Hebrews 7:26-8:2; Luke 10:25-37
There are some people who think that worshiping God in beautiful liturgical services distracts us from serving our neighbors and accomplishing His purposes for us in the world. There are those who say that focusing on prayer, fasting, and other spiritual disciplines wastes time and energy that could be better used in helping others. Today we commemorate St. John Chrysostom, whose life and ministry demonstrate that we do not have to choose between liturgical life and practical service, for true worship and prayer enable us to make all dimensions of our life in the world an entrance into the heavenly kingdom through Jesus Christ, our eternal High Priest.
St. John Chrysostom remains famous for his powerful preaching and interpretation of the Scriptures, his doctrinal and moral soundness, and his association with the Divine Liturgy. Originally from the Church of Antioch, he became the Archbishop of Constantinople, where he imposed needed discipline on the clergy and boldly criticized the abuses of the rich and powerful. He died in exile due to the harsh treatment he received for denouncing the corruption of a Byzantine empress. His life of faithfulness was not easy, and his example of holiness shines all the more brightly as a result.
In a society still influenced by pagan traditions that completely disregarded the needs of poor and suffering people, St. John stressed the importance of serving Christ in them. Through his preaching and support of philanthropic ministries, he demonstrated that those commonly viewed as worthless and undeserving were those with whom our Lord identified Himself. He taught that, in the face of unmet need, it was impossible to be in communion with Christ without ministering to His hungry and sick body in daily life. He knew that the Lord calls us all to be neighbors to one another, refusing to pass by on the other side when we can be of help in practical ways.
In this respect, our Savior’s ministry was clearly made present in St. John’s life. Christ refused to allow the lawyer to narrow down the list of people whom he had to love as himself in order to find eternal life, and St. John proclaimed the same message. Even as today’s parable criticizes the religious leaders who passed by on the other side, St. John denounced distorted forms of spirituality that separate true faithfulness from how people live in the world, especially in relation to meeting the urgent needs of others.
The character of the good Samaritan is, of course, an image of Christ in many ways. The same religious leaders who rejected and despised Him ignored the true needs of the people before God. Purely out of love for us, Christ came to bind up our wounds as those corrupted by sin and enslaved to death. Out of compassion, He nourishes us back to health with His own Body and Blood and anoints us with holy oil for forgiveness and strength. He makes us members of the Church, the inn where we continue our recovery through His ongoing grace and mercy through the Holy Mysteries. He Himself forgives our sins every time that we humbly repent in Confession. The only limits to our healing are those which we place on ourselves, for there is no boundary to His transforming love for those He created in His image and likeness.
The vocation of a bishop is to manifest the fullness of Christ’s ministry. As a bishop, St. John was an icon of Christ mostly obviously in presiding as a high priest over the church’s celebration of the Divine Liturgy. Our Lord is the true High Priest Who has ascended into heaven at the right hand of the Father, where He ministers eternally in the Heavenly Temple. We participate mystically in that heavenly worship whenever we celebrate the Divine Liturgy. When we do so, we join ourselves to His one offering through the Cross, by which He conquered death and brought us into the blessed eternal life of the Holy Trinity. In Him, we dine as guests at the Heavenly Banquet when we receive the Eucharist. We truly become participants in and communicants of life eternal in His Body, the Church.
As St. John made clear through his preaching and witness, we must never think that worship, offering, and communion are somehow limited to what we do during the liturgical services of the Church. If we limit them in that way, then we will not truly worship Christ, offer ourselves to Him, or commune with Him for the healing of our souls. If we do so, we will become like the hypocritical religious leaders in today’s parable who failed to see that they encounter our Lord in every needy human being, in every neighbor who bears His image and likeness. Perhaps they ignored the victim of the robbers because they were hurrying off to fulfill their religious duties in the Temple. Perhaps we do even worse by ignoring the needs of our spouses, children, parents, and neighbors due to our own self-centeredness or obsession with our work, hobbies, or routines. Perhaps we do even worse by passing by on the other side because we think that people with this or that problem deserve what they get. Perhaps we do even worse by thinking that other people’s difficulties are theirs alone and have nothing to do with us. Perhaps we do even worse by becoming so addicted to satisfying our cravings for pleasure that we find it impossible to serve anyone other than ourselves.
By offering Himself on the Cross, rising in glory, and ascending into heaven, our Lord overcame the corruption of the entire creation. He did so as the New Adam Who has made it possible for us all to fulfill our original vocation to become like God, to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect. As the God-Man, He offered every dimension of Himself for our salvation. Through His eternal High Priesthood, He calls us to ever greater participation in eternal life. While the eucharistic worship of the Divine Liturgy manifests our communion with Him most profoundly, it should be obvious that so great a salvation may not be limited to any sphere or segment of our lives. No, if we are truly in communion with Christ, then we must bring every dimension of our lives into right relationship with Him. We must offer not only bread and wine, but all our blessings back to Him so that we will faithfully play our part in making His salvation present in the world. We must join our time, energy, resources, and relationships to His High Priestly offering so that they will all become signs of His healing of our corrupt humanity.
We must offer not only bread and wine, but ourselves to the Holy Trinity in union with Christ. He is the true High Priest through whom we become participants in the eternal worship of the Heavenly Kingdom. Such eternal glory is made present in the Divine Liturgy, but He also calls us to make present His blessing and healing of this broken world in all our thoughts, words, and deeds. He calls us all to become like the good Samaritan, binding up the wounds of our neighbors and refusing to narrow down the list of those whom we must learn to love as ourselves. We will do so, not by abandoning the services and disciplines of the Church, but by embracing them for our own healing. By repenting of our sins in Confession and communing with Christ in the Eucharist, we will be strengthened to offer ourselves to Him in daily life and to resist any temptation to pass by on the other side of the needs any neighbor. We will gain the spiritual clarity to see that we are always celebrating a liturgy of one kind or another; we are always offering ourselves to something or someone. Like St. John Chrysostom, let us worship our great High Priest in how we live in the world each day of our lives.