Melkite Greek Catholic Church
 
WHENEVER WE WANT TO DISTRACT an infant or a pet, we place bright colors or movement before their eyes. Their eyes focus on what they see before them and distract them from whatever potential disaster we envision.

We aren’t much different; we, too, can be easily distracted from our more burdensome responsibilities by activities or objects we enjoy. Even the memory of past events, pleasant or painful, can intrude on us and deflect our focus from the task at hand. When these distractions take us away from our family obligations or our relationship with God, we have lost our way. At first, we may not feel lost, but over time the consequences of our choices will become clear.

Many people shook their heads in disbelief at the woman who expressed amazement when her daughter in college stopped going to church. “But we always took her to church,” she reasoned, “if her soccer game was cancelled.” This mother had let the “bright colors” of a good time distract her entire family from making a meaningful connection to God and the Church the focus of their lives.

We don’t have to wonder what the Lord Jesus might have thought about such a situation; He tells us in the Gospel: the alluring distractions that attract us can so cloud our vision that the lamp of our eye goes dark. “The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matthew 6:22, 23)

What Clouds Our Spiritual Vision?

We may attribute an inability to focus on our spiritual life on a number of causes. Some of them are completely beyond our control; others can be curbed by our free choice, once we recognize their effect on us. Among these influences are:

The Fall: We are told that Adam and Eve w, for example, ere distracted from God’s way when they became convinced that “the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise” (Genesis 3:6). They accepted the logic of the tempter and lost their previous intimacy with God. We inherit their naiveté and are easily tempted by similar false promises, making us spiritually weak.
The Passions: As a result of the Fall, we are at the mercy of certain impulses within us which dispose us to sin. Some passions involve normal needs which, out of control, can dominate our soul – a disordered appetite for food or drink (gluttony), for sexual activity (unchastity), or for money and what it can buy (avarice). Provided that they are kept within the proper bounds, desire for these things is normal. More spiritual passions include the need to dominate others (anger), to expect happiness as our right (dejection, listlessness), and to be egocentric (vanity, pride and vainglory). A person who values his or her feelings above all else will be subject to many if not all, of these passions. As St Maximos the Confessor noted, “[A person] errs when the irrationality of feeling is the only form of discernment. He is captured by pleasure and avoidance of pain.”
The Culture Around Us: We accept as normal the ways of the society in which we live. We do things because everyone else does them. Thus we expect to shake hands, rather than bow to one another as they do in the Far East. Because we live in a secular society, inclusive of all religions or philosophies, there are many ideas, viewpoints, and values freely expressed around us; some of them we as Christians should not accept, whether legal or not. One facet of our society, for example, which is not only legal but promoted, is consumerism. Americans are both enabled and encouraged to build their lives around acquiring the latest and best of whatever pleases them. This is in stark contrast to the Lord’s ideal expressed in the Gospel: “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon… But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:24, 33). American consumerism has seduced our population in ways that make all sorts of addictions inevitable. Consumer goods, for example, are regularly marketed by sexual images; can pornography and lust be far behind? The most serious departures from a godly lifestyle in our society are those which ignore the Ten Commandments – refusing recognition of God in the public arena, denying a special place to the Lord’s Day, accepting murder (abortion, euthanasia) and adultery (divorce and the sexual “revolution”) – or which seek to redefine reality based on one’s individual wishes (same-sex marriage, gender “reassign-ment”). Because some disorder is not against the law or because “everybody does it” does not mean it is in accordance with God’s way. Christians should be committed to discerning His way for us.

Dealing with the Passions

Christians seeking to foster a relationship with Christ dwelling in them will want to overcome the power of the passions. The most important weapons which can help in this spiritual struggle are vigilance and discernment. The vigilant Christian is one who, regularly examining his world and his own reactions to it, seeks to ascertain whether his responses are determined by one of the passions listed above. Since all the passions are expressions of our ego, we must remain watchful to determine how much our desires (“I want,” “I need,” or “I have the right to”) reflect a hidden egotism. The discerning Christian is one who is able to determine this and frame a response to the enticements of the world in line with Christ’s way for us set forth in the Scriptures.

Dealing with the Culture

St Paul counseled new believers in the culture of his day, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may test what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2) and also, “Test all things: hold fast to what is good and abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:21, 22). Christians today need to distinguish what is good in our secular world from what is not.

Modern society is built on the idea that the freedom of the individual is the greatest good. The individual should be free to choose his or her own political leaders, values or religion and publicly promote that choice. Extreme expressions of this concept are the conviction that the individual determines his or her own “truth,” becoming the ultimate judge of his or her actions and identity, determining whether one is male or female, who or how many to marry, when and how to die, etc. irrespective of law or custom.

Are we, first of all, individuals or members of a community (and therefore unable to determine our own truth)? Do obligations to our family, Church or country outweigh our individual preferences? We also are faced with competing Christian visions, all claiming to be based on the Bible, as well as Buddhist, Islamic or atheist perspectives. Is this advice, given to the Christians in multicultural Ephesus, good for us as well: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). All of these counsels apply to us today.
 
IN MATTHEW'S GOSPEL three important moments take place on a mountain: what we call the “Sermon on the Mount”(Matthew 5-7), the Holy Transfiguration of Christ (Matthew 17:1-9), and the eschatological discourse in which the Lord speaks to the signs of His coming (Matthew 24:3 and following). Each of them evokes the memory of an Old Testament event in order to proclaim the person and message of Christ.

In both the Sermon on the Mount and the Transfiguration we see Christ depicted in terms recalling Moses’ encounter with God on Mount Sinai. There are several points of comparison and/or contrast which have been identified since the first Christian centuries: Location – Both events take place “on a mountain;” however there are no mountains in Galilee on the scale of Mount Sinai. The place traditionally identified as the site of the Sermon on the Mount is a hillside on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee, near Capernaum. It overlooks a plain which can accommodate thousands. A Byzantine church was erected there in the fourth century. In the 1930s Italian dictator Mussolini sponsored the building of the Church of the Beatitudes on this site to commemorate the Sermon on the Mount.

The place of the Transfiguration is not identified in the Gospels. Jesus took Peter, James and John, we are told, and “led them up on a high mountain” (Mattthew 17:1). In the third century Origen identified the site of the Transfiguration as Mount Tabor, west of the Sea of Galilee, a monadnock, or rocky hill which rises dramatically from the plain which surrounds it. It was a pilgrimage site by the fourth century with several churches at its peak. Today there are two: one Greek Orthodox, the other Roman Catholic, each with a monastery attached. Identifying these Galilee sites as “mountains” emphasizes the connections with the experience of Moses.

The Cloud and Glory – In the days of Moses, “the glory of the Lord rested on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days” (Exodus 24:16). When the Father spoke at Jesus’ Transfiguration, the “high mountain” was overshadowed by “a bright cloud” (Matthew 17:5). On Sinai “when the people saw it, they trembled and stood afar off” (Exodus 20:18). On Tabor the disciples “were fearful as they entered the cloud” (Luke 9:34), sign of their greater intimacy with the divine presence. On Sinai Moses asked to see the Lord’s glory, but the Lord replied: “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live” (Exodus 33:20). At the Transfiguration, on the other hand, Jesus’ face “shone like the sun and His clothes became white as the light” (Matthew 17). What was concealed in the experience of Moses becomes manifested to the disciples on Mount Tabor. As John’s Gospel has it, “we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

The Giving of the Law – On Sinai Moses receives the Law from God, which he then transmits to the people. The heart of the Law is, of course, the Ten Commandments but there is much more besides: ritual precepts, commercial laws, jurisprudence, reparations, money-lending, etc. Chapters 21 through 23 of the Book of Exodus are devoted to these laws.

On the mount near Capernaum the Lord Jesus also delivers a Law, the heart of which is expressed in the nine Beatitudes. While most of the Commandments are expressed negatively (“Thou shalt not…”), the Beatitudes are expressed positively as the path to perfection (“Blessed are the…”).

As the Ten Commandments were but a part of the Law given to Moses on Sinai, there is more to the Law of Christ than the Beatitudes. In the Sermon on the Mount Christ continues with an expansion of the Ten Commandments (Matthew 5:28-47). Not only external actions (e.g. murder, adultery) but interior passions (e.g. anger, lust) deviate from the Law. Love must replace the desire for vengeance and that love must extend to all, even our enemies. The result is that “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48), which has been described as the summary of the Beatitudes.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the Sermon on the Mount concerns the way Christ proclaims His Law. On Sinai God gives His Laws to Moses with instructions to set them before the people of Israel. In the Sermon on the Mount it is Christ Himself who teaches in His own name, placing Himself as the equal of Him who gave the Law to Moses: “You have heard that it was said to those of old... But I say to you…” (Matthew 5: 21, 27, 31-32, 33-34, 38-39, 43-44).

The Lord Jesus does not negate the Ten Commandments; rather, He gives them greater depth. As He said, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17). He completes or fulfills the Law by addressing our inner motivations as well as our actions. If our aim as believers is to know God, then we must know Him from within, by assuming His attitudes and adopting His ways for living. As He is perfect, so ought we to be.

Is This for Everyone?

The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s Gospel is addressed to “the multitudes.” Yet in the medieval West a common opinion was that the Beatitudes were “intended for those who strive for perfection; they are based on poverty, chastity and obedience and are therefore primarily for those who join the religious life.” Ordinary Christians were counseled that salvation was assured for them if they devoutly observe the precepts of the Church. This opinion was rigorously denounced by Luther and others during the Protestant Reformation as undoing the Sermon on the Mount, but it is still frequently found even in contemporary Roman Catholic writings.

The East, on the other hand, has always seen the spirit of the Beatitudes as basic to the Christian life for both monastics and lay people. The ways in which monastics and laypeople will embrace humility, poverty of spirit, compassion, or the pursuit of righteousness will differ, but their essential importance is the same for both. The Beatitudes point out the path to the King-dom of God, the goal for all Christians.

At two significant moments in our liturgical life the central place held by the Beatitudes in our spirituality is reflected. In many churches, particularly in the Slavic tradition, the Beatitudes are sung at the Divine Liturgy during the Little Entrance. As the Gospel Book is carried to the center of the church, this passage from the Sermon on the Mount is sung as the summary of the entire Gospel message of Christ.

The second liturgical moment pointing to the universal importance of the Beatitudes in our spirituality takes place at the burial service. The Beatitudes climax the funeral hymns at the funerals of non-monastics (laypersons and priests). They are sung with hymns such as the following inserted between the verses: “May Christ grant rest to you in the city of the living. May He open to you the gates of paradise and make you a citizen of His kingdom. May He remit your sins, for He loves you greatly.” Communion with Christ, is the ultimate goal of our life as Christians, whether monastics, clergy or laity. Living the Beatitudes is the universal means to that goal.

The third mountain in Matthew is the Mount of Olives near Jerusalem (Matthew 24). The Lord Jesus speaks there of the destruction of Jerusalem, the end of the age and His return. This recalls Zechariah’s prophecy that “The Lord will go forth and fight against those nations, as He fights in the day of battle. And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives” (Zechariah 14:4) and all things shall be renewed.
 
THE PASSAGE FROM ST PAUL’s Epistle to the Romans read at this Sunday’s Liturgy raises a number of questions with which Christians have been wrestling for centuries. We read in verse 6 that “Christ died for the ungodly” and in verse 8 that “Christ died for us.” Perhaps even more troubling is the statement in verse 10, that “when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son.” What do these assertions mean? How did Christ die “for us”? How were we God’s “enemies”? What does it mean to be “reconciled” to God? It is hard for many of us to read these statements without seeing them in the light of the “judicial” or “penal” interpretation which dominated Western Christian thought in the second millennium. In that view Christ’s death is a punishment for our sins. Mankind became God’s enemies in Eden when we broke His commandment. Instead of punishing us as we deserve, God decided to punish His Son in our place. His Son became man in order to take our place and receive the punishment which would appease God’s wrath. This image of an angry and vengeful God has prompted one commentator to say that we have been shown, not a Father but “the Godfather,” a “gangster god,” whose wrath needed to be satisfied.

Made to Live in God

The early Church Fathers read these texts in a far different light. They saw Christ’s death in the context of creation and in light of the incarnation. The book of Genesis teaches that the purpose of our existence is to live in union with God. Humanity was created in God’s image (cf., Genesis 1) in order to share in His life. But, as we know, that plan was frustrated. In the story of the Fall, God is depicted as warning our first parents to avoid one tree in the garden: “God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die’” (Genesis 3:2). While many have seen this as a threat, the Fathers interpreted it as a warning. Adam and Eve chose to ignore God’s warning and trust the tempter instead: “For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil’” (vv.3-5). Some commentators saw this passage as a command which Adam and Eve disobeyed and therefore were punished. This is largely because of how the rest of the story was translated. The couple hid from God who confronted Adam: “And God said to him, ‘Who told you that you were naked, unless you have eaten of the tree concerning which I charged you not to eat?’” (v.11 also v.17) The word translated “charged” in these verses is the most faithful rendering of the Scriptural term, although it is not in common use today. This word has been understood to mean order or command – a matter of authority. In the Greek of the Septuagint, however, it is more accurately rendered admonish or instruct – an expression of responsibility or concern. Later Eastern Fathers, following this latter reading, saw the resulting Fall, not as a punishment from God, but as the inevitable consequences of our first parents’ actions. God warned them, but they chose to ignore that warning and do things their way instead of God’s. As a result they became trapped in the lifeless cycle of death and sin which we know too well. By substituting their own vision of reality for God’s, they were broken and communicated that broken-ness to their descendants. We did not inherit guilt for disobeying a command, but rather the consequence of living apart from God.

Recreated in Christ

The communion with God which our first parents once enjoyed could only be restored to us by One who lived that communion Himself; and so the Son of God became one of us, taking on our human nature. Sharing in our humanity, He became like us in everything except sin. Death is an inevitable part of human life, and so, because we die, He died. We can say that in this sense Christ died because He was fully human. Just as He shared our existence in the womb and in the helplessness of infancy, He also shared in death. He died, as many do, suffering innocently at the hands of others; He did so, however, without sinning. His death was characterized by surrender to His Father and compassion for others, not by reacting with anger, hatred or even self-pity for what He suffered. To His last breath He lived in unbroken communion with His Father and thereby fulfills the divine plan for humanity in Himself. By sinlessly sharing in all that we are, He opens a way for us to live as human beings were meant to from the start. And so when Eastern Christians say “Christ died for our sins” it is not to see the cross as the payment of a penalty but as the end of a godly life making incarnate God’s plan for us. It is in this way that the cross figures in the Creed: we proclaim Christ “who, for us men and for our salvation (1) came down from heaven, was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, (2) suffered under Pontius Pilate and was buried, (3) on the third day He rose again, (4) ascended into heaven and (5) is seated at the right…”

Christ Offers Himself to Destroy Death

The Fathers saw Christ’s work on our behalf, not as satisfaction demanded by an angry God, but a loving response by the Word. Thus “the mystery hidden from eternity” is the self-emptying of Christ, as St Paul would express it in his epistle to the Philippians: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:5-8). Thus the incarnation, the self emptying of Christ, is the fundamental sacrifice of Christ. The cross follows, as night the day: “And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (v.8). Christ’s sacrifice annuls the power of death and provides us with an example to continue His work of defeating death in the circumstances of our lives.

From St Athanasius the Great

“Because death and corruption were gaining ever-firmer hold on them, the human race was in process of destruction. Man – who was created in God’s image and reflected the very Word Himself in his possession of reason – was disappearing, and the work of God was being undone… what then was God, being good, to do? Was He to let corruption and death have their way with them? ... It was impossible, therefore, that God should leave man to be carried off by corruption, because it would be unfitting and unworthy of Himself. “The Word of the Father alone was both able to recreate all, and worthy to suffer on behalf of all and to be an ambassador for all with the Father. For this purpose, then, the incorporeal, incorruptible and immaterial Word of God entered our world. In one sense, indeed, He was never far from it, for no part of creation had ever been without Him who, while ever abiding in union with the Father, yet fills all things that are. But now He entered the world in a new way, stooping to our level in His love and revealing Himself to us. “Thus, taking a body like our own, because all our bodies were liable to the corruption of death, He surrendered His body to death in place of all, and offered it to the Father. This He did out of sheer love for us, so that in His death all might die, and the law of death thereby be abolished …This He did that He might turn again to incorruption men who had turned back to corruption, and make them alive through death by the appropriation of His body and by the grace of His resurrection. Thus He would make death to disappear from them as utterly as straw from fire”
St Athanasius, On the Incarnation, II, 6-8).
 
RECENTLY THE WEBSITE “Ship of Fools” reported the following list of support group meetings for the week at a Lutheran church in Ohio:
  • Mon – Alcoholics Anonymous
  • Tues – Abused Spouses
  • Wed – Eating Disorders
  • Thu – Say No to Drugs
  • Fri – Teen Suicide Watch
  • Sat – Soup Kitchen
At the Sunday service the sermon was “America’s Joyous Future.” While America’s future may be joyous, its present seems decidedly troubled. There are not enough days in the week to treat all the disorders plaguing our society: internet gambling and pornography as well as school shootings, being only the most recent additions to our “culture.” Many of these problems already existed prior to the 1960s, yet they did not seem as widespread or as troubling. People who grew up in the 1920s, 30s and 40s – despite living through the Great Depression and World War II – seemed better adjusted to life as they matured. Surviving these major world upheavals seems to have made people stronger and more at peace with their lives. Writing in the January 3, 2011 New York Times. Benedict Carey summarizes a number of case studies of people experiencing hardship of one kind or another. He notes that people who have endured adversity often develop strengths to cope with future difficulties. Carey observes, “The findings suggest that mental toughness is something like physical strength: It cannot develop without exercise…” Perhaps unconsciously this author is echoing St Basil the Great who observed, “For those who are well prepared, tribulations are like certain foods and exercises for athletes which lead the contestant on to the inheritance of glory.” Keeping fit and trim may entail discomfort, but lead to victory. St Paul endorses this dynamic and even applauds it in his own life in his Epistle to the Romans where he writes that we “… rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:2-4). He rejoices in the afflictions he has endured for the Gospel because they have led him to a serene confidence in God.

Through Tribulation to Perseverance

St Paul discerns three movements in this journey toward serenity: the first being that “tribulation produces perseverance.” Paul – and many others since – endured beatings and imprisonment for Christ. They emerged with the conviction that God had been with them in the midst of their trials and that they had found in that realization the strength to continue serving Him. Two millennia later an American Jesuit, Fr Walter Ciszek described his journey through twenty years as a prisoner in the Soviet Union: “Across that threshold I had been afraid to cross, things suddenly seemed so very simple. There was but a single vision, God, who was all in all; there was but one will that directed all things, God's will. I had only to see it, to discern it in every circumstance in which I found myself, and let myself be ruled by it. “God is in all things, sustains all things, directs all things. To discern this in every situation and circumstance, to see His will in all things, was to accept each circumstance and situation and let oneself be borne along in perfect confidence and trust. Nothing could separate me from Him, because He was in all things. No danger could threaten me, no fear could shake me, except the fear of losing sight of Him. “The future, hidden as it was, was hidden in His will and therefore acceptable to me no matter what it might bring. The past, with all its failures, was not forgotten; it remained to remind me of the weakness of human nature and the folly of putting any faith in self. But it no longer depressed me. I looked no longer to self to guide me, relied on it no longer in any way, so it could not again fail me” (Ciszek, He Leadeth Me, pp 79-80).

Perseverance Produces Character

Character has been defined as the sum of those traits which make up an individual. People who are honest, principled, fair-minded and courageous are said to have a strong character. These qualities develop over time through, as St. Paul says, perseverance in the circumstances of one’s life despite the hardships or trials that may be involved. The need for conscious cooperation with God has always been recognized as essential for developing a Christian personality. In the Second Epistle of St Peter we read the following prescription for developing such a character: “…add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:5-8). The process by which we develop a Christian character is often not recognized in the wider society. It seems contrary to “normal” human growth because it involves rejection of some of our culture’s values. We are not urged to persevere in difficult relationships but to abandon them. We are encouraged to be “free” rather than self-controlled. Yet it is precisely these uncommon virtues that produce a Christ-like quality in us. In the troparion often sung for saintly bishops we say, “You acquired greatness through humility and spiritual wealth through poverty.” By persevering in what seemed to diminish them in the eyes of the world they achieved greatness in the sight of God.

Character Produces Hope

The final step in St Paul’s dynamic leads us to hope, but hope for what? We hope in the possibility of our ultimate and complete transfiguration, in body as well as in spirit, at the resurrection. Later in Romans we read “We also, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body, for we were saved in this hope…” (Romans 8:23-24). Commenting on this passage, Pope Benedict XVI wrote, “With this as our hope we can face our present: the present, even if it is arduous, can be lived and accepted if it leads towards a goal, if we can be sure of this goal, and if this goal is great enough to justify the effort of the journey” (Spe Salvi, 1). We profess this hope every time we recite the Nicene Creed: “I await the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” We are sure in this hope based on the promise of God. May it remain with us throughout our lives, enlivening our faith and undergirding our sense of assurance in God’s love.
The Father is my hope, the Son is my refuge, the Holy Spirit is my protection. All-holy Trinity, glory to You!

Prayer of St Joannikios

 
“THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT” (Matthew 5-7) is the name given to the first of the five Discourses of Jesus in Mathew’s Gospel. The term – from its introductory phrase, “Seeing the multitudes He went up on a mountain” (Matthew 5:1) – was popularized by St Augustine’s commentary on Matthew 5-7, De Sermone Domini in Monte (c. AD 392-396). Remember that Matthew was written for Greek-speaking Jewish believers in Syria, perhaps at Antioch. Their minds would immediately be drawn to another mountain, Sinai, where God gave the Hebrews the basics of their faith, the Law of Moses. They would find in Jesus’ teaching from this mountain the fundamental texts of their faith: the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12) and the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) as well as Jesus’ interpretation of the Commandments and the precepts to pray, fast and give alms. They would see Jesus portrayed as the New Moses and more for, unlike Moses, He taught on His own authority: “You have heard it said… but I say to you…” (Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28, 31-32, 38-39, 43-44).

“Seek First the Kingdom”

In our Byzantine typika the bulk of these chapters is read at the Divine Liturgy on the weekdays after Pentecost and the Sunday of All Saints. Matthew 6:22-34 is reserved for Sunday, however, for it provides the principle underlying the entire discourse: “Seek first the kingdom of God” (v. 33). Commentators have often said that it is practically impossible to put the precepts in this discourse into action and they are right, if we see these instructions in isolation from their underlying motivation. If a person is truly seeking the kingdom of God, then keeping the radical nature of these precepts will come naturally. If someone is following the Lord wholeheartedly they will see Him accepting and supplying the strength for every sacrifice they make to keep His commandments. If a person does not put the kingdom first then his “eye is bad” (v. 23). His outlook on life leads only to darkness, whether it is the dreariness of a life committed to unrighteous living or the shadowy world of one who seeks to serve two masters by doing “just enough” to get into heaven without commending one’s whole life to Christ. As St John Chrysostom observed, no further punishment is needed; having such a mindset is punishment in itself. “To have mammon for your master is already worse itself than any later punishment and enough retribution before the punishment for any one trapped in it. … Think of the lawsuits, the harassments, the strife and toil and blinding of the soul! More grievous, one falls away from the highest blessing – to be God’s servant” (Homily on Matthew, 21.2), What holds people back from seeking the kingdom of God wholeheartedly? – a preoccupation with what we eat and drink and with what we put on (vv. 32). Can we afford the better cuts of meat and the best wines, or to be seen in the restaurants everyone is talking about? Can I afford the latest fashions? Do I have the right jewelry for this or that occasion? What about the right address, the furnishings everyone will admire, a more expensive car than my neighbor, a vacation to be envied, etc. etc.? Not that these things are sinful in themselves; the Lord said that we will have enough of these things to meet our needs (v. 32). We sin when we make acquiring them the aim and purpose of life. As St Augustine noted, there is a difference between seeing something as a goal and seeing something as a means. Those who claim to be believers and yet pursue the goods of the world as their first priority in life must listen carefully to the words which the Lord addressed at the end of the discourse: “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).

 

This week prayerfully read the entire Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and reflect on what it says to you. Has your spiritual life lost its savor (v.13)? Is your life a light which can brings glory to God (v.14)? Think about your life and how Christ’s teachings on the Commandments (5:17-48) concern it.

 

Christ, the New Adam

Matthew, writing for Jewish Christians, stresses that Christ is the new Moses. St. Paul is writing to the Church at Rome, where there is at least a sizable number of Gentile believers – perhaps they were even the majority. Paul bypasses Moses altogether. He rather points to Abraham and to Adam, our universal ancestor, whom he calls “a type of Him who was to come” (Romans 5:14). Both Adam and Abraham are figures who would be meaningful to both Jewish and Gentile believers. Abraham, whose story is told in Genesis 11:26–25:10, is described there as blessed by God in a multi-cultural way, if you will: “I will make you the father of many nations and I will increase you very, very much. I will make you into nations and kings will come from you” (Genesis 17:5-6). In the Middle East, Abraham is still regarded as the ancestor of the Jews through his son Isaac and of the Arabs through his son Ishmael. St. Paul describes him as the father of all believers everywhere, because he trusted God to provide him an heir and to risk sacrificing that heir, Isaac, if God so willed. Paul stressed that Abraham was not justified by God for keeping the Law of Moses (Abraham lived centuries before Moses), but for believing: trusting that God would fulfill His promises and provide for him. Rabbis after the first century AD, perhaps stung by Paul’s reasoning, began to teach that Abraham had in fact known and practiced the Law in its entirety, despite the lack of evidence in Genesis or anywhere else. St. Paul portrays Adam as our common ancestor whose legacy is sin and death. Yet he says that Adam was “a type of Him who was to come,” that is, of Christ. In the thinking of the early Christians and their Jewish contemporaries, a type in the Old Testament prefigured or foreshadowed events or aspects of Christ in the New Testament. Thus the Patriarch Joseph, a favorite son of his father, rejected by his own, betrayed for silver, and saving the world from famine was a favorite figure of Christ. Adam prefigures Christ in that he had a heritage that touches every person throughout history. As the fourth-century bishop of Tarsus, Diodoros, explained: “Adam was a type of Christ, not with respect to his sin or his righteousness – in this respect the two men were opposites – but with respect to the effects of what he did. For just as Adam’s sin spread to all men, so Christ’s life also spread to all men.” But where Adam’s heritage was death, Christ’s was new life. “If by the one man’s offence many died, much more has the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many” (Romans 5:15). Both Jews and Gentiles had inherited death; both could inherit new life in Christ. A New Moses for the Jews, a New Adam for the whole human race, Christ is truly “in all and for the sake of all” (Divine Liturgy).

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