Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, November 14, 2021.
I think we Orthodox priests are far too reticent to speak about contemporary issues in our sermons. Perhaps it is because, for the most part, we don’t like to dally with politics. Some, of course, do with great gusto. But in this time when everything is politicized, it is hard to find a way to speak that doesn’t sound partisan. Still, the Gospel must be preached one way or the other and if it sounds partisan, maybe it’s because it flows against the status quo. The Gospel speaks about compassion, mercy, charity, and justice. So, we must preach that and if it sounds partisan to us, then we have seriously misunderstood Christ and his Cross.
A great example of this kind of sermonizing comes from the life of St. John Chrysostom who was exiled from Constantinople by the Emperor Arcadius at the instigation of his wife Eudoxia in 398. Why? Because he preached against the misuse of riches by the wealthy (including Eudoxia naturally). I guess she didn’t like that. His views on private property as not strictly personal but to be held in trust for the needy made the wealthy and powerful very angry.
So, today I want to draw your attention to the story of the young black high school freshman who was tormented and abused in Minnesota. You may have heard of Nya Sigin already, but her story is relevant on this Sunday when we read the parable of the Good Samaritan.
She had just been released from a hospital where she was treated after a suicide attempt. A group of white girls decided to make an unbelievably vicious video using the worst kind of vile and racist language instructing her to “cut deeper next time” or “hang the noose higher.” Nya’s tears broke my heart.
Who teaches their children to act this way? I do not understand such hatred and cruelty.
We read about the Good Samaritan and his radical compassion. He too was part of a persecuted minority. And when confronted with a wounded man on the road his response was as we heard today. Into that tragic situation, the Samaritan brought comfort and healing without regard to ethnicity or economic concerns. He opened both his heart and his wallet without limit. Jesus meant to make the Good Samaritan our model.
The new way that Jesus exemplifies is nothing short of a condemnation of the domination systems that rule the world. We Christians are called to be different and that doesn’t mean adopting a new, shiny persona to present to the world, glassy-eyed and crowned with disingenuous smiles, robed in multi-layers of black or peasant clothing. It is not something we “put on” like clothing or hairstyles. It is something we become from the inside out as we grow into the likeness of God.
We are called to be genuine, transparent and authentic. Not to play at love, but to be love through and through with “no shadow of turning.” We are called to the highest standard and to the lowest social status. Called to become God and commanded to be servants. It is no contradiction. For God is the All-Powerful Servant of all.
Again I turn to Thomas Merton as I often do.
“We have to resolutely put away our attachment to natural appearance and our habit of judging according to the outward face of things. I must learn that my fellow man, just as he is, whether he is my friend or my enemy, my brother or a stranger from the other side of the world, whether he be wise or foolish, no matter what may be his limitations, ‘is Christ.’ …
“Any prisoner, any starving man, any sick or dying man, any sinner, any man whatever, is to be regarded as Christ–this is the formal command of the Savior Himself. This doctrine is far too simple to satisfy many modern Christians, and undoubtedly many will remain very uneasy with it, tormented by the difficulty that perhaps after all, this particular neighbor is a bad man, and therefore cannot be Christ.”
To this, Merton offers a solution.
“The solution of this difficulty is to unify oneself with the Spirit of Christ, to start thinking and loving as a Christian, and to stop being a hairsplitting pharisee. Our faith is not supposed …to assess the state of our neighbor’s conscience.”
We do not have the wisdom to determine whether someone is worthy of our compassion or not. Christ deems them worthy and so we must follow his lead. After all he died for everyone. Even God does not hair-split. If he did, we would all be toast. Jesus offered all of himself for the life of the whole world. To be true Christians, we must “go and do likewise.” When you see suffering, listen to the voice of the Savior, flow with the Spirit of Christ, and run to it with compassion.