A HOMILY FOR THE TWENTY-FIFTH SUNDAY AFTER

A HOMILY FOR THE TWENTY-FIFTH SUNDAY AFTER
PENTECOST

About Love for God and One’s Neighbor

          Brothers and sisters!

         

          In today’s Gospel reading, our Lord Jesus Christ answers a question that should be of the utmost importance to everyone:  What are we to do to attain life eternal?  When this question was put to Him by the Jewish lawyer, the Lord reminded the man of the answer He had already given centuries before to the Hebrew people through Moses.  What is written in the Law?  He asked, How readest thou?  The Jew replied correctly, citing the words of the Book of Deuteronomy:  Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself.1  Thou hast answered right, said Jesus approvingly.  This do, and thou shalt live; meaning, if you do this, you shall live eternally in heaven.

          But he (that is, the lawyer) was willing to justify himself, that is, he was full of Pharisaic self-righteousness and was content to fulfill the Law merely in the narrow, Jewish, legalistic manner.  Therefore, he demanded of Jesus, And who is my neighbor?  Like the other Jewish teachers of the Law, he considered only Jews, and not all men, to be neighbors.

          As we heard in today’s lection, it was to correct the lawyer that Christ spoke the famous parable of the Good Samaritan.  By means of this wonderful story, the Saviour made it plain to all generations that every human being is to be regarded as our neighbor, regardless who he is; regardless even if he is our enemy.  He is especially to be regarded as our neighbor if he is in direct need of our help.

          Since the Lord teaches that the entirety of the divine Law is summarized in loving God and loving our neighbor, and that it is by doing so that we are saved, clearly, it is of supreme importance for us to understand exactly what these two commandments entail.  Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; in other words, you must love the Lord with your whole being, you must entirely surrender yourself to Him, you must perfectly dedicate yourself to Him, and you must not divide your loyalties between Him and the world.  Do not live only half for God and His law and half for the world, for the passionate flesh, for sin and the devil, but devote yourself completely to God:  sanctify the whole of your life.  As He which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all your doings,2 writes the chief Apostle Peter.

          For example, if you love God with all your heart, then you will long for opportunities to pray and to be in church, and the more, the better.  You will pray to God with your whole soul, with all your strength, and with all your understanding.  You will not be inattentive, lazy, heedless, or cold when it comes to prayer.  At the time of prayer you will allow no place in your heart for worldly cares and distractions.  You will lay aside earthly concerns, casting your troubles upon the Lord, Who ever provides for you.  You will strive to enter into the full meaning of your prayer or of the Divine Service you are attending; you will do everything possible to penetrate it deeply.  If you love God with your whole soul, you will repent before Him sincerely.  You will offer Him profound repentance every day, because you sin greatly every day.  You will repent, that is, you will condemn yourself for your sins, with all your heart, with all your strength, and with all your understanding; you will upbraid yourself strictly and sincerely for your transgressions.  You will offer God a perfect confession, a whole burnt offering for sin, and you will not delude yourself into thinking that you can hide any of your sins from God.  Thus, to love God with the whole heart means to love His law and His righteousness with all your power and likewise to hate every form of unrighteousness, every sin, with all your power.  It means to do everything possible not to allow sin to nestle in your heart even for a minute, even for a second; it means not to consent to sin, not to agree to it, not to compromise with it, but constantly, forever, to be at war with it, to battle it.  It means to be a valiant and victorious warrior of Christ our God, a new trophybearing George or an invincible Demetrius in the contest against your passions.  To love God means never to be estranged from piety, truth, or virtue for a moment; never to speak or act in a manner contrary to these, even if this means embarrassment, disadvantage, or loss.  It means to remember that faithfulness to God and to His righteousness is our greatest advantage, and that for fidelity to Him, Christ will reward us a hundredfold in this life and in the age to come.  A good example of this in the Old Testament is the chaste Joseph, son of the patriarch Jacob; and there are many similar examples in the New Testament and the Lives of the saints.  To love God means to struggle for His sake and for His righteousness with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength, and with all our understanding.  This is how the Holy Fathers and the holy martyrs struggled; this is true zeal for God.  Moreover, to love God with the whole heart means to strive as much as possible to guide others towards God, towards His love, towards His truth, towards His eternal kingdom, so that they also will come to know Him, to love Him, and to glorify Him.

          And with this let us now say a few words about the second commandment to love thy neighbor as thyself.  What does it mean to love one’s neighbor, that is, to love every man as oneself ?  It means to respect him as you wish to be respected, and to consider him a brother, especially if he is an Orthodox Christian.  If he is an Orthodox Christian, then you should regard him as a limb of your own body, a fellow-member of Christ.  His welfare, his salvation, regard as you do your own welfare, your own salvation.  Rejoice at his good fortune as though it were your own, and do not envy him; mourn his misfortune, and do whatever you can to ease his plight in adversity or poverty.  Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep,3 says the Apostle.  We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves.  Let every one of us please his neighbour for good to edification.4  To love one’s neighbor means not to think unworthy thoughts about him, but to wish him well, to show condescension towards his weaknesses, to cover his shortcomings with love, just as we hope others will cover our shortcomings with love.  Walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love,5 teaches St. Paul.  To love one’s neighbor means to pray for others, for the living and the dead, whether they are your relatives or not; to pray for acquaintances and strangers, friends and tormentors alike, even as you pray for yourself, and to wish for everyone the same blessings you yourself desire.  If you say your daily prayers, then you already know from them that this is precisely how you should pray for others.  To love one’s neighbors perfectly means to love them without respect of person, regardless whether they are rich or poor, good or evil, old or young, educated or simple, healthy or sick; whether their company is pleasant or not, whether they are friendly or antagonistic, because they all belong to God.  All alike are created in the image of God, all are children of God and, if they are Orthodox Christians, all are members of Christ and our fellow-members; for all we Orthodox Christians are one body and one spirit 6 since we have one common head, Christ our God.

          This, brothers and sisters, is how we should understand the two supreme commandments which are the subject of today’s Gospel lection and which God has given us for our salvation.  Strive to fulfill them with all the powers of your soul and body, so that by the grace of Christ our God you may inherit eternal life.  Amen.

 

1.  Cf. Deut. 6:15

2.  I Pet.1:15

3.  Rom. 12:15

4.  Rom. 15:1

5.  Eph. 4:1-2

6.  Eph. 4:4