Sunday 21 June 2020
Second Sunday of Matthew
Today’s Gospel reading narrates the story of Jesus Christ calling some of the Apostles to become His disciples. Although short, this passage from Matthew’s Gospel packs a number of small yet significant lessons regarding the concept of ‘receiving a call’.
First we see that Jesus asks Andrew and Simon-Peter to follow Him by telling them simply that they would become “fishers of men”. Andrew and Peter were fishermen, hard at work. The Lord Jesus invites them to leave behind their current profession but He somehow comforts them by telling them that they would continue to ‘fish’. In creating this analogy the Lord reveals to them a new found comfort in the revelation of the true calling and responsibility in life. Andrew and Peter understood what it means to fish. Of course the two professions couldn’t be more different in their actual activities and responsibilities, but these two Apostles learned that they had to leave behind an identity they thought was theirs for their actual identity.
Second we observe that Jesus calls two other fishermen, James and John, the sons of Zebedee and they also join Him and become His disciples based on a simple invitation. The passage tells us that these two Apostles left behind not only their boat, but also their father with whom they operated their family business. Not only are they leaving behind what they understood as their job in their communities but beyond that they left behind what their father had given them. James and John left behind the expectations that their own father and family had for them.
Third, we learn something about Jesus Christ also. Whenever we pay attention to anything that Jesus did during this life and ministry on earth, we notice again and again that He chooses to do some things in a way that seems unnecessary for Him as True God. Did Jesus really need Apostles, partners in His ministry. Did He need them around to preach, or heal the sick, or give food to the hungry? Well, no, He didn’t really need them. As True God, He could have made anything out of nothing. But Jesus Christ teaches us to choose partners in our activities; especially in our calling to serve the good of people and communities around us. Of course as True God Jesus did not need them; in fact, He had to spend time explaining to them things they just didn’t understand. They slowed Him down even. But as True Man, the Merciful Lord teaches us that all of us as people are able to accomplish more by working with others than we can by ourselves. Remember, when Jesus multiplied the 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish, He asked the Apostles to feed the people.
The fourth and final point of learning I wish to share with you from today’s Gospel reading is about both Jesus Christ and the Apostles He selected as His Disciples. To me this is one of the most beautiful aspects for us mortal humans to learn. Jesus Christ began His ministry to His creation but He didn’t build it for an end when He died on the Cross, or when He resurrected from the dead, or when He ascended into Heaven but He built His ministry to live on even after He returned to His place of eternal glory. You see the Almighty and Almericful Lord Jesus, took on Disciples/Learners/Students. He wanted to teach and train others to continue what He started. Jesus taught these uneducated fishermen to become teachers, preachers, priests, healers and they continued the work that He taught them. We, who follow Jesus Christ, and call ourselves Christians, indeed choose to pass on what we learn and what we know because the work of our calling to serve people is greater than ourselves. Our work is more important than we are because we pass on to others what the Lord Jesus Christ has taught us to do.
May we be blessed to become fruitful as the chosen Apostles of Christ were fruitful!
Blessed are you, O Lord; teach me your statues!”
We sing this verse (Psalm 118:12) often in our worship. It’s the “chorus” of the memorial service and the dramatic evlogitaria of Sunday matins, it appears in the vespers prayer, and in other places.
I think most of us understand the first part—Blessed are you, O Lord. How about the second part? Teach me your statues! Sometimes the word ‘commandment’ is used.
Most of us aren’t really looking for commandments as part of our daily lives. Perhaps they make us feel guilty, or they irritate us by dictating something we don’t want to do. Whatever the reason, I am sure I am right that, in our day, it’s somewhat unusual to be open to commandments from someone else.
Here we are, however, asking over and over to be taught statutes or commandments.
There are a number of reasons for this, but I especially love the one given in James 1:23-24. “Certainly, if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, such a person is like someone looking at his natural face in a mirror. Seeing himself and going away, he immediately forgets what kind of person he was.”
So the statutes in this view are much more than simple commands (although they are that too). They act as a mirror, and if we look in that mirror, we see ourselves! And if we then walk away from the statutes, we may forget who we really are, and we may forget that seeing ourselves in the statutes of God is reality and where we should look for our true identity.
Blessed are you, O Lord; teach me your statutes!
Today, the first Sunday after Pentecost we celebrate All Saints Sunday - the day we remember all the glorified souls in the Heavens, all whom we know by name as well as all those whom we do not know by name. Their identity shall be revealed to us when we join them in the Eternal Kingdom. The Church, in her wisdom, organized for us to read a very special passage from the Scriptures as we commemorate All Saints Sunday. Similar lessons appear to us from St. Paul in his epistles to the Ephesians and to the Romans. I believe this particular passage from the Wisdom of Solomon describes how God treats His saints.
At last night’s Vespers service we read a short passage from the Old Testament book of the Wisdom of Solomon. Chapter 5 verse 15 begins like this:
“But the righteous live forever,
And their reward is with the Lord;
And their care is by the Most High.”
Being righteous is a call to each of us and this Old Testament book of wisdom and guidance confirms that righteousness is a pursuit which isn’t forgotten by the Most High Lord our God. Those who live righteously are cared for by God Himself and they live eternally, being rewarded by the Lord. But what is that reward? The next verse answers that question, dear friends.
“Therefore they shall receive a kingly dwelling of dignity
And a crown of beauty from the hand of the Lord,
Because He will shelter them with His right hand
And protect them with His arm.”
What Solomon describes to us here is what the reward from God to the righteous looks like. A “kingly dwelling of dignity” with a “crown of beauty from the Lord’s hand” and His protection and defense for eternity. We have been made into sharers of the Royalty status of God’s Kingdom. God being the King of Glory decides to share that kingly life with His beloved righteous saints.
The remainder of chapter 5 describes all of creation as the Armor of God; basically it reads almost like a strategy of weaponry of defense God employs to protect His righteous people from all types of attacks from the enemy, who is the devil himself.
I’ll share a humorous note here. All of us have heard or made the joke about being ‘struck by lightning’ if we do something sacrilegious….well, that expression comes from this reading, namely chapter 5 verse 21: “Well-aimed flashes of lightning will strike…” But overall, the poetic descriptions of military strategy employed by God with the entirety of His creation teach us that it is indeed ‘natural’ and ‘normal’ for all of God’s creation to resist the influence of the evil who seeks to destroy the righteous.
But this passage prescribed at Vespers closes with the first 3 verses from chapter 6. In these verses we see a caution to the leaders of people. It is a caution that whoever has been given the responsibility to lead and care for people will be held accountable as to the way of righteousness they have employed and given to those in their responsibility. This caution is likely understood to be for governmental leaders and clergy leaders; but in truth I believe it is for all who have great or small positions of guidance to groups of people; particularly groups of people who seek to live a righteous life.
May we be richly blessed with wisdom to live righteously and be rewarded with the eternal royal life with God and All His Saints!
We use this hymn, called the Trisagion (thrice-holy) Hymn, often. It’s part of the introductory prayers that we use before almost every worship and prayer service; and we sing it emphatically just before the epistle reading in Divine Liturgy.
It comes most directly from Isaiah’s vision in Isaiah 6:3, where the seraphim sing: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.”
Dr. Bruce Beck, from Holy Cross School of Theology, has written about this text and associated it with the text of Psalm 41:3: “My soul thirsted for God, the Mighty One, the
Living One. When shall I come and appear before the face of God?” (his translation; see
St Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 63:2 (2019) 161–189 Unbinding the Book: Toward a
Restoration of a Patristic Orthodox Hermeneutic of Scripture, Bruce N. Beck).
In this Psalm verse the words, “God”, “Mighty,” and “Living” are found together, and this is behind the angels singing the word, “Holy” three times with these attributes added.
When we say or sing this hymn, we are praising God in a full way, acknowledging his glory and energies, which sustain our life and all life. We are singing with the seraphim and all creation, witnessing to the One who loves us and His holiness, power, and immortality.
The eyes of my noetic soul * have become blind, O loving Lord, * because of dark and sinful deeds. * O Savior, lead me to the light; * implant in me humility, Master, and purify me * with tears of repentance.
--from the matins of the Sunday of the Blindman
What does “the eyes of my noetic soul” mean? This phrase is an image for the object of the healing that is a main purpose of the Orthodox faith. Christ not only vanquished death at his resurrection, but He made it possible for us to receive real healing in our souls during this life.
Our noetic soul is also sometimes called the “Nous.” Sometimes we refer to it as our heart, but again, this is an image. Another way to think of this part of us (as in this hymn) is to consider it an organ of spiritual vision. Its view of the world has become blurred and unclear, even blind, due to the effects of sin.
In this and many other hymns, we ask God to lead us back to the light. All of the practices that are part of a full Orthodox life are aimed at cleansing the view of the eyes of our noetic souls. God does not need our prayers, fasting, giving, worship, chanting, or anything other activity we do because of our faith; but He does love us and provides these activities for our healing—bringing light to our dim spiritual vision.
On this Sunday when we continue to celebrate the Lord Risen from the dead, the Church established that we remember the Samaritan Woman with whom the Lord Jesus spoke at Jacob’s Well. This passage from the Holy Evangelist John leaves us with many questions.
Why did Jesus stay behind by Jacob’s Well instead of going into the city for food with His disciples? Why was Jesus, a Jew, speaking with a Samaritan? The Jews didn’t have any dealings with the Samaritans. Why was Jesus, a man, speaking with a woman? This wasn’t typical, and moreover he was having a conversation with her, not just speaking AT her. Why was Jesus asking this Samaritan Woman about her husband? They, why did He point out her sins?
After Jesus reveals Himself to the Samaritan Woman as the Christ, the Messiah, she leaves her water jar and goes back into the city. Why did she leave her water jar behind? And there are many other such questions that we can ask of this passage.
But all these questions are answered as we pay attention to the words of Jesus Christ to Samaritan Woman at first, then to His Disciples. The Lord Jesus Christ chooses to speak plainly and clearly, revealing Himself as the Messiah that both Jews and Samaritans were waiting for. He revealed Himself as their Savior and Deliverer, although they don’t fully understand it yet. Jesus appears to be thirsty and hungry yet when He is offered water and food He doesn’t accept them, instead He teaches them of the water and food that provide nourishment for the soul. He, Himself, and His teachings are the life-giving food and drink that we desire for even more than material food and drink which nourish the body. The nourishment of the body remains in our attention but we no longer place these basics before the nourishment of the soul. In some ways I think this gospel reading is truly just a lesson in prioritization in our lives.
The Samaritan Woman comes to Jacob’s Well to get water, this was most likely a mundane daily chore, like so many other mundane chores that occupy our complete attention. We’ve all heard the expression: “Can’t see the forest for the trees.” which implies that we are so focused on small individual details that we miss out on the big picture, the totality of life. The Samaritan Woman probably realized that very truth in her own life. But once she realized that she can receive life-giving water that sanctifies her entire being she leaves behind the water jar. She leaves behind the attention to the temporary aspects of life and goes to bring her neighbors and friends so that they also learn about the source of life-giving nourishment. This is indeed the lesson, my dear friends, we must leave behind the attention to the banality of our lives; those things that bog us down and hold us back from seeing the core of our value in the eyes of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
My Savior and almighty God,* who from a rock made water gush* in the wilderness for the Hebrews,* You traveled to Samaria;* and with a woman You conversed* and asked for a drink of water.* Thus You drew her to faith in You;* and now in heaven forever* she enjoys life eternal.
hymn texts used by permission from https://www.agesinitiatives.com/dcs/public/dcs/dcs.html
We are in the middle of three Sundays that include water in their lessons and hymns. In the past, catechumens were often baptized at Pascha, and these Sundays that follow soon afterward are here for the newly-illumined (and all of us) to remember our baptisms and the water of life.
The hymns of matins and vespers for these Sundays are filled with water imagery. We are still also singing the Canon of Pascha, and we can celebrate the splash and refreshment of water; but as important as regular water is to us, it is sung about here in our hymns to remind us where the real water is—in Christ.
O Lord, midway through the feast, give drink to my thirsty soul from the living waters of right belief. You, O Savior, proclaimed to everyone, "Let whoever is thirsty come to Me and drink." You are the fountain of life, O Christ our God. Glory to You!
On the Sunday of the Paralytic we read a gospel passage from the Holy Evangelist John (5:1-15) which relates the story of Christ healing a man who had been unable to walk for 38 years. This man had been waiting by a certain pool, called Bethesda, by the Sheep Gate because occasionally the water in the pool was stirred up and on those occasions the first person to get into the water was healed of whatever illness he or she had. The Lord Jesus heals the paralytic man and he is able to walk away carrying his own pallet. The second part of the reading describes how hypocritical people criticized the man for carrying his pallet, thus working, on a Sabbath. This Gospel passage has essentially two parts and two distinct lessons.
Today we’ll focus on the first of these two. A superficial reading of this story would leave one questioning the Mercy and Love of God for His people. On the one hand it’s clear that the Spirit of God stirred the waters and the presence of the Spirit made the respective pool of water temporarily a source of healing. But the evangelist clearly tells us that this healing comes only occasionally and only for one person. Basically, we observe that there are limitations that we experience in the world. But, why would there be limitations if God is Merciful and Loving and Healing? It might even leave us with the thought that God is unfair.
Resources are certainly limited, even if they are abundant. Our world does experience shortages and insufficiencies, and limitations to be sure. But this fact teaches us to be wise stewards of everything that we encounter, both tangible and intangible. But the main lesson in these few verses is about the manner in which this man is healed by the Lord Jesus Christ. He is healed not by the water in the pool, be it stirred on unstirred, but the very Word of Christ, the Word of God Himself. The paralytic man had been immobil for 38 years and he had been waiting to be brought to the water for a long time but others always reached it before him. Now the very source of healing he had placed so much hope in was proven unnecessary, because he was in the presence of Jesus. Basically, no source of healing is sufficient without the ultimate source who is our Savior Jesus Christ.
But the other reality is that the gospel passage does not say that Jesus healed all the people who were waiting at the pool. Why would Jesus only heal that one man and not the others? Why would He not simply walk in triumph to the entire group and heal them all at once or one by one? It’s rather simple, really, Jesus was present there but only that one paralytic man focused on Him. You see the others were also present in the right place, but their attention was not the true source of healing, God, but rather on quickly rushing to snatch a blessing/healing before anyone else. We wisely have learned and firmly believe that God is the true source of healing in our lives and His healing is without limitation but only for those who focus on Him and stay near Him receiving His Word in our lives.
Today it smells like springtime, * and new creation is dancing. * Today the locks are removed * from the doors and the disbelief * of Thomas the friend who cries out, * "You are my Lord and my God.”
Text by permission of AGES Initiatives: https://www.agesinitiatives.com/dcs/public/dcs/dcs.html
This hymn is from the Sunday of Thomas (one week after Pascha). It is an exaposteilarion, a hymn of dismissal that follows the canon in matins. The exaposteilarion on Sundays refers back to the matins gospel—there are 11 texts that repeat and all are stories of the resurrection. These hymns are dramatic, and if you hear it live during matins, you will recognize the tones and that they are important parts of the story.
I love that this hymn begins with “smells like springtime.” Before I was Orthodox, I don’t think I associated smell with worship very much, but we have lots of potent smells in our church—different kinds of incense, the smell of rose oil, basil leaves, beeswax candles, and flowers. I sometimes take my sense of smell for granted, but it’s important, and I have read that smells connect powerfully with the parts of our brain related to emotion and memory.
The hymn is connected with the story of Thomas, who is skeptical but believes once he has seen and touched; and with the text of the hymn, we can imagine the relief of his belief, the unlocking of the doors of his (and our) hearts, and the fresh, warm air of spring!
By your Passion we were set free from our
passions, O Christ, and by your resurrection
we were redeemed from corruption. O Lord,
glory to you.
Sung at the Vesperal Liturgy on Holy Saturday Morning
Used by permission of AGES Initiatives: https://www.agesinitiatives.com/dcs/public/dcs/dcs.html
During our Holy Week and Pascha worship, we rightly emphasize Jesus’s victory over death. Death is the end of our life in this realm, and we usually think of it as the worst disaster of all. In the American religious environment, it can seem that Christianity is only about taking care of the business of surviving death and getting to heaven. The hymn above, however, speaks not only of being saved from the corruption of death, but of being saved from our passions.
It contrasts the Passion (uppercase p) of Christ with our passions (lowercase p). This sounds odd to us, because in current English, passions are usually considered to be the most positive and laudable characteristics in a person’s life! In the liturgical language of the hymn, however, the first Passion refers to Christ’s death and resurrection; and the second, to tendencies within us that lead to sin, to patterns of sin, and even to destruction. Passions are rooted in the soul; our sins usually involve our bodies. If we have a sin in our lives that we repeat, more than likely, we are suffering from a passion. The two words are related in Greek, with a core meaning related to suffering.
So, when we sing that Christ’s Passion set us free from our passions, what does it mean? It means that we can receive substantial spiritual healing in this life. We can bring our sins, thoughts, and passions to Him, and He will help us escape from the chains that bind our inner and outer lives.
God loves us, and has nothing against everyday enthusiasm, interest, and even commitment to most activities that we enjoy; but because He loves us, he wants to save us from our passions.