Feast of St. John Chrysostom / Eighth Sunday of Luke, November 13, 2016
Hebrews 7:26-8:2; Luke 10:25-37
Very Rev. Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
Today is the feast of the greatest preacher among all the saints of Christian history—John Chrysostom, archbishop of Constantinople, whose Divine Liturgy we are celebrating. Besides being a great preacher and having edited a version of the Liturgy, his life tells us something about what we are continuing to focus on these several weeks, summed up in this question: What is our mission?
What you may not know about St. John Chrysostom is that, during his time in the capital of the Roman Empire, Constantinople, he had a rather problematic relationship with the government. He especially managed to rouse the anger of Eudoxia, the empress and wife of the emperor Arcadius.
And what got the empress so angry at him? John Chrysostom had a penchant for not living like a man of importance in his position “should” have lived—or so people thought. He refused to hold lavish parties for the powerful in his archbishop’s residence, and indeed used to invite the poor and lowly to come and sleep there. He also denounced the extravagance of the dress of wealthy women in the city, which the empress took as a reference to herself—and it probably was.
To take revenge, Eudoxia rounded up some of John’s enemies and held a synod, charging him with heresy, among other things. He was exiled from Constantinople, and rioting immediately broke out in the streets because of his popularity with the common people. And on the night that he was arrested, an earthquake shook the city, which was taken as a sign of God’s disfavor.
So he was brought back to the city by Arcadius. But soon after, a silver statue of Eudoxia was erected with pagan rituals not far from the archbishop’s cathedral. He denounced this, as well, comparing Eudoxia to Herodias, the wife of Herod who had John the Baptist’s head cut off. In her fury, Eudoxia had Chrysostom exiled again, and this time Chrysostom died in exile in the Caucasus, in what is modern-day Abkhazia in Georgia.
As you can tell, John Chrysostom did not fear the imperial authorities, even though he lived in the very center of the empire and was expected to hob-knob with the elite and the powerful. He acted in the tradition of John the Baptist and the Prophet Elias, who both rebuked the wickedness of their own rulers. It was clear that they served a higher order.
Now let’s consider also the Gospel reading for today. This is the familiar story of the Good Samaritan, who shows mercy on the man beaten by robbers by taking care of him when the priest and the Levite ignored him. Those two clergymen saw the beaten man and crossed the road rather than helping him. Why? Because they did not see it as their duty to help him.
Enter the Samaritan, who to first-century Jews is a foreigner, a stranger whose ancestry and religion were tainted by mixing with strange elements. It is this outsider, who is not part of the existing religious order of Jewish life, who brings healing and change to the scene. Although he does not obey the Jewish law as Jews do, he is serving a higher law, which is the law of mercy, the law of love.
The Samaritan is an image of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who comes from beyond our world to bring us healing and change. And He proves that He is serving a higher order by bringing healing to our humanity even though we had become subject to death.
In both the parable of the Samaritan and in the story of St. John Chrysostom’s rebuking of the empress Eudoxia, we see that those sent by God are called to serve a higher order than the one to which they belong in this world. In neither case is the social order itself subverted. Nor is the created order subverted by the coming of Christ. But in all cases, a higher order is being served.
So what is our mission? Our mission is to serve a higher order.
This mission of service to a higher order came very much into focus for me this past week as I watched the political drama that played out in our national election. What brought that focus was not what the candidates did or said. It was not their platforms, nor their campaigning, nor how the votes were tallied. Rather, what brought this issue into focus for me was watching how people reacted.
There was of course utter elation and rejoicing for those whose preferred candidate won. And there was also great sorrow for those whose candidate lost. And there were also a lot of people whose emotions were so high-powered not because of their enthusiasm for the candidate they were voting for but because of their loathing for the candidate they were voting against.
Judging by some reactions, you would think either that the end of the world had come or that we had witnessed the coming of a messiah. There has been a lot of fear leading up to this election on all sides of our many political divisions. I understand why. Many people feel deeply threatened by how they perceive their political opponents.
But in the midst of all this fear and celebration and pain, we are called to serve a higher order. The kingdoms and even the republics of this world come and go. Presidents and senators and even kings and empresses come and go. Some do great harm. Others do great good. Elections matter, and if we live in a country where we can vote, we should vote, and we should vote well.
But our true and ultimate allegiance is to none of that. That’s why the Church does not endorse political candidates or parties, even as it prays for those in civil authority.
We have driver’s licenses, birth certificates, passports and other documents that all identify us as citizens of this country or perhaps another country. And that citizenship confers on us certain duties and privileges, such as voting and paying taxes and obeying the laws.
But all those marks that identify us as Americans or whatever else are not as important as the mark that we who are baptized wear around our necks—the sign of the cross. That cross identifies us as citizens of a new and everlasting kingdom that is not of this world. It is a universal kingdom into which all of mankind is invited, in which our duties and our privileges are of a different kind than the ones conferred on us by our earthly citizenship.
Instead of fairness, we are called to mercy. Instead of equality, we are called to humility. Instead of the pursuit of happiness, we are called to self-sacrifice. Instead of liberty defined as doing as we please, we are called to the liberty defined as the power to become children of God. Instead of doing what is only human, we are called to transcend even our humanity to become like God Himself.
Like the Samaritan, we are the presence of Jesus Christ in this world. The Apostle John says in 1 John 4:17, “as He is, so are we in this world.” We are servants of a much higher order. So even as we participate in the orders of this world, even the political order, we remember that our citizenship ultimately is not of this world, because of the Kingdom of our God is not of this world. We are in this world, but not of this world (John 17:16).
If we remember that, then we are able to participate in this world’s order not bound by it but treading rather more lightly. We do not have to be driven to despair by what happens in this world—even if it is terrible. Nor should we expend all of our rejoicing on events that will all someday crumble into historical dust. Christians can be involved, but we cannot be completely invested in these things.
What happens in this world is important, but its true importance is revealed only by how it serves what is happening in the age to come. That is why so much of what we Christians do in the world is not going to make sense to the world. The world’s rules and events and happenings are all just temporary to us. That is why we can act with paradox and with love even while the world wants certainty and does not understand love.
What is our mission? Our mission is to serve a higher order.
To the One Who gives us our mission, our Lord Jesus Christ be all glory, honor and worship, with His Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.