Gaining the Strength to Grow in Forgiveness by Growing in Humility: Homily for the Eleventh Sunday of Matthew and Our Righteous Father Moses the Black in the Orthodox Church

Matthew 18:23-35

            The Lord often taught in parables, which are very short stories that convey a particular point.  They can spark our imagination and challenge us to see ourselves in a new light.  Christ’s parables call us into question and get to the heart of the matter of where we stand before God.

The first servant in today’s parable begged for more time to pay an unbelievably large debt and his master responded with shocking mercy, forgiving the debt completely. But instead of sharing the mercy that he had received with a fellow servant who owed him much less, the man refused to show any compassion or patience at all.  He had the second servant put into prison until he could pay the full amount.  When the master heard what had happened, he had the first servant put in jail until he could repay the massive amount he owed.  Christ concludes the parable with these sobering words: “So also My heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

This parable forces us to see that how we treat those who have wronged or offended us reveals the true state of our souls.  Our Lord’s healing mercy is transformative and participatory and, if we have embraced His forgiveness, then His gracious divine energies must permeate our lives.  He said, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”  To become radiant with mercy to the point we do not limit our love only to people who treat us well is necessary in order to “be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt. 5: 44-48)

If we dare to call upon God’s forgiveness for our sins, we will condemn only ourselves when we refuse to forgive others.  He is infinitely holy and we are each the chief of sinners against the Father Who sent His Son for the salvation of the world. (Jn. 3:17)   As those who ask for mercy beyond what we could possibly deserve, we are never justified in refusing to forgive someone else.   The God-Man enables us to become like Him in holiness, and He forgave even those who rejected, betrayed, and killed Him.  Since Christ has identified Himself with even the lowliest people, how we treat those who have offended us is how we treat our Lord.  Everyone is a living icon of God. As St. John wrote, “If anyone says ‘I love God,’ but hates his brother, he is a liar.  For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.”   (1 Jn 4:20)  When we refuse to forgive others, we demonstrate not only a lack of love for them, but also for the Savior.

Despite our best intentions, however, forgiveness often does not come quickly or easily.  It is not simply a matter of what we say or how we act, but roots in our hearts, even as murder roots in anger and adultery roots in lust.  Christ calls us to share in His life so fully that we acquire the purity of heart that comes from the healing of all the corruption that darkens our spiritual vision.    A necessary step in embracing that healing is to mindfully turn our hearts away from obsessing about the wrongs of others and holding grudges. We will gain the strength to do so by opening ourselves fully to the healing power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. St. Paul wrote, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Gal. 5:22-23) As St. Siluoan the Athonite taught, “One can only love one’s enemies through the grace of the Holy Spirit.” And “He who does not love his enemies, does not have God’s grace.”

How we respond to those who have wronged us reveals the true state of our souls in a way that goes beyond simplistic distortions of the Christian faith that remain popular today.  Regardless of our opinions about any topic, how right we may be in any dispute or disagreement, or what warm feelings we may have about Christ, if we are so enslaved to the passions of pride and anger that we hate, condemn, and refuse to forgive anyone, we have rejected our Lord because we have refused to obey His commandments and to share in His life to the point that we conform our character to His.  We so easily become blind to the image of God in every human person, especially those whom we despise due to our own passions.  In ways too numerous to count, we build ourselves up by putting others down, both individually and collectively, with great regularity.  Apart from the healing power of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, there is simply no escape from slavery to an endless cycle of resentment and retribution that leads only to the grave.

The Savior endured the full consequences of such depravity in His crucifixion and death in order to provide a path that leads from the grave to the glory of the heavenly kingdom through His resurrection on the third day.  He abides in our hearts through the Holy Spirit through Whom we are able to cry out to God “Abba, Father,” for we are not slaves, but beloved children of God, heirs to all the promises to Abraham through faith in Christ. (Gal. 4:6) In order to receive His healing strength, we must open ourselves as fully as possible to the healing power of the Holy Spirit.   He is “everywhere present and fills all things” and we have received Him personally in the holy mystery of Chrismation.  In order to acquire the fruits of the Spirit, we must actively cooperate with God’s grace by growing in humility, which means learning to see ourselves as we truly are before God.  That is what the first servant in today’s parable obviously lacked.  When we truly know that we are the chief of sinners and recognize that our very existence is dependent upon the mercy of the Lord, then we will no longer be driven to condemn anyone else.

Growing in humility is the only way for us to find healing for our passions, for our disordered desires ultimately root in the pride of refusing to see ourselves clearly before God.  In order to grow in humility, we must ask the forgiveness of those we have wronged and quickly embrace the struggle to forgive those who have wronged us.    We must also serve them and others by putting their needs before our own, for Christ “did not come to be served, but to serve…” (Matt. 20:28) Fasting and almsgiving also require denying ourselves as we wrestle with our passions, including the inclination to think that gratifying our desires for bodily comfort is more important than meeting the needs of our neighbors.   As in all things, we must be mindful, keeping a close watch on our thoughts and desires as we refuse to welcome into our hearts anything that would hinder us from becoming more beautiful living icons of the merciful healing of Christ.  The challenge to forgive others as we have been forgiven is not a matter of religious legalism or mere willpower, but of finding the healing of our souls by the power of the Holy Spirit.  If we acquire the humility to see ourselves as we truly are before the Lord, then we will not become like the first servant in today’s parable, but will instead become radiant with the gracious divine energies as we convey to others the same mercy that we have received through our Lord.  That is the only way that we will ever gain the spiritual health necessary to forgive others from the depths of our hearts.

St. Moses the Black had been a slave and a thief with great physical strength, but he repented and became a monk in the Egyptian desert.  When he was called to participate in a council to judge another monk for an offense, he did not want to come, but finally did so with a leaking water jug strapped to his back.  When asked what it meant, Abba Moses said, “my sins ran out behind me, and I do not see them, and today I am coming to judge the errors of another.”  The brothers got his point and forgave the monk’s offense.  Once when a magistrate was looking for Abba Moses for counsel, he fled and told those who wanted to find him but did not recognize him, “What do you want with him? He is a fool.” When the magistrate learned that he had said that of himself out of humility, “he went away greatly edified.”  When he foresaw that barbarians were coming to attack the monastery, Abba Moses told the other monks to flee, but said  “As for me, I have been waiting for this day for many years, that the word of the Lord Christ may be fulfilled which says, ‘All who take the sword will perish by the sword.’”  He and those who remained with Him received crowns of martyrdom.  Abba Moses acquired the purity of heart necessary for true humility, for he saw himself clearly before God.  If we want to gain the spiritual strength necessary to forgive all who have wronged us, we must take the small steps we are capable of to become truly humble.  Above all, do not despair of growing in humility and forgiveness, for if Christ can make a glorious saint out of a violent criminal like Abba Moses had been, there is surely hope for us all.

 

 

 

 

2 comments:

  1. Dear Fr Philip.
    I continue to enjoy reading your homilies, tho’ I may not comment every week.
    This one was a blessing, too. Thank you, and God bless you and your congregation.

    Love in Christ, Rhoda

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