Sunday after the Elevation of the Cross, September 17, 2017
Galatians 2:16-20; Mark 8:34-9:1
Very Rev. Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
One of the things I have noticed as a pastor is that a lot of our spiritual struggles these days revolve around the question of how we feel. For example, I have heard many times someone say to me, “I’m not going to do anything to hurt him, but I just can’t forgive him.” Or I’ve also heard, “I feel bored or distracted when I say my prayers or when I’m in church.”
We live in a time when our feelings constitute existential crises. In other words, how we feel is not just important but critically important. Feelings are the authenticator of what we do. If we don’t feel it, it’s not really real. And if we do feel it, that’s how we know it’s real.
We talk this way outside of ostensibly spiritual questions, too: “I don’t know if I really love her” or “I think I still have feelings for him.” And when we say these things, we mean that, if we can determine the answers to these questions of how we feel, then we have to act in a certain way.
And so we spend time examining our feelings, at least on certain subjects, usually questions of desire. “Do I really want this or that?” And if we do really want it, then we have to get it. And if we don’t really want it, we should not go after it or not do it.
But ironically, we also live in a time of unexamined feelings. I might ask whether I really want something or really feel something, but most of the time, I don’t ask why I feel what I’m feeling. To learn why I’m feeling something, I will have to ask big questions about my family life growing up, what I’m most afraid of and why, whether I had a bad experience with someone that sent me running in the opposite direction, etc. Most of us never do this work. We just feel what we feel, and that’s the end of it. And we decide what we feel, and we go for it.
So that was the context that came to my mind when I read these words from the Lord Jesus in today’s Gospel:
“For whoever is ashamed of Me and of My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed, when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38).
So when I read that, I thought about how it comes across to us now. Jesus says that if we are ashamed of Him and His words, then He will be ashamed of us when He comes in glory with His angels. We don’t want Jesus to be ashamed of us. So we had better not be ashamed of Him.
No problem, right? I don’t feel ashamed of Jesus. If someone asks me, I’m okay with saying I’m a Christian. I might even say I’d be willing to die if necessary. If Jesus comes around, I wouldn’t feel bad about that. I would feel fine! He’s nothing to be ashamed of.
So I’m pretty sure that when Jesus shows up again with His angels in all His glory, He’s not going to lay His eyes on me and then facepalm before all creation, like He’s just ashamed of me and feels so bad to be associated with me. ‘Cause I’m good with Him. I am unashamed of Jesus.
So within the context of how we understand feelings in our time and how they are the true authenticators of what is real, and given that the key to not having Jesus be ashamed of me at the Second Coming is not to be ashamed of Him, then isn’t this passage really not very important at all? I mean, who among us is actually ashamed of Jesus? Why even put that in the Bible? Who’s He talking to?
Or perhaps it means that the risk of damnation at the end of time is really not that great? All you have to do to make sure that Jesus isn’t going to give you that divine facepalm is to make sure you have pretty good feelings about Him. “Jesus, we’re good, right? I am not ashamed of You. No embarrassment here.”
Suffice it to say, though, that I do not think that this is about feelings. For one thing, it doesn’t make much sense for us to describe Jesus as being embarrassed of us: The Lord of all creation, coming in the glory of His Father and accompanied by His holy angels, seeing one of us, and inwardly feeling like He just wants to run away? Really?
So what does it mean to be “ashamed”? There are feelings that accompany shame, to be sure. But what we see in the Scripture regarding shame and being ashamed is not really about feelings. It is about actions. To be ashamed of Jesus Christ is not about how we feel about Him. It is about how we act toward Him.
This is why, when interpreting this passage, St. Theophylact of Ohrid says that “intellectual faith does not suffice, but confession of faith with one’s mouth is required as well. Since man himself is two-fold, let his sanctification be two-fold as well. For the soul is sanctified by faith, but the body is sanctified by confessing.” It is about action!
And what actions show that we are not ashamed? As Theophylact says, one way is that we must confess with our mouths. We cannot be private Christians. Christianity is not a private religion. It is a public one. It is a public proclamation. It has always been public. It is good news to the nations, to the whole world. Thus, if we are not ashamed of Jesus, then we speak His name to our families and our friends, confessing Him before them with love and boldness.
But it is other actions, as well. It is also worship. In commenting on this same passage, St. Cyprian of Carthage asks, “But how can we shed our blood for Christ, who blush to drink the blood of Christ?” (Epistle LXII). In other words, how can we claim to have such strong feelings for Christ that we would be ready to be martyred, and yet we will not engage in this most central act of the Christian faith—to receive the holy Eucharist? How can people say they would be willing to die for Jesus who are not willing to come to church and eat and drink the body and blood of Jesus?
If we stay away from His holy table, we are showing that we are indeed ashamed of Jesus Christ. You cannot be a “good Christian,” a Christian who is not ashamed of our Lord Jesus, and yet not actually show up when He calls us to His house. I don’t care if you don’t feel ashamed of Jesus when you stay home and do not worship with the Body of Christ. By staying away from worship you are indeed ashamed of Him.
In Hebrews 10:23, Paul tells us to “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering,” and then in 10:25, he says that we must not forsake “the assembling of ourselves together.” You cannot hold fast to the confession without coming to the assembly.
There are so many more things we could mention here: If we do not give to the Lord out of our abundance, we are ashamed of Him. If we do not meet Him regularly in private prayer, we are ashamed of Him. If we do not seek out spiritual counsel for guidance in our lives, we are ashamed of Him. And so on.
To be ashamed is to turn away. It is not about how you feel. It is about what you do. Feelings are slippery and change a lot. We can never really be sure of them. But what we do is observable. We can see it clearly. We know if we are turning away from Jesus by what we do.
And so in the end, if we are ashamed of Jesus Christ—that is, if we have turned away from Him in all these ways—then He will also be ashamed of us. He will not feel embarrassed to be around us. He will turn away. So, then, let us not be ashamed. Let us turn toward Him. And let us do it with actions.
To the Christ Who is coming again in glory with His angels, with His eternal Father and the Holy Spirit, be all glory, honor and worship, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.