Cathedral of the Theotokos of Great Grace

Cathedral of the Theotokos of Great Grace

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Homily for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

The feeding of the 5000 is recorded in all four Gospels. Like the Creation, it is a significant historical event. Both events are a demonstration of the Divine prerogative.

This story happens just after the death of John the Baptist. When Jesus heard that his cousin was beheaded, He did what most of us do when a friend or relative dies - He went off to a quiet place to think, pray and grieve.

People had heard of Jesus and his teaching and healing, and they wanted what He had to offer. They searched for Him and found Him just when He wanted to be alone. Was He angry with them? No. On the contrary, He had compassion for them and taught them and healed the sick. Christ’s compassion made Him unable to ignore the needs of the people.

By night time, the people were still there, and they did not have anything to eat all day. The disciples wanted Jesus to send them away so they could get food in the nearby villages, but Jesus had other ideas, and just like the crowd interrupted Jesus’ plans, Jesus, in turn, interrupted the disciples’ plans. He told them to feed the crowd.

Now, the disciples had a problem. Where were they going to get enough food? All they had was five loaves of bread and two fish, and that certainly would not be enough to feed everyone-or so they thought. God often asks His people to do the impossible, but He makes the impossible possible. He gives us the strength and resources to complete tasks that we cannot complete on our own.

Jesus was in control of the situation. He gave instructions about how the situation was to be resolved. Jesus took the food, blessed it and had the disciples distribute it to the people. Low and behold, there was more than enough food. In fact, there were 12 baskets of leftovers!

In the beginning, we are told in the ancient account, God created all things out of nothing. Ex Nihilo! But we are also told that man (as one example) was formed of the dust of the ground.

So why do people have difficulty believing in the historicity of the miracle of the feeding of the 5000? It is because they fail to see the divine nature of Jesus. Because He is God, He is able as God to make a small amount of food go much further than is humanly possible. That which He first created is also formed into what it was not hitherto. It is multiplied!

Jesus was moved with compassion towards the multitude which followed Him and healed their sick (Matthew 14:14). They were, after all, like sheep without a shepherd! That compassion reached out indiscriminately to the whole crowd, 5000 men plus women and children, when He fed them with but five loaves and two fishes. Some would prove hypocritical, following Him only to fill their bellies (John 6:26) - but that was not His concern here. They were all fed to the full by Jesus, and there was still a sufficiency in reserve when they had finished.

Such is the abundance of His compassion. But what of ours? I need not recount statistics: we all know that there is an inequality in this world which is to our very shame if we have more than enough and are content to let the majority of humankind starve!

The miraculous feeding of the 5000 in the Gospel is not an everyday occurrence, but it does carry a spiritual message for those with eyes to see. This is not to take away from the historicity of the event, nor to needlessly allegorize. However, in the light of Jesus' own teaching of Himself as the Bread of Life, we cannot fail to acknowledge that the miracle stands as a sign of His own sufficiency as discovered in the Cross.

In our own experience as Christians, we are also made very much aware of the events of Calvary in partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion. This also lays upon us an obligation. Just as we must have a care for the physical poverty in our global village, we must also seek to bring the spiritual food of life to a world that hungers not only for bread but for the very Word of God (Amos 8:11-12).

The miracle of the loaves and fish is that it shows that in God’s kingdom there is enough of everything for everyone. Jesus’ ability to create so much out of so little shows His mastery over the natural realm. The miracle shows us God’s character, the nature of the coming Kingdom, and the nature of the Kingdom in our hearts when it has transformed us. Our Heavenly Father, as the head of the household, sustains and liberates us and guides us to spiritual fulfillment. The foundation of God’s household is the duty He imposes on us to care for each other.

Jesus always seems to be asking more of us than we are able to give: as spouses and parents, as students and workers, and on and on. He calls on us to love, even when love is difficult; to forgive, even when we have been wronged; to stand fast and firm on our principles, even when it means standing alone. And those things are not easy to do. After all, we are not Jesus, and our powers are not unlimited, as His were.

God’s abundance is right here, right now, wherever right here and whenever right now may be. We think we do not have enough not because our supplies are too small, but because our “we” is too small. The “we” includes God and the gifts of all those among whom we are sent as Christ’s body. Indeed, far more of the gifts are “out there” than “in here”. That’s how it is that ministry in God’s kingdom grows by becoming viral and multiplying. God meets our needs daily. He will give us what we need when it is needed. Matthew 6:32-33 reads, “Your heavenly Father already knows your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and He will give you everything you need.”

Jesus bore witness to our spiritual duty to care for each other. There is enough for everyone when we live in right relation and harmony with each other. But there are millions of people who live in poverty and are starving. What can we do? Well, we can do what Jesus did. Jesus took the small amount of food that was offered and used it to do His work by using it as an example for the disciples and for us. When we give to God, no matter how much or how little, it is returned to us tenfold. We provide the best we can to do God’s work, and God rolls up His sleeves and gets to work with us. We must be willing to work with God and with other people. When we work together and use what God has given us to do His work, God will multiply what we offer, because He is driven by our needs and not by our wants.

We are not to be a band-aid that provides a small amount of healing and protection for the hurting people around us. The Church must be fused with those who have been hurt by society, working as a unit to bring about healing. Part of our strategy is to become a vital part of life in our community and in all other communities in which the Italo-Greek Orthodox Catholic Church has a presence, not just a place for people to visit on the weekends but truly to be a healing place for a hurting world.

For example, we must minister to those in “deserted places”- the sick, dying, imprisoned and elderly. They often feel on the fringe of life, less than appreciated, less than valued. When we minister to them, we are essentially telling them that they are part of our Church community, part of the people who are fed by God.

Every one of us has a hunger for something - a hunger we try to fill with food, houses, spouses, careers, cars, sex, drugs or something else. This hunger is why many of us go to church. We have a hunger that only God can satisfy, and it can only be satisfied by regular weekly church attendance. Those who only go to church on special occasions, or who refuse to go because they do not like the priest, or the time of the Divine Liturgy, or the length of the Divine Liturgy will never have their hunger completely satisfied.

God gives us strength and cares for us when we get discouraged. God accepts us and gives us grace because we do not always feel accepted. God gives us generosity because we tend to be selfish. God gives us love because we want to be loved.

Those who serve the Lord get to enjoy the fruit of the abundant supply that Jesus gives. God’s rewards are for anyone who commits themselves to His kingdom work. Jesus is the example we are to follow. Each and every one of us is invited to follow Him, to take and eat of His life, of His love, of His forgiveness. This story is a witness to the power of God. It is a story of grace that is sparked and motivated by the love and compassion of Jesus.

Jesus is going beyond feeding the people. He is transforming this moment on this remote hillside into a holy moment, a sacred celebration. He intends to offer these people something to eat, but He also intends to offer them something more. He plans to involve them in a holy occasion, a moment when they can experience the presence of God in their midst, a moment when they can see Jesus revealed to them as the Son of God.

When we dine together at the Lord’s Table, God’s power is alive. His power produces an abundance of grace, power, love, and the fulfillment of our needs, just like there were twelve baskets of leftovers after everyone in the crowd was fed. This can only happen when everyone is included. Only then will a faith community become a beacon of welcoming light to the disadvantaged and the less fortunate.

We remember the bread every time we come to receive the Holy Eucharist and see the blessing given, the bread broken, and the food shared. We commune in memory of and in the presence of the One who gazed towards the crowds with compassion. Sharing a meal creates and maintains a sense of community. When we gather together to celebrate the Eucharist, Christ satisfies our deepest hunger, heals our brokenness, and binds us together as one body and strengthens us to do His work in our world.

God has given each of us different gifts, talents, and abilities. We are different parts of the same body of Christ. Architects, lawyers, police officer, firefighters, engineers, volunteers, teachers, priests and lay ministers all stand together to help slow the spread of famine and accomplish the work of the kingdom. Some are called by God to make great sacrifices, but God wants all of us to respond to His call in our lives. For those who have little, they can pray for those who are willing to serve in a foreign land, and the wealthy can help by giving out of their abundance to support those who have walked away from well-paying jobs to serve the less fortunate in society.

Jesus’ actions with the crowd are actions that even the playing field, actions that make sure everyone is taken care of. They were radical actions at that time, and they are radical actions today. They seem foreign to a culture that is driven by dollars and profit, and they were so foreign in Jesus’ time that He was put to death over them. But following Jesus is a radical lifestyle, and Jesus asks us if we are willing to do the same. Are we willing to give up some of what we have, that others might not go hungry? Are we willing to give out of what God has given to us?

Look around you, beloved, and do not close your eyes to the need of your fellow man. Jesus feeds you and nourishes you with the Bread of Life and the Cup of Eternal Salvation. What are you willing to do for those who have nothing to eat physically and spiritually? Become a co-worker with God in building up His Kingdom of love, justice, and peace.


Sunday, July 23, 2017

Homily for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Over the past several weeks we have witnessed Jesus heal two demoniacs and a man with palsy. Today, we watch as our Lord heals two blind men and another who is mute. There are more miracles recounted in the Gospel of St. Matthew, as we know. In fact, Matthew recounts ten miracles in Chapters 8 and 9 of his Gospel alone. The common theme which runs through all these accounts of Jesus’ works is that of Jesus’ divine power and authority.

The power and authority which Jesus possesses are not earthly power but divine power, a power which attests not only to His divinity but to His sovereign kingship as well. No mere human being can perform the works that Jesus can, thus they manifest a power and authority that is not of this world. Jesus alone is the One who has power over disease, demons, and death; of all the natural elements, and of all the earth. Nine of the miracles recounted by St. Matthew deals with human dilemmas of all sorts, and the other one showed Jesus’ power over nature in the stilling of the wind and sea.

This morning, we are told of another manifestation of Jesus’ power. St. Matthew writes, “As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed Him, crying out, "Have mercy on us, Son of David!" When He entered the house, the blind men came up to Him, and Jesus said to them, "Do you believe that I am able to do this?" They said to Him, "Yes, Lord." Then He touched their eyes, saying, "It shall be done to you according to your faith." And their eyes were opened. And Jesus sternly warned them: "See that no one knows about this!" But they went out and spread the news about Him throughout all that land.”

Blindness was a common handicap in Jesus’ time. The arid, dusty climate caused eye damage, but eye disease contracted at birth from untreated venereal disease caused permanent blindness within three days. That is why people would ask the question: “Is he blind because of his parent’s sin?”

All sickness is the result of sin, from being born IN sin and into a sinful world. Being spiritually dead and spiritually blind was and is the broken and hopeless condition of unsaved men and women in this world, who are still locked into their sin and misery. It was not uncommon to see a couple of blind people hanging onto each other to help each other, especially since they were so often despised by the general population, who judged them and their blindness. “Misery likes company”, as the old saying goes, but Jesus also hinted to the Pharisee’s sinful condition as the “blind leading the blind…you both fall into the ditch together.”

The penitent prayer of a humble heart “crying out” of men is heard in verse 27: “Have mercy on us, Son of David!" The hurting, the unfit, the outcasts, the discouraged, the sorrowing, the lonely, the sinful, and the guilty are the ones who seek and follow Jesus. You never find those who think they are self-sufficient or without sin looking for Jesus. You never find the people who think they have the answers, the resources, and the cures. The broken-hearted are the ones who find Jesus, not the self-sufficient and prideful ones. The people who seek out Jesus are those who know that they are broken and frail, they know their human limitations and failings. This does not mean they are weak. It simply means they acknowledge their humanness.

The word for “crying out” has a multitude of possibilities, but it most often resembles a screaming, pleading, begging cry. It was the sound that demons made. It was the cry of a woman in child birth in Revelation 12:2. It was the emotional scream of the disciples: “It is a ghost!” when they saw Jesus walking on the water through the stormy sea: “It was frightened Peter crying out as he began to sink: “Save me!” It was the crowds shouting, "Hosanna to the Son of David,” on Palm Sunday! It was the sound of the same crowds yelling: “Crucify Him!” on Good Friday. It was the cry of Jesus as He yielded up His spirit.

Their cry of “Son of David” tells us that they knew at least some of the truth about Jesus; they knew that Jesus was the promised one of God. “Son of David” was the Old Testament title given to the Promised Messiah. 2 Samuel 7:12 had stated the promise to David: "When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” Every Jew knew that eventually there would come a Son of David who would fulfill this promise, and it certainly wasn’t in King Solomon.

The men knew their physical need, but they also knew they did not deserve anything. Remember the prayer of the publican as opposed to the prayer of the penitent sinner? “Crying out” is the cry of desperation from the heart which often precedes regeneration. “Crying out” to Jesus is what people do, who know their extreme need for mercy, forgiveness, and healing. The Jewish leaders didn’t cry out for mercy because they were content and proud of their own survival and self-sufficiency, but the sinner knows his own destitute condition before God and cries for undeserved pity and unmerited grace from a God who is willing to pour out mercy.

There was never a person who made “giving mercy” clearer than our Lord Jesus. Mercy is also what we should be giving to those who are “crying out” in need; that is why Jesus included it in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” (Matt. 5:7)

In listening to Matthew recount the activities that took place today, we realize that Jesus had had a very busy day of healing. It is difficult to say exactly when Jesus’ day began, but we know that He had been pursued by the crowds everywhere He went. These men followed Him into the house where He was staying: “When He entered the house, the blind men came up to Him.”

It is a wonderful thing in ministry to experience the constancy of men seeking God’s mercy. To be persistently pursued by those who are genuinely in search of mercy and healing is a beautiful thing because when they finally receive the grace that Jesus has to offer, you realize that it was totally God’s doing. If you seek God with all your heart, you will be found by Him, even though you may be blind.

When Jesus asked the blind men: "Do you believe that I am able to do this?" did He ask about the quantity or quality of faith that they had? Not at all. Jesus knows all and He knew they had faith; that was not the purpose of the question. And besides, faith is not a requirement for Jesus to perform a miracle. In Matthew 8:26, when the storms came and Jesus was asleep in the boat, the disciples had “little faith”, yet Jesus quieted the sea. In Matthew 8:28, the demon-possessed had no faith. In Matthew 11:20, Jesus explained that people received miracles and yet did not repent.

Jesus asks the blind men to affirm the confession of their faith publicly. In Romans 10:9, the Apostle Paul said, "If you shall confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and you believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved." The two blind men no doubt trusted Jesus as the Messiah sent from God for the salvation of men, and not as a political savior, and they no doubt trusted that He had the power to give them sight. Jesus was asking them to acknowledge that publicly.

The miracle, itself, again displays the mighty power of the compassion, power, and authority of Jesus. Who but God has mercy on sinners? Who but God can forgive sins? Who but God can command blindness to disappear without treatment or medication? Who but God can cause immediate healing by His Word.

Jesus’ command for the blindness to disappear could be translated like this: “According to the faith of you, let it be to you.” (9:29) In other words, what you have in your heart, I will do for you. This is comparable to what Jesus said to the centurion in Matthew 8:13: “Just as you believe, let it be to you.” The bottom line is that Jesus had the power to perform the request and desire of their hearts. We can have faith in all kinds of things, but that does not mean it happens.

Of course, the physical blindness of the two men is representative of the spiritual blindness which is the curse upon every person ever born. “They have eyes but see not>” The light of the Gospel of God’s mercy does not stream through the portholes or eyes of the heart unless Jesus touches and commands the blindness to disappear. When He does that, then the darkness of our sin-filled hearts is illuminated with the Love of God in Christ. Then we can see who Jesus truly is, why He came, and of what the miracle of God’s grace consists. Jesus has the power to give spiritual light because Jesus IS the Light which illumines all men.

Jesus commands the darkness to disappear, but He also gave the blind men another command: "See that no one knows about this!" Jesus gave this command many times in the early part of His ministry. The reasoning behind the command to “Be quiet about this miracle” is that Jesus did not want people to see Him as merely a miracle worker, but mainly as the Messiah. He did not want the crowd to get caught up in the frenzy of the moment and miracles. His Kingdom was not of this earth. He wanted people to know that He was the King of Heaven and earth come to die for sins, and His time had not come yet. Jesus dying and reigning would be according to God’s time, and God’s conditions, not man’s.

As Matthew continues his Gospel narrative we are told “As they were going out, a mute, demon-possessed man was brought to Him. After the demon was cast out, the mute man spoke; and the crowds were amazed, and were saying, "Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel."

No doubt the blind men went and told what Jesus had done for them, even after being commanded by Jesus not to say anything about what happened. They disobeyed Christ’s command and couldn’t keep quiet, which shows the contrariness of infants in Christ.

When we encounter or come to Christ, we are so happy that we want to tell every one of our good fortunes. But it often takes a time of growth and understanding to realize that obedience is a key part of being a disciple. Our newfound freedom is never a license to disobey the commands of God.

It could well be that the two blind men and the mute were traveling together, like the three musketeers. The mute couldn’t speak or hear but he could be the pair of needed eyes for his two friends. They no doubt pulled their deaf and dumb friend in since he could not hear what happened but they certainly could point to their eyes. As followers of Christ, we will inevitably be conveyors of contagious contact with others about our faith. Most of the time, we do not need the power and obedience to keep our mouths quiet when it comes to telling others, but rather, we need the courage to open them with the good news of the Gospel.

How clear it is to those who have received sight, that Jesus alone has fulfilled the promise of Isaiah 35: 5-6: "When the Kingdom comes, then shall the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as a hart or as a deer, and the tongue of the dumb will sing." May we too sing the song of the redeemed to those who have yet to see and hear the message of the Love of God in Christ Jesus.


Saturday, July 22, 2017

Homily for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

After being rejected by the Gadarenes, Jesus travels back across the lake to His own town. The people of Gadarenes had plainly indicated that they did not want Jesus to minister health and healing among them so He left. Jesus does not stay around where He is not wanted. As much as He is always there for us and is willing to help us, He will never impose Himself or force Himself into our lives. A legion of demons was powerless to keep Him out, but human beings that do not desire or want anything to do with Him keep Him out of their lives, homes, churches, and communities. Surprised that I included “church” into this grouping? I did so because it is very possible for churches to not want Christ involved with them.

Many churches would rather be humanist, basing all their works and existence on just doing good. They are not interested in what Christ says because having Christ in one’s life or in a community of faith involves having rules, obligations, and responsibilities.

Many churches today practice “social” religion; a religion void of Christ and anything to with God. Such a religion is simple, easy to manage, and is all touchy-feely and goody-goody. Just check out the Church of Facebook to understand what I am talking about. Facebook is the new humanist religion that provides what churches do not. At least this is what Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook wants everyone to believe. In fact, Zuckerberg says that Facebook, with its more than 2 billion members, is larger than the Catholic Church and can thus do more for people than the Catholic Church does. But, can the Church of Facebook, heal your soul, forgive your sins, and grant you salvation? But I digress.

So, Jesus returned to His own city, Capernaum. Capernaum was a good place for Jesus in which to minister. It was a wealthy city due to fishing and trade. Situated on the Sea of Galilee in a densely populated area, Capernaum housed the Roman garrison that kept peace in the region. Capernaum was a cultural melting pot, greatly influenced by Greek and Roman manners, dress, architecture, and politics.

When the people discovered Jesus was there they came to take advantage of His compassion. Upon seeing a broken paralytic, Jesus intentionally stressed His authority to forgive sins. “And they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralytic, “Take courage, son; your sins are forgiven.”

Jesus saw their faith in their determination to overcome obstacles to get to Him. The first words Jesus says are, “Take courage, child.” Jesus ministers to the paralytic's deep mental depression, encouraging him to cheer up, something good is about to happen. Our low times are often the result of a negative attitude toward life. Jesus would encourage us if we would but listen to Him.

The boy's body was paralyzed, but so was his soul, because he did not know Jesus. The man’s spiritual state was Jesus’ first and greatest concern. Thus, Jesus spoke the incredible words, in the present, not future tense, "your sins are forgiven.” Jesus' bold statement declared that He has the power to forgive sin. The forgiveness of sin is possible only by God. Everyone was shocked.

Far too often we concentrate on the powerful giving, healing hand of Jesus, but first and foremost He is a Savior. He has the power to forgive spiritual sickness in the form of sin. Jesus saw in this paralyzed man a need greater than physical health; this man needed spiritual health.

So, too, I suggest to you that there are many people today who are not spiritually ill because they are paralyzed by guilt over a sin or a series of sins that were previously committed. And although they can walk physically, they cannot walk with the Lord because they are filled with sin and all that comes with it.

If God does not heal us or someone we love, remember that physical healing is not Jesus' only concern. He offers emotional healing and spiritual healing for those who listen to Him and come to know Him personally. For those who know Christ and listen to Him and obey His words and laws, there is hope. But for that hope to be realized, the sins we bear must be forgiven. Christ is the only one who can lift that burden from our shoulders and our hearts. And it is in the Church, His Body, that He forgives us, in the Holy Mystery of Confession and Reconciliation.

The people gathered around the paralytic would have declared the man's healing from paralysis to be the greatest thing that could happen to him, but Christ went to the very root cause of every disease and sickness that has come upon this fallen world. How can one be joyful in his heart if coiled within there is the reality of evil and alienation from God?

Jesus’ declaration of forgiveness brings out the charge of blasphemy from the scribes and elders present. “And some of the scribes said to themselves, “This fellow blasphemes.” “The scribes” began to talk among themselves and challenge Jesus' right to proclaim the forgiveness of sin. Scribes were scholars in the Mosaic Law. They were exegetes of the Law and were held in great honor. Scribes and Pharisees were often seen together and many scribes were Pharisees, though not all of them. These influential teachers concluded that He was blaspheming by pronouncing forgiveness of sin.”

By claiming the right to forgive sin, Jesus was claiming a privilege that belongs to God alone. The scribes were correct in realizing this statement as potential blasphemy and Him as a potential blasphemer, as one who defames, slanders, or reviles God, but they would not allow themselves to come to the logical fork in the road of thought. Either Jesus had the right because He is God or He blasphemes because He unjustly claims the attributes and prerogatives of deity.

Obviously, the Biblical scholars of that time refused to entertain the possibility that Jesus had the right to forgive sin. "And Jesus knowing their thoughts, said, “Why are you thinking evil in your hearts?”

As Jesus had read the mental state of the paralytic, so He now looks upon the thoughts of the scribes. This reader of hearts and thoughts could distinguish between noble jealousy for God's honor and ill-will for Jesus whom they regarded as dangerous to their authority and position.

The heart is seen in Scripture as the seat or fountain of thought and the mind as the intelligent, organized processing of thoughts. His question, “Why are you thinking evil in your hearts? states His evaluation of their motives. They were judging Jesus based on evil motives, not based on the facts. They judged Jesus out of prejudice instead of on the evidence. Therefore, they revealed the evil motives behind their thinking.

Jesus courageously confronted their sin. He would not compromise with sin just to be nice or civil. He would not dilute truth just to get along or be more likable. Sometimes we forget this. We always call Jesus our “friend”, and for good reason. He looks out for us, wants the best for us. But Jesus is more than our friend, He is our Savior. He is the one who not only looks out for us but gives us life.

It seems the Scribes were thinking that Jesus vainly pronounced forgiveness because He was unable to heal the broken body of the paralytic. Jesus parallels the impossibility of healing the paralytic to another impossibility with man, the forgiveness of sin. “Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, and walk’?

Jesus’ rhetorical question was to provoke or challenge their reasoning. He makes the point that He was displaying supernatural power consistent with the anticipated Messiah, who would not only heal physical infirmities but spiritual disease as well. The question, “Which is easier to say?” was to draw a comparison between the difficulty of saying without proving and saying what is immediately proved or disproved. Certainly, anyone can say the words “Your sins are forgiven,” and there would be no way to prove whether any action took place. If one says, "Rise, take up your bed and go home,” the power and authority behind that statement can be verified or denied by watching to see if the person gets up and walks or not.

Jesus' authority to forgive was being inwardly challenged by His critics. His words, even after the multiple healings and miracles that displayed God’s power previously, were not sufficient to convince these skeptics. Therefore, now that He had their attention, He gave the second command, which is certainly more difficult, "Rise, and walk, He did not make them wait long for God's verification. In response, Jesus healed the man in verse 6 to demonstrate his authority to forgive man’s sin. “But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”- then He said to the paralytic, "Get up, pick up your bed and go home.”

Jesus accepts the challenge in the thoughts of the scribes. If the man remained paralyzed on his mat, it would be clear Jesus was not who He claimed to be. His declared purpose in this healing was to let them know that He has the power to forgive sin. He appeals to His miracles to establish the truth of His teachings. From this test of power, He proves Himself the Messiah with the authority to forgive sin.

After explaining His purpose, He turns to the paralytic and says "Rise, take up your bed and go home.” All three actions, rising, lifting, and walking was impossible for the paralytic and conclusive evidence of Jesus’ power to restore to health and wholeness. The healing of the paralyzed man extends the authority of Jesus to its most crucial aspect, the forgiveness of sins.

It was a moment of suspense and evaluation for all the beholders. Some hoping and some fearing that the man would indeed get up and walk and prove Jesus’ power. Which side are you on? Do you want Jesus to display His power by moving powerfully in His church or would you prefer His Spirit would not move because it would upset your world if you had to bow to His reality and power in the reprioritizing of your life?

It was no sooner authorized than it was accomplished. It was a most convincing argument. Who would dispute the authority or right to forgive sin to One who could accomplish such an impossible thing or persist in the charge of blasphemy against Him? He who by a word could heal the severest sickness could also be granted by God the power to forgive sin.

This morning’s Gospel records the typical impact for Jesus working a miracle, the people who saw it glorified the Father. “But when the crowds saw this, they were awestruck, and glorified God, who had given such authority to men.”

The crowds' reaction was to praise God for the healing There was no mistake that Jesus’ authority came from God. They praised God that He had given such authority to men. “To men” indicates they thought Jesus one of the prophets, like Elijah or Elisha. They had not yet conceded that He was unique, the Messiah, the very Son of God who, as God, had the power to forgive sin. If they had, great repentance leading to salvation would have been granted that day. Why is it that we are more impressed with healing miracles than the miracle of forgiveness?

They glorified God because He had physically, visually demonstrated Himself. They praised Him for so revealing His nature and character to them in this healing act. The crowd had not seen anything like this healing. They were awed with respect over the phenomenal power and authority displayed before their eyes.

People still seek and applaud Jesus’ miracles but refuse to heed what His miracles prove. Jesus performed miracles to prove that His love and divine power were sufficient for man’s greatest need, his need of forgiveness and cleansing. Far too many seek and applaud Him for the physical instead of the spiritual.

The granting of forgiveness of sin is far, far more costly than physical healing. It required the rejection and scorn Jesus endured in His earthly pilgrimage, climaxing in the bloody sweat of Gethsemane’s surrender; the painful scourging of the whips and the crushing death he experienced on the Cross.

Are you presently or frequently depressed? Be of good cheer. Lay hold, by faith, of the spiritual health and well-being Christ has for you. Don’t be so concerned with rectifying the symptom; get to the source of your problem, sin. Seek Him concerning the source of your problem, your fallen sinful nature, then you will hear Him say, “Rise up and walk, for your sins have been forgiven”. Then you too can enjoy the good cheer that forgiveness of sin brings.


Saturday, July 8, 2017

Homily for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Today, we continue to look at the miracles and ministry of Jesus as recorded in the Gospel of St. Matthew, in which Jesus demonstrates qualities and power that only God could possess.

The miracle we heard told a few moments ago is also recorded in the Gospels of St. Luke and St. Mark. In those accounts, a single demon-possessed man is mentioned, but in Matthew, there are two mentioned. This is not a discrepancy or error, but Mark and Luke place emphasis on the one who was most tormented, having broken free from the chains that had bound him. Mark and Luke tell us that the demon-possessed man’s name was “Legion” and that there were 2,000 pigs in Mark who were destroyed at Jesus’ command to “Go!”

Matthew’s Gospel tells us that “When He came to the other side, into the country of the Gadarenes, two men who were demon-possessed met Him as they were coming out of the tombs. They were so extremely violent that no one could pass by that way. Matthew goes on to tell us, “And they cried out saying, “What business do we have with each other, Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before our time?”

The demons wanted to know why Jesus came to the area where they kept themselves. What business do God and the devil have with each other? Satan despises God; he is repulsed by Him and is jealous of Him. The demons which possessed the men knew that there is no peace between God and Satan. Jesus, being fully God, demonstrates the sharp contrast between Light and darkness, between good and evil, and between God and Satan. There is no light in darkness and there is no good in evil, therefore, the devil and his hosts will never be able to make a deal or compromise with God. Satan and his angels are eternal enemies of God and will continue to be so.

The fact that the demons recognized Jesus as the Son of God is a clear indication that they recognized Jesus’ Person. In warfare, the enemy is usually clearly defined. When the enemy is not defined, one has a problem defending oneself as well as attacking and confronting the opposition. The demons recognize Jesus as God, but they do not honor Him as God. Again, this is because they despise and hate Him. But not only do they despise and hate Him, they fear Him. And the reason they fear Him is because they know that love is more powerful than hate.

Satan and his demons are very intelligent and crafty. They will come to us and among us disguised as good people, even light-bearers, to decisive and destroy us. They will try all kinds of tricks and deceptions to win us over to their side. They will even disguise themselves as false Christs and false apostles who will show us great signs and wonders to mislead us and bring about our destruction. But those who truly know Christ, who not only hear His voice but listen to it attentively, will recognize the false Christs and apostles and run from them. They will seek shelter in the bosom of the Church, which is Christ’s Mystical Body and His household here on earth.

The second question that the demoniacs asked is, “Have You come here to torment us before the time?” This is a crucial question, one which demonstrated the demons recognized and feared Jesus’ power and His purpose. The devil and his demons know that their time is short, and with the appearance of the Messiah, they realize it more than ever.

The reason the demons used the words, “before the time,” is because they know that there has been appointed a day of reckoning. They know that a day has been fixed by God, a day of judgment, in which Satan and all those who follow him, all who have denied Jesus Christ, will be judged eternally to the hell that God has prepared for them.

The Book of Acts cannot be clearer on this point: “Having overlooked the times of ignorance, God has declared to all people everywhere that they should repent. He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through Jesus Christ, whom He has appointed as Judge and King over all, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30-31).

The demons who took up in the possessed men knew that their time was short. Believers, too, know that their time is short and that they should be striving to please God and be diligent in preaching and living the Gospel with much fervor.

St. James admonishes us, “You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.” If demons believe and shudder, then people in their “right minds” should shudder as well. But many people do not. Many simply journey through life not considering God because they have been deceived. Most are no different than the men were possessed by the demons.

If the Holy Spirit, who is the Counselor and Guide to all that is holy does not live within us, then we live in unbelief and in darkness, opposing God and the things of God. For those who have turned from God and listened to the voices of Satan and his demons, their lives are lives of despair and discontent. They are filled with things the devil has given which they believe are good, but they are left unfulfilled and wanting more. Satan has them in his grip and he will not let go. Only God, only Jesus Christ, can save such unfortunate people.

As St. Matthew tells us, the demons are afraid; they know their time is short. So, they entreat Jesus, saying, “If You are going to cast us out, send us into the herd of swine.” Jesus responds by saying, “Go!” And they came out of the men and went into the swine and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank and into the sea, where they all drowned. Upon seeing this, the herdsmen turned and ran away in fear. They were probably hired-hands and afraid for their jobs, so they wanted to be the first ones to explain to their employers what happened before any rumors started to swirl. And behold, the whole city came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw Him, they implored Him to leave their region.

One of the most important lessons we want to take from this morning’s Gospel is that Jesus’ mercy knows no human limitations. Most all the people who witnessed the miracle were Gentiles, not Jews. They were not the “chosen people.” The demoniacs were probably Gentiles as well. What this tells us is that no matter who you are, or where you come from, God’s mercy is available to everyone. Of course, while God can, and oftentimes does, bestow His mercy upon whoever He pleases, whenever He pleases, we must still be receptive to receiving His mercy.

Like the demoniacs who were not in their “right mind” but were the recipients of God’s mercy, we too, when we are not in our “right mind”, are also the recipients of God’s mercy, even if we do not comprehend it clearly. But those of us who are in our “right mind,” however, if we choose freely to turn away from God, we reject outright the mercy with which He desires to favor us. Who among us would deliberately and willfully refuse or reject God’s mercy?

Only Christ can free us from the devil and his afflictions. Only Christ can say, “Go!” Only Christ is the Sovereign Lord of all. He is the Lord of Heaven and earth and all that is in them. He is Lord over the physical and the spiritual, of the seen and unseen.

Satan, who is the prince of this world and the prince of demons has no power of Jesus, the Prince of Peace and the King of Glory. In the Church, Jesus has established His kingdom on earth. We call the Church on earth, the “Church Militant” because we are constantly fighting the good fight; we are constantly fighting against Satan and his armies of deceitful, destructive demons and human disciples.

To be bound to the devil means to be bound to darkness, evil and death. It means to be an enemy of God. If one is a disciple of the devil, it means such a person is filled with hate and loathing, not only for God and others but also for himself or herself. A person in league with the devil is devoid of love. He or she is incapable of loving or being loved because love does not exist in hate; it must replace hate. Light does not exist in darkness; it must replace the darkness.

God’s Kingdom is a kingdom of Light. The devil cannot live in the light; he dwells in the shadows, in the darkness of men’s souls. While Satan dwells in the deepest recesses of men’s hearts, he is still able to make it appear that those within whom he resides walk in the light.

Satan is the great deceiver and manipulator. He is the Father of Lies and the Prince of Darkness. He is a Tempter, a Thief, a Murderer, a Distorter, and a Destroyer. He can make what is bad appear good, and what is good appear bad. The devil rejoices when we are angry, depressed and despondent, He exults when we use drugs, or steal, or commit adultery, or murder someone. He misleads us and makes us believe these things are okay.

Like the townspeople who wanted Jesus to leave from among them, those who do wrong also want Jesus out of their lives because they care more about their vices than they do about God. Many people today prefer swine to the Savior.

When God favors us with His mercy, we have an obligation to go home to our people and report to them the great things God has done for us, and how he had mercy on us. God desires that all people be saved, but we must want to be saved. And when one or more of us experiences God’s mercy in our lives, it is incumbent upon us to share that story of God’s graciousness with others as a testament of hope. We must also witness to God’s great work in our lives. God’s mercy is one of the great gifts we must always hope for. And when we are blessed with that gift, we must tell of all its fruits and results. This is what being an evangelist is all about. This is what being a disciple of Jesus Christ is all about.


Saturday, July 1, 2017

Homily for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost 2017

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

In this morning’s Gospel reading, Jesus is approached by a centurion who had a servant who was ill. The centurion was a low-level officer in the Roman army in charge of a contingent of one hundred soldiers. The equivalent rank in today’s army would be that of a lieutenant. The centurion had to pass down orders or issue orders to his men, so he would know how to both receive orders as well as to give then. There were detachments of Roman soldiers dispersed throughout Palestine. One of the reasons for this was to maintain order in each region and their respective localities. Another reason was to integrate the conquered Jews into the larger Roman society, a process known as Romanization. By sword or by carrot, the role of the centurion was to maintain order and make good, obedient servants of the people.

In his interaction with the people or perhaps by direct observation, the centurion had become aware of Jesus. It was his job to know what was going on all the time. Perhaps he looked with cool indifference for a while as a spectator interested only in those things which affected Rome’s power and control over its subjugated and conquered peoples. But adversity and personal problems can cause a person to acquire a different outlook and see things in a different light.

Apparently, the centurion cared very much about his servant; so much so that he sought out Jesus for the explicit purpose of asking Jesus to heal him. But, as tough and stern as the centurion was, he had great humility, for in asking Jesus for His help, the centurion also admitted that he was not worthy to have Jesus come under his roof. Now, here was a very powerful and influential man, one who could order and even force people to do his will. Yet, he humbled himself before Jesus who, culturally, was considered his inferior. Nevertheless, the centurion approached Jesus for help with an air of desperation.

Jesus’ immediate reaction was one of compassion. He said that He would come in person to heal the servant. Because we are accustomed to seeing Jesus being compassionate to all, we overlook how shocking His words would have been to the mostly Jewish crowd assembled at Capernaum. No doubt all who heard Jesus say He would accompany the centurion to his home to heal his servant were scandalized by His words. They could not understand how Jesus, a Jew, could have anything to do with someone who was their sworn enemy. Jesus was going to the house of a Gentile, even worse, a Roman soldier, someone the Jews considered to be a dog.

Jesus did not need anyone to tell Him about the centurion or about his character; Jesus already knew. As God the Son, He knows what is in everybody’s heart. Jesus does not need to take advice from any man or woman about how to do things. He was willing to go to the centurion’s house and heal his servant because of his profound faith.

The centurion knew what opposition and anger Jesus would face by agreeing to help him. He understood the Jewish mentality and attitude toward the Romans. He did not want to stir up and trouble among the people of Capernaum. The centurion knew by Jewish standards that he was not worthy of Jesus’ attention and, he said so. “Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof.”

Here was a centurion, a ranking official in the Roman army, who believed in Jesus; who acknowledged Jesus’ power and authority, as well as His ability to help others in ways mere mortals could not. The centurion knew, in his heart, that Jesus was no mere mortal man.

“Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant shall be healed.” Jesus was amazed at this response of the centurion. The divine Son of God who knows all things can still be amazed. This is hard to imagine, that the Lord of Heaven and earth can be amazed by one of His own creatures. Jesus’ response to the centurion’s humble words was just as much a bombshell as was His willingness to accompany him to his home.

Jesus had been all over: from Jerusalem to Decopolis and everywhere in between and had not seen faith like that of the centurion’s. the Jews had the privilege of receiving God’s word in the Law, the Prophets, and Sacred Scripture. But they did not understand or know Jesus like the centurion had.

If Jesus agreeing to help the centurion was not offensive enough to the Jews, then what He was about to say next would enrage them. Jesus says to those standing by that "people from all over the world, from the east to the west, would recline at the banquet table in the Kingdom of Heaven with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and that many of the chosen will be cast out into the outer darkness." Can you imagine! Heathens and non-believers would sit at the Table of the Lord, but believers would be cast out. To the Jews, this was heresy and sacrilege.

By this time in Matthew’s Gospel, we should not be surprised by Jesus’s words. We have already seen the inclusion of the Gentiles in the coming of the Magi. We see it in the lack of mention of circumcision. We saw it in the return of the Holy Family from Egypt to reside in Galilee, to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah. We have seen it at the Sermon on the Mount, where both Jews and Gentiles came together to hear Jesus preach. We saw it in the healing of the Syrian woman’s daughter. WE see it in Jesus’ trips to Gennesaret, Caesaria Philippi, and Decopolis. Finally, we see it in the call to make disciples of the Gentiles.

This morning’s Gospel teaches us that just because we are Christians does not mean that we are automatically saved. Our faith must be strong; it must be real. The centurion, though he was not one of “God’s chosen,” nevertheless had faith greater and stronger than the Jews themselves. Is the same not true of many today? There are many non-Christians whose faith in God is much stronger than our own, and we are the “Chosen People.”

The centurion recognized that Jesus is the ultimate authority; that He is all-powerful. It is only by Jesus Christ that we are healed and made whole. It is only by Jesus Christ that our world will be healed of all the ills and troubles that afflict it. If we have faith, then nothing is impossible. God will answer our requests and give us what we need.

There is one very curious aspect about this morning’s Gospel reading, and that is, the servant who is healed is never spoken about except to say that he was ill and that he was healed. Jesus did not even see or meet the man, and yet, He healed him. The centurion’s faith amazed Jesus because He did not find among the Jews any who had as great a faith as the centurion. Because of this, Jesus grants the centurion’s request.

What Jesus did for the centurion, he can do for us, if our faith is strong, real, and sincere. If someone dear to us is sick or in trouble and we ask the Lord for help, He will grant our request, but only if we believe and only if our faith is genuine.

None of us here this morning is worthy to have Jesus come under our roof. But God is gracious, merciful, and compassionate; long-suffering and eager to help and save us. All we need to do is believe in Him.

Christ is always near to those who love Him and honor Him. He does not turn His face from us when we come to Him in humility and sincerity of heart. When we approach the Lord with firm faith, He will say to us, “Let it be done for you as you have believed or hoped for in your heart.”

When Jesus speaks, He speaks with authority and power. He can heal us of all our diseases. He can set us free from all that holds us fast in suffering and want. Christ gives strength and power to those who are helpless and powerless. He lifts up those who are bowed down and oppressed. He gives health and life not only to the physically ill but to the spiritually ill as well. But all of this is available to only those who believe, whose faith is pure and strong.

At the end of this morning’s Gospels speaks bluntly about the penalty for unbelief. “Truly, I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven; but the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 8:11-12). All those who reject and disavow Christ will be cast out into the outer darkness, since they rejected the Light of the World. In the place of darkness, they will experience great agony and evil. Such are the consequences of being separated from God and living apart from Him. It is not a pleasant prospect.

Let us be like the centurion. Let us be people of great faith. Let us be humble, and in humility, approach the Lord and ask Him for His help, knowing in our hearts that we are not worthy to have Him come under our roof.

Through the prayers and intercessions of the most holy Mother of God, the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary; of the glorious Apostles Peter and Paul, and of all the saints, may our faith be strengthened and made firm. And may we, like the centurion’s servant, be healed of all physical and spiritual ills, that Christ may enter freely and completely into us, filling us with every grace and blessing and granting us eternal life.