii-cosma-si-damian-doctori-fara-de-arginti-protectorii-casniciilor-18432458Saints Cosmas and Damian were twin brothers who lived in the 3rd century. They were physicians and are venerated among a whole group of saints in the Orthodox Church who are called “Unmercenaries” because they healed without receiving payment. And they not only attended to human illnesses, but they also healed animals.

1101CyreniaKyrannaOn this same day (Nov. 1st) the Orthodox Church also commemorates Saints Cyrenia and Juliana, two women who dedicated their lives to helping orphans and widows, gave monetary and material aid whenever they could, always expecting nothing in return. They died as martyrs in the early years of the 4th century.

These unmercenary saints are like the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet – because “she loved much.” Jesus touched our humanity because He loved much! “Love never ends,” Paul told us today in that marvelous reading. It never ends because there are always unmercenary disciples of Christ who are touching the wounds of humanity. This is the only way the church can be the church! Not by building monuments to our own egos, not by shutting ourselves off in religious or ethnic ghettos – but by touching people with unmercenary love, expecting ABSOLUTELY NOTHING in return or as response, including conversion. Love with no strings attached. Being people of the second coming!