“Now is the Day of Salvation”: Homily for the Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost and the Third Sunday of Luke in the Orthodox Church

2 Corinthians 6:1-10; Luke 7:11-16

           As we read in today’s gospel text, the widow of Nain certainly had no expectation that the day of her son’s death was “the day of salvation.”  It had been the worst day of her life, for in that time and place a widow who had lost her only son was in a terrible state.  Poverty, neglect, and abuse would be real threats to her life; she would have been completely vulnerable and alone.  There is no telling what would have become of her.  When contrary to all expectations the Lord raised her son, He transformed her deep mourning into great joy. The Savior fulfilled the prophetic word of Isaiah: “At the acceptable time I have listened to you, and helped you on the day of salvation.” In raising her son, He restored life both to the young man and to his mother.

The Lord’s great act of compassion for this woman manifests our salvation and provides a sign of His great compassion even in the darkest moments of our lives.  In our world of corruption with so much hatred, violence, and loss, we weep and mourn not only for loved ones whom we see no more, but also for the broken, disintegrated state of life that the sins of humanity—including our own personal transgressions—have brought about.  Death, destruction, and decay in all their forms are the consequences of our refusal to fulfill our vocation to live as those created in the image of God by becoming like Him in holiness.  We weep with the widow of Nain not only for losing loved ones, but also for losing ourselves.

The good news of the Gospel is that the compassion of the Lord extends even to the most miserable human being, and even to us on the worst days of our lives. Rather than merely observing human suffering and letting us bear the consequences of our actions, the Father sent the Son to enter into our personal brokenness, into our distorted and disintegrated world, in order to heal us, to stop us from weeping, and to liberate us from slavery to the fear of death through His glorious resurrection. The Savior touched the funeral bier and the dead man arose.  Christ’s compassion for us is so profound that He Himself took on a body susceptible to death, entered a tomb, and  descended to Hades, the shadowy place of the dead, because—purely out of love for humankind—He refused to leave us to self-destruction.

Contrary to what some may teach, the Christian faith is not fundamentally about justice or punishment or wrath for sinners.  Instead, it magnifies the infinite and holy love of Christ, Who will stop at nothing to bring the one lost sheep back into the fold, Who is not embarrassed to welcome home the prodigal son, and Who will even submit to death on a cross in order to destroy death by His glorious resurrection. His salvation is not a reward for having a life with no difficulties or scandals, for such a life would be a fantasy in the world as we know it.  To the contrary, those who had suffered illness, poverty, isolation, and the severe consequences of their own sins were most receptive to the good news of Christ during His earthly ministry.  It was precisely their humility that opened their hearts to Him.  Those who think that they have it all in this world can easily convince themselves that all they need is a false god to congratulate them for their accomplishments and to serve their earthly agendas.  But those whose eyes have been opened to the corruption within their souls and who are aware of the gravity of their sins know that they need merciful compassion beyond what they can give themselves.  They know that they need a Savior Who conquers even death itself and turns the ultimate weakness of the grave into the triumph of an empty tomb. They need a Savior Who is not ashamed to remember even the most wretched repentant sinner in His Kingdom.

When our spiritual eyes gain the clarity to see that that is how we all stand before Christ, we will stop trying to impress Him with illusions of how religious or moral we are; we will also give up condemning others for not measuring up to standards we ourselves do not meet.  We will no longer focus on ourselves at all, but will instead open our hearts to Christ in humility such that His compassion will extend to others through us.  Recall the widow of Nain and her son.  They must have been so grateful for the Lord’s mercy that they lived the rest of their days showing that same mercy to others.  It would be impossible for someone to go through an experience like that and think that they had achieved it all by their own power or had received what they had deserved.  No, they knew that life itself is the gift of God.  In their pathetic weakness and misery, they received Christ’s compassionate strength.  Those who receive Him must live accordingly, showing the same mercy to their suffering neighbors that the Lord has extended to them.

Regardless of what we think about the current state of our lives, that is the calling of us all as those who share by grace in the life of our Lord.  As St. Paul put it, “Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” If we are going to find the healing of our souls, we will have to begin with our lives as they are now.  To wait until all is perfectly in order and we have time, energy, and resources to spare is to fall prey to an illusion, for life in this world will never be without its grave challenges.  It is nothing but an excuse to say that we will unite ourselves to Christ in holiness at a more convenient time in the future.  He did not come to enhance the spirituality of those who were completely at ease.  No, the Savior came to heal the sick, call sinners to repentance, and raise the dead.  He came to comfort those who mourn and to bless those who hunger and thirst for a righteousness that they could never give themselves.

St. Paul endured beatings, imprisonment, attempts on his life, shipwreck, and so many other difficulties before he died as a martyr.  He did not wait until life was completely peaceful and calm before serving God and blessing his neighbors.  He describes the life of the apostles “as dying, and behold we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.”

We do not yet have the eyes to see it, but our paths are ultimately the same as his.  No matter how sad, sick, frustrated, deprived, or conflicted we may be, the Lord still enables us to share in His life for the blessing and salvation of the world.  We will not do that on as grand a scale as St. Paul, but that is beside the point. Like it or not, we have the lives in this world that we have.  We cannot undo previous events, choices, and actions, including those that were and are well beyond our control.  We cannot say a magic word and become someone else or change anything about the past.  We can, however, repent by turning away from sin and reorienting our lives to Christ as best we have the strength to do today.  That is how we will open ourselves to receive His grace.  That is how we will receive the strength to convey Christ’s merciful compassion toward others as a sign of His great victory over death for the salvation of the world.

Doing so will be nothing less than the greatest struggle of our lives.  We have all accepted lies about who we are, as though our true selves were somehow not in God’s image and likeness but in slavery to our own distorted desires for pleasure and fulfillment on our own terms.  What seems second nature to us in our world of corruption is often simply a function of our passions, of our self-centered desires that keep us enslaved to the power of death.  The Savior did not help the widow of Nain feel better about the death of her son or try to convince her that his death was not really that bad.  No, He did what was impossible and totally unexpected by raising the young man up and giving the son back to his mother.  In doing so, He also gave the widow of Nain her life back.

Christ did all of this out of compassion for those He had created in His image and likeness, but who had become enslaved to the corrosive power of the grave through slavery to sin.  That is why our Lord conquered death through His own death and resurrection, for the grave could not contain the God-Man Who offered up Himself freely on the Cross for our salvation.  When we unite ourselves to Him in His great Self-Offering, every day becomes “the day of salvation.”  There is no sorrow, struggle, or event of our lives that we cannot offer to Him for healing, for He has offered Himself fully, even to the point of death, in order to make every dimension of our life in the world a pathway to the eternal life of His Kingdom. Those who weep like the widow of Nain today should take heart.  The Savior has conquered death and shares His great victory with those Who respond to Him with humble faith and repentance.  He has made every day of our lives “the day of salvation.”

 

 

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