St. John of Kronstadt said “Never confuse the person, formed in the image of God, with the evil that is in him: because evil is but a chance misfortune, an illness, a devilish reverie. But the very essence of that person is the image of God, and this remains in him despite every disfigurement.”
Now think about that for a moment. St. John calls us to always focus, not on the evil men do, but to the image in which the man is made! This makes sense of the Lord’s words from the cross, after having been lied about, tortured, stripped, and nailed to a cross; after enduring all that, He says from the cross “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.” Amazing. In the face of such injustice, cruelty, pain, and even physical death, Jesus still sees clearly the image of God even in His murderers.
How does that affect how we are all too often quick to find fault? During this time of year as we approach the Feast of the Nativity when God takes His flesh from one of us and comes among us, this lesson is absolutely vital if we are ever going to recognize who Jesus really is!
Let’s look at our Gospel Lesson today in Luke 21:37-38, 22:1-8:
At that time, Jesus was teaching in the temple, but at night he went out and lodged on the mount called Olivet. And early in the morning all the people came to him in the temple to hear him. Now the feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called the Passover. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to put him to death; for they feared the people. Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve; he went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them. And they were glad, and engaged to give him money. So he agreed, and sought an opportunity to betray him to them in the absence of the multitude. Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the passover lamb had to be sacrificed. So he sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the passover for us, that we may eat it.”
This is such a familiar scene for those of us raised with the scriptures, in the liturgical life of the faith, or even just watching “The Robe” with Richard Burton during the Easter holidays. Judas goes to the leaders of the Jews to betray Jesus.
But notice how St. Luke describes what happens to Judas: “Then Satan entered into Judas…” Of course, we can make fun of this by saying “Oh yeah, the devil made me do that” and then try to avoid responsibility for our actions by blaming the devil. But, I wonder, who left the door of your heart unlocked in the first place?
This is an invitation to a very profound mystery. We are called to understand that, if I am ever going to be a follower of Christ, then I have to come to grips with three profound realities:
First, the reality that all humans are created in the Image of God to be made into His likeness. And this means that, before a person does anything good or bad, their infinite worth is established and cannot be erased no matter what they do.
Next, the reality that an unguarded life will allow all kinds of influences to shape that life. A life just left to itself without a love for wisdom or faith becomes a mere shadow of what God intended for each of us, and that lack of attention means I am at the mercy of anyone or anything without any discernment to protect me from the fantasy of spiritual blindness.
Finally, the reality that God has not left humanity in this fallen state. No, God Himself has condescended to be “born of a woman, born under the Law” to restore and elevate my humanity and wed my humanity to His divinity so that, granting all of us eternal life, I can be made able to enjoy eternity in His presence.
Today, as we again approach the Nativity of our Lord, let’s allow His wisdom, His love, and His life to set us free from ever reducing another person to some monster, even if they act like one. Let’s dare to believe that God has become a Man for our sake so that we can, by His grace become what He is! Being Orthodox on Purpose makes sense of Christmas!
P.S. I want to hear from you Sunday night on Faith Encouraged LIVE. I’ve got a big announcement to share with you Sunday at 8 PM Eastern on AncientFaith.com.