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.