Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Seventh Sunday of Luke (Luke 8:41-56)

And behold, there came a man named Jairus, and he was a ruler of the synagogue. And he fell down at Jesus' feet and begged Him to come to his house, for he had an only daughter about twelve years of age, and she was dying. But as He went, the multitudes thronged Him. Now a woman, having a flow of blood for twelve years, who had spent all her livelihood on physicians and could not be healed by any, came from behind and touched the border of His garment. And immediately her flow of blood stopped. And Jesus said, "Who touched Me?" When all denied it, Peter and those with him said, "Master, the multitudes throng and press You, and You say, 'Who touched Me?'" But Jesus said, "Somebody touched Me, for I perceived power going out from Me." Now when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling; and falling down before Him, she declared to Him in the presence of all the people the reason she had touched Him and how she was healed immediately. And He said to her, "Daughter, be of good cheer; your faith has made you well. Go in peace." While He was still speaking, someone came from the ruler of the synagogue's house, saying to him, "Your daughter is dead. Do not trouble the Teacher." But when Jesus heard it, He answered him, saying, "Do not be afraid; only believe, and she will be made well." When He came into the house, He permitted no one to go in except Peter, James, and John, and the father and mother of the girl. Now all wept and mourned for her; but He said, "Do not weep; she is not dead, but sleeping." And they ridiculed Him, knowing that she was dead. But He put them all outside, took her by the hand and called, saying, "Little girl, arise." Then her spirit returned, and she arose immediately. And He commanded that she be given something to eat. And her parents were astonished, but He charged them to tell no one what had happened (Lk 8:41-56).

In his commentary of Luke's Gospel (Homily 46), St Cyril of Alexandria says that when Jesus turns to Jairus and says, "Do not be afraid; only believe, and she will be made well" (v. 52), He does so to comfort the man. Why? Because, in St Cyril's words, Jesus "saw the man oppressed with the weight of sorrow, fainting, stunned, and all but despairing of the possibility of his daughter being rescued from death." He continues:

Misfortunes are able to disturb even an apparently well constituted mind and to estrange it from its settled convictions. To help him, [Jesus] gives [Jairus] a kind and saving word that is able to sustain him in his fainting state and work in him an unwavering faith: "fear not, only believe, and she shall live."

Sadly however, Jairus, his wife and most extraordinarily of all, Peter, James and John, are unable to believe what Jesus is telling them. Instead, "they ridiculed Him." Why? Because they knew that the little girl was dead (v. 53-54). Cyril is to the point here: Jairus and the others are correct; the girl is dead and by "their laughing at [Jesus], they . . . give a clear and manifest acknowledgement that the daughter is dead." This is important, it is necessary St Cyril says, for there to be no doubt in anyone's mind that the girl is really and truly dead, otherwise those in the "group who . . . resist His glory . . . would reject the divine miracle and say that the damsel was not yet dead."

To make manifest His divinity, to reveal His glory, to proclaim the Good News that He is "God With Us," Jesus willingly subjects Himself to the scorn not only of the Pharisees, the Sadducees and the Roman authorities, but to the dead girl's parents and His closest companions. The Gospel it seems is always entrusted to the weak. Not simply to those who are ontologically weak (creatures) or morally weak (sinners), but to those who not but to outcasts to those who even the weak despise and see as weak. God entrusts the Gospel to those who are lonely and marginalized, those who society (even the "Christian" society of the Church) forget.

In St Luke's Gospel we read that God announces His incarnation to those who the Church of the Old Israel forgot: the childless couple, Zechariah and Elizabeth; the young Virgin, Mary; to Joseph who would all his life bear the unjust scorn of others who thought him a fool and cuckold; the Astrologers, wise men to be sure, but pagans nevertheless and so outside the Covenant between God and the Jewish people; finally, the shepherds, who, even though they were formally part of the Chosen People, lived on the outskirts of Jewish society. To all of these, and to us, God not only reveals the Gospel, but He calls each of them in his or her own way to be evangelists, heralds of the Good News that "God is With Us!"

There is probably no more poignant biblical voice on God's willingness to entrust Himself to outcasts then the prophet Hosea. Hosea told by God:

When the LORD began to speak by Hosea, the LORD said to Hosea:
"Go, take yourself a wife of harlotry
And children of harlotry,
For the land has committed great."
(Hos 1:2)

And so the prophet does. Hosea shames himself among his people by not only marrying a harlot, but by adopting her children as his own (vv. 3-8). He marries Gomer because he has been called by God to be a tangible sign to Israel's apostasy, their whoring after other gods and the powers of this world. Obedient to God's call Hosea willingly joins himself to an adulterous woman and willingly become unclean. Obedient to God's call Hosea makes his wife's sin his own and thus separates himself from the Chosen People of God. Hosea becomes an outcast so that he can reveal to the People of God that they have departed from their God.

Throughout all his trails, Hosea also remains faithful to his faithless wife, even as God remains faithful to apostate Israel. In the end, though Israel, like Gomer, must pass through a period of divine judgment. And it is on the other side of judgment that both discover there is mercy and hope:

O Israel, return to the LORD your God,
For you have stumbled because of your iniquity;
Take words with you,
And return to the LORD.
Say to Him,

"Take away all iniquity;
Receive us graciously,
For we will offer the sacrifices of our lips.
Assyria shall not save us,
We will not ride on horses,
Nor will we say anymore to the work of our hands, 'You are our gods.'
For in You the fatherless finds mercy."
"I will heal their backsliding,
I will love them freely,
For My anger has turned away from him.
I will be like the dew to Israel;
He shall grow like the lily,
And lengthen his roots like Lebanon.
His branches shall spread;
His beauty shall be like an olive tree,
And his fragrance like Lebanon.
Those who dwell under his shadow shall return;
They shall be revived like grain,
And grow like a vine.
Their scent shall be like the wine of Lebanon.
"Ephraim shall say, 'What have I to do anymore with idols?'
I have heard and observed him.
I am like a green cypress tree;
Your fruit is found in Me."
Who is wise?
Let him understand these things.
Who is prudent?
Let him know them.
For the ways of the LORD are right;
The righteous walk in them,
But transgressors stumble in them
Restoration only comes when Israel is willing to respond to God in faith. This means she must cast aside her alliances with not only false gods, but the false hope of military power. Mercy is to be found only by casting aside the powers of this world. Imitating the Christ Who is to come, Israel is able to enter into the mercy of God only by accepting her own status as an outcast among the nations and instead rely wholly on God.

Returning to the Gospel, Jesus suffers the shame and ridicule of those who are closest to Him, of those who He has come to serve, to help, to heal and to forgive. For us who follow Jesus this means we too must accept the ridicule and shame of this world and instead be willing outcasts, men and women who are forgotten and abused by those who account themselves mighty according to the standards of this world.

There is, I am afraid, no other way to proclaim the Gospel except through our own weakness. While we may not be called to a life of material poverty or monastic obedience, if we hold fast to the Gospel we will always find ourselves, at this moment or that, rejected precisely because we are a sign of contradiction to this world and its standards. This rejection will often come from those who are closest to us, from those who we have been called to serve, and even from those who themselves carry the Name above every other name. This it seems is inescapable; it is simply the Gospel.

In all of this I would do well to remember, not only the example of Jesus Christ in whose Name I suffer, but also Jairus, his wife and the Apostles. You see I am not only persecuted and ridiculed; like Jairus, his wife and like Peter, James and John I too ridicule Christ and those who carry His Name.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Where I’m Speaking Next

Needless to say, the picture below is the icon of St John Chrysostom, not your servant. Those of you who live in the greater Youngstown area are of course most welcome to attend my talk and, as alway, your comments are most welcome.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory



TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 13, 2007, 7 P.M.








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