We see in the Gospel a woman completely bowed together for 18 whole years! Suddenly, Christ comes into her life, and heals her! Did she expect this? Could she ever fathom praying that God Himself would come in the flesh and lay His most divine and spotless hands upon her, loosing her from her infirmity unto joy and glorification? Who could ever imagine making such a prayer? Who could be so bold?
God Incarnate came to an afflicted woman, freely, of His own accord, in His own time, according to His mercy and infallible judgment. He sought her out just as He did the helpless demoniac. Why have these stories been recorded? To grant us hope amidst our physical and spiritual struggles, weaknesses, passions, and sins. If our Merciful Lord sought out those who were afflicted without being directly asked, how much more will He come, in His own time, to us who seek Him out!
Are we afflicted, tormented, in need of the mercy and help of God, of His deep healing of our innermost heart? Then let us take comfort! Our All-Knowing Lord and Healer knew the woman in today’s Gospel, as He knows us all. He saw her from afar; He came to her, whether she prayed intensely for physical healing, or only for the salvation of her soul, or both.
This has been written for us! God sees us! He knows our sorrows and afflictions and wounds and illnesses from the inside out. He knows them and suffers them—yes, believe it!—in an infinitely greater manner than even we ourselves do! The divine hymns of the Church speak of Christ as the One “Who alone knowest the weakness of human nature!”
“More than me, the poor and suffering one, O Lord? You know the weakness of human nature more than even me?” we ask. “Yes!” is the resounding answer! How is this so? He is everywhere! He is Love! He is Power! He is Mind all-knowing, Compassion all-feeling, heartfelt Sympathy omnipresently penetrating all things, suffering with all, mourning with all, desiring to heal all, administering to all as He knows and wills, balancing and harmonizing all things, edifying all individually and collectively!
Some of us may find ourselves in the position of the woman in today’s Gospel, afflicted, maybe in body, maybe in soul, maybe in both. Some of us may find our strength spent, our patience exhausted, our hope withered. Others of us may find ourselves to be in the situation of the ruler of the synagogue in today’s Gospel, afflicted by hardness of heart, or envious of the joys of others, or completely insensible, or deluded by cold legalism and spiritual blindness. But all of us have one great remedy: the incomprehensible love of God!
Let us search the Gospels and the Fathers of the Church for the words and images that reveal God’s love, and let us pray to experience even a small taste of it within ourselves, not doubting the graciousness of the Giver of Life. Let us remember how the Lord, kissed deceitfully by Judas the traitor, addressed him as “friend,” not with sarcasm, not with contempt, but with truth, honesty, love and sympathy. Let us remember how St. Peter denied his Lord, and then how the Lord simply gazed at him, thus moving Peter to great sorrow and tears of repentance. What was this look? What is filled with hatred, anger, disgust, mockery, pride, surprise? No! But with ineffable mercy and sorrowing compassion.
Today’s Gospel reading is from the 13th Chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel. What do we find shortly after today’s reading at the end of this Chapter? We hear the Lord cry out against His hard-hearted first-born children:
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which kills the Prophets, and stones them that are sent unto thee: how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and you would not!”
This same Lord, centuries before His Incarnation, cried out through His Holy Prophet Ezra:
“You have not, as it were, forsaken Me, but your own selves…. Have I not prayed you as a Father His sons, as a Mother Her daughters, and a Nurse Her young babes, that you should be My people, and I should be your God, that you would be My children, and I should be your Father?”
These are the words, and this is the image, of the most-loving, long-suffering, maternal heart of our Savior Christ, Who desires to make all of us His true children, divine offspring of Love! The words to the ruler of the synagogue in today’s Gospel were spoken without hatred or contempt, but with suffering love, when the Lord called him “hypocrite!”
Elsewhere we hear the same hard words to the Pharisees: “Hypocrites! Fools! Blind! Sons of Hell!” But from what disposition did the Lord say such things? From hatred? Far be it from the Only and Perfect Image of the Only True God and Father Who is Love Himself, Christ, Who, on the Cross, cried no hateful words nor fiery condemnation upon His murderers, but only: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!”
What hardened heart will not melt at such words? What despairing sinner will not rise up in hope? What wicked disposition will not be softened? What afflicted person will not taste of divine consolation?
Here is the God Whom we worship! Here is the Only One against Whom we sin! Here alone is the Judge of all! Here alone is the Physician of all! What do we see? What do we hear? What judgment is given by the all-pure mouth of the Judge on His Cross? Nothing but mercy, long-suffering, hope and belief that some might repent, unconquerable love, forgiveness, and an irrepressible longing to draw all into Himself.
The love of God: here is the remedy for all! Here is softening for the hard-hearted; humble awareness for the self-complacent; hope for the despairing; mercy for the deformed; sympathy for the afflicted; conversion for the hateful; peace for the troubled; interior warmth for cold legalists; brotherly unity for the envious; sympathetic discernment for the judgmental; consolation for the tormented; patient endurance for the ill; healing for the passionate; freedom for the demon-enslaved; a much greater motivation for repentance than the threat of hellfire; growth of virtue; increase of light for the mind; fervor of heart; life for the soul; resurrection for sinners; an ever newly-revealed and infinite summit for the Saints to pursue!
The great love of God for man is a love which must be responded to, which none can ignore; it touches every heart, though not every heart responds to it; it leaves none without a responsibility. The Theologian John spoke of it: “We love God, because He first loved us. Herein is the love of God manifested to us: because He laid down His life for us sinners, and we ought to love Him in return, and lay down our lives for Him and for all!”
If God first loved us, that we might love Him; and if the highest commandment is love for God and all mankind made in His image; then we must comprehend and beg God to taste the love of God for us.
Only when we perceive this love can we judge things correctly; only then can we utter correcting words unto edification, and not out of vanity or spite or ill-will; only then can the sinner see their sins correctly, in the light of Christ; only then can they perceive themselves truly, not as some absolutely detestable monster, but as a broken image of God still loved by the All-Compassionate Christ; only then can true compunction well forth sweet transforming tears from our inner depths! Only then will we be moved to true humility, bowing down in body and soul before our Gracious King, irresistibly attracted in an ever-upward ascent of love.
But it takes effort on our part to perceive the love of God. We must beg the God Who is Love for it in constant prayers, no matter how feeble; we must laboriously read and study the Divine Scriptures and the Holy Fathers, especially Abba Isaac the Syrian and Elder Porphyrios of Athos, in order to find the living testimonies of the Saints regarding God’s incomprehensible love. Finding and collecting these, we must immerse ourselves in them, meditate upon them, pray to understand and experience and taste them, to live worthily of them, and to constantly practice the commandments of love given to us by the Lord.
The love of God: This is the cure for all, the tree of life, the healing of the nations, the quelling of wars, the cessation of strife, the answer for political unrest, the destruction of division, the abolition of schism, the correction for heresy, the foundation of true friendship, the fellowship of true brotherhood, the reconciliation of enemies, the union of the divine marriage between Christ the Bridegroom and His Bride the Church, the womb from which all are reborn as children of God, the life of the Orthodox.
This is the inner Kingdom which the Father desires to give unto us, the Little Flock; this is the grace of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit Christ promises to sinners who beg it of His Father through prayer in His name.
The love of Christ: this is the interior Paradise, heaven-on-earth, God-in-man; for God is Love, and all who love both know God and are known by Him. All who know Him will become like Him; and all who are known by Him will be found in that ever-ascending joy, ever-increasing peace and glory, ever-growing eternal life, and ever-flourishing love, of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Trinity, our One God, Who has called all to be one in Him, both now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen!