The Gospel - A Homily on the 12th Sunday after Pentecost

September 12, 2021

The Gospel - A Homily on the 12th Sunday after Pentecost

IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, AND OF THE SON, AND OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. AMEN.

Introduction

The word “gospel” is used ninety-eight times in the New Testament – seventeen times by the Evangelists where it is referred to as the “gospel of the Kingdom” or the “gospel of Jesus Christ,” and eighty-one times throughout the rest of the New Testament wherein it is described as the “gospel of peace,”[1] the “gospel of God,”[2] the “gospel of Christ”[3]; but is also described as a “glorious gospel”(2 Cor. 4.4). The gospel is what Jesus preached and what his disciples and apostles expounded, and about which the Apostle Paul says, “I am not ashamed of the gospel,” why? Not because it is a moral story or a legend or something difficult to believe. No, he says, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believes” (Rom. 1.16).

And today, it is the Gospel that has been spoken to us in the two different Scripture readings.

Narration

It is not often that the Epistle and Gospel readings are so intertwined that they compliment each other as they do today. In the former, the Apostle Paul states clearly what the gospel is which he had preached to the Corinthians, which they received, they believed, they accepted, and in which they stand, he says. In the latter, the rich young man asks what he must do to be saved, and Christ, who is the gospel, tells him to sell all he has, and he will obtain eternal life. In both these passages, we find the gospel and salvation weaved together.

i) On grace and free will, the example of Job

In our reading from the Evangelist Matthew today, we have a rich young man coming to Jesus, seeking eternal life, though he did not know that attaining it was going to be so hard for him.

St. Basil the Great remarks that the rich young man comes to Christ not deceitfully or craftily but “sensibly,” he says, aware that Christ is the “good teacher” and truly wants to know how to inherit eternal life having already fulfilled many of the commandments.

In reading passages like this, many people raise the question about grace and free will, how they exist together, which comes first, how free is the human will, and many, many other questions. However, one does an injustice to the gospel, one does an injustice to God, to say that salvation is all the grace of God or all the free will of man. “These two things certainly seem mutually opposed to one another,” says St. John Cassian, “but both are in accord, and we understand that we must accept both in like manner by reason of our religion, lest by removing one of them from the human being we seem to contravene the rule of the Church’s faith.”[4]

An example advocating the closeness and inability to pry one apart from the other lies in the life of Job when the Devil slanderously accuses him before God, saying, “Doth Job fear God for nought? Hast not thou made a hedge around him,” that is protected him by His grace, not allowing his free will to be challenged. The Devil continues and says that if the Lord were to take away His protection, Job would curse Him to His face. God then chooses to remove his grace from Job, though not entirely so, but enough to have Job struggle against the Devil and prove his virtue and, in turn, prove the place of the human will in light of one’s salvation (Job 1.9-11).

In today’s passage, we see the grace of God present and acting in the young man so much that the young man is able to see that Jesus is “good” and that he asks questions for the benefit of his own soul. However, the young man must choose to obey the answer in order to obtain eternal life.

ii) The Gospel in the New Testament

In 1 Cor. 15.1-11, the Apostle Paul offers us the shortest and most concise explanation of the gospel that we find in the New Testament. The first four books of the New Testament are called “Gospels” because it is the whole of them that constitute the gospel. The Gospel according to St. Matthew is twenty-eight chapters long, the Gospel according to St. Mark, sixteen chapters long, the Gospel according to St. Luke, twenty-four chapters long, and the Gospel according to St. John is twenty-one chapters long.

Despite its brevity, we cannot assume that the Apostle Paul did not know all the details of the gospel as the Evangelists articulated it. As they learned the Gospel from Jesus through being with him and the Holy Spirit teaching them at Pentecost, so also did the Apostle Paul who said that Christ appeared even to him and taught him the Gospel, as he says to the Galatians, “But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1.11-12). Paul is so confident, and for good reason, that he knows every detail of the Gospel that he even says that “God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel” (Rom. 2.16).

iii) The Gospel

In this Epistle, the Apostle Paul does not write about a teaching the Corinthians do not already know but says that he is reminding them of what he has already preached to them and in which their salvation is fashioned – it is the gospel. Perhaps this brings to mind the oft-repeated counsel of St. Mark the Ascetic, who continuously warns about the three vices that lead to all of the other passions, the first vice being forgetfulness, followed by laziness and ignorance.[5] Therefore drawing the Cointhians’ attention to the gospel again, the Apostle draws them back to the foundation of their faith and the foundation of their life as a Christian.

What is this Gospel? That Christ died for our sins, that He was buried and that He rose again the third day. The Apostle continues by emphasizing that after Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, He was seen not only by the Chief Apostle and the Apostles but by over five hundred people who attested to this, highlighting the fact that it did not take place in a small corner and unwitnessed by anyone else, but in plain view for many to confirm.

Do not forget the Gospel because it is the source of life.

If Christ did not die for our sins and rise again, why would we hope to be in Heaven with Him? What would we have to hope in?

What am I to tell you when your whole world falls apart, when doubts assail, when love grows cold or darkness prevails? Christ is risen! When the demons get the best of us, and we continue to slip into sin? Christ is risen! Do not forget that Christ is risen; therefore, there is reason to rejoice amidst the most grievous sadness; there is reason to hope against all hope; because Christ is risen, there is reason to love my neighbor even when they seem like they are my enemy.

If Christ did not rise from the dead, if sin is all there is, or actually it would not be sin, it would be just the way that it is – cold and indifferent with no actual virtue and no actual vice, therefore eat and drink and die for why would it matter. However, this is not so. Though He was God, Christ came in the likeness of man, being like man in all ways except for sin, humbling Himself and being obedient even unto death. God is made manifest in the face of Christ, that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us, and because God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son Jesus Christ, whosoever should believe in him will not die but will have everlasting life.

This Gospel does not change the circumstances of life, but it changes me in the circumstances of life, but only if I do not forget it, and only if I reach out to God in prayer at all times.

Perhaps, there is so much weighing on us that we feel we are going to be crushed despite our hope in the Gospel. Yes, but

with God, all things are possible,

with God, all things are possible

with God, all things are possible

He is able to hold us up under the weight of these burdens. He made a stammerer lead the Israelites out of Egypt. He turned Saul into Paul. He turns harlots into earthly angels, and the savage wolfman Tom he turned back into a guileless child. He has numbered every hair on our head. He gives us his flesh as food and His blood as drink so that He can live in us and us in Him.

iv) On Communing the Body and Blood of Christ

If we love Christ, we must strive to fulfill the commands of God, and therein we will come to know Christ, even if we only love him like a servant loves his master, even if we do not love Him as we wish we did.

We must use our free will and fulfill the commandment that Jesus gives us: unless you eat my body and drink my blood, you have no life in you (John 6.53). Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him (John 6.54-56).

Conclusion

Do not forget the gospel.

We are reminded of the gospel with every repetition of the Jesus Prayer when we look into what each of the words in the prayer means, and therefore it should never leave our lips: Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God have mercy on me a sinner.

In the Divine Services and preparatory prayers for communion, the gospel is laid out as a continual reminder to us of the goodness of God and our place in space and time; the whole economy of salvation is set forth, if we only pay attention.

If we would struggle to love our neighbor more, we will come to know and love God also.

If we shed the blood of our soul for Christ, it is Him whom we will attain.

Do not forget the gospel.

THROUGH THE PRAYERS OF OUR HOLY FATHERS, LORD JESUS CHRIST, HAVE MERCY ON US. AMEN

 

[1] Rom. 10.15; Eph. 6.15.

[2] Rom. 15.16; 1 Thess. 2.2, 8, 9; 1 Peter 4.17.

[3] Rom. 15.19, 29; 1 Cor. 9.12; 2 Cor. 10.14; Gal. 1.7; 1 Thess. 3.2.

[4] The Conferences, Thirteenth Conference, “On God’s Protection,” XI.4. cf. “These things are mixed together and fused so indistinguishably that which is dependent on which is a great question as far as many people are concerned – that is, whether God has mercy on us because we manifest the beginnings of a good will, or we acquire the beginnings of a good will because God is merciful. For many who hold to one of the alternatives and assert it more freely than is right have fallen into different self-contradictory errors” (13.XI.1.). It is unfortunate that many look only to the Thirteenth Conference of St. John Cassian to understand his teaching on grace and free will because although it is front and center in this Conference, it is everywhere throughout the rest of this work, cf. 3.XII–3.XXII.4; 4.IV.1; 4.V; 4.XV.2; 5.XV.2; 7.II.1; 7.VIII.2; 10.X.5; 10.XI.2; 11.IX.2; 12.IV.1; 12.VIII.6,9; 12.XII; 12.XV.2; 21.XIII.5-7; and 22.VI.3.

[5] “Letter to Nicholas the Solitary,” in Philokalia, eds. and trans. G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware. (London-Boston: Faber & Faber, ), I.157-159.




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