Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Fourteenth Sunday of the Year: 201

any people never stop saying—I have heard them myself—“If only we had lived in the days of the apostles, and been counted worthy to gaze upon Christ as they did, we should have become holy like them. ”Such people do not realize that the Christ who spoke then and the Christ who speaks now throughout the whole world is one and the same. I answer that indeed the position now is not the same as it was then, but our situation now, in the present day, is very much better. It leads us more easily to a deeper faith and conviction than seeing and hearing him in the flesh would have done. Then he was thought to be mortal and corruptible like the rest of mankind. He was no different in appearance from other men. The formless and invisible God, without change or alteration, assumed a human form and showed himself to be a normal human being. He ate, he drank, he slept, he sweated, and he grew weary. He did everything other people do, except that he did not sin. It is certain therefore that anyone who now hears Christ cry out daily through the holy Gospels, and proclaim the will of his blessed Father, but does not obey him with fear and trembling and keep his commandments—it is certain that such a person would have refused to believe in him then, if he had been present, and seen him, and heard him teach. –St Symeon the New Theologian

And they took offense at him.

The recent Supreme Court decision on marriage is profoundly disturbing for many Christians. You can explain away that worry, if you like, the way the mass media does for the most part by saying that Christians are stupid, hateful bigots. Or you can drop the politics and be realistic: this decision involves the collision of two different deeply held convictions. I do not intend to rehearse the arguments yet again. At this stage the only question left to be answered is this: will the first amendment to the Constitution be taken seriously and followed and applied conscientiously. There may or may not be a right to marry in the Constitution, the justices were divided on that question, but no one can possibly doubt that there is a right to the free practice of religion.

Be that as it may, the readings this Sunday suggest for us a different approach to this situation.

Scandal occurs, when on immediate, present grounds you reject what you ought to accept on ultimate grounds. This is what the people in Jesus’ hometown do in the Gospel. They are amazed at his teaching; they cannot figure out ‘where he got all this’. They have heard about his miracles. But they cannot admit that all this is true. And this they justify by their knowledge of his family. “ He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.” As long as man maintains this contradiction within himself there can be no healing, which presupposes submissive faith. But Jesus, the one whom the Father has sent, must undergo this rejection. “He came to his own and his own received him not.” And who are ‘his own’ if not you and me?

It is no accident that Jesus says to the people of Nazareth: ““A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” Already in the Old Testament it is clear the prophet will not necessarily be heard, will likely be rejected. Because it is precisely ‘to a nation of rebels’ that God has sent Ezekiel. Deserters, obstinate, hard of heart: with people like that, people like you and me, there cannot be compromise. The success or failure of the message cannot be a concern of the prophet; it has no effect on his message. According to Jesus’ own words, most of the prophets were rejected, murdered in the belief that this would finally silence their voices.

The mystery of God sending us is unraveled in the destiny of Jesus, rejection, cross, death, which in turn is the destiny of his followers. No one was ever so rejected as Jesus, betrayed by a Christian, cast off by the Jews, condemned to death by a Gentile. The real scandal, offense, stumbling block was not simply that Jesus said over and over again that he must go to Jerusalem,  must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again but that his disciples should follow him into suffering.  Peter protested, the apostles ran away, and so do we.

St. Paul understood this well: the law of the Cross is that grace proves it’s power in weakness. The Cross was the power of Christ. From the Cross onward the rule for Christians is ‘when I am weak – powerless, badly treated, rejected than I am strong.

Make no mistake about it: the decision of the majority on the Supreme Court puts orthodox Christianity outside the mainstream, something which can safely be dismissed and rejected, ignored and held in contempt. That is hard pill for many of us to swallow, accustomed as we are in the West to cling to our privileged place in society. But as much as we may regret the circumstances it may well put us where we were meant to be all along.

So the Doctor of the Gentiles teaches us:

“We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your call, brethren; not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth; but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God”.

And they took offense at him.

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