Sunday, June 26, 2016

To be a child of Christ

As Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia often liked to point out, we humans are all sons of Adam and daughters of Eve. As such, we are subject to all manner of affliction. Because, through our father Adam, “sin came into the world and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned.” Affected and weakened by our mortality, inherited from Adam, we are all sinners, standing in need of forgiveness. And we are all witness to suffering and death.

Today, one of our fellow suffering children of Adam – a paralytic – is carried by his faithful friends to Jesus. And Jesus calls this suffering son of Adam, “my son.” So, the son of Adam becomes the son of Christ. Jesus says to him, “Take heart, my son” or, “Be of good cheer, my son,” or, “Have courage, my son. Your sins are forgiven.”
Through his father Adam, mortality and paralysis came to the man and in his weakness, he sinned. Through his father Christ, his sins were forgiven, his paralysis healed, and his life promised.
Jesus calls the paralytic man his son, his child, his τέκνον. This word is a term of endearment, an expression of loving fatherly regard. Sometimes there is a whole sermon in one word of the gospel. This word τέκνον is the gospel. When the Son of God calls the son of Adam, “my son,” that’s the gospel.[i] That is God tenderly reaching out to humanity as to his own children and inviting us to reach out to God as to our own father. Jesus is inviting us to a relationship more intimate than that of master and slave, or of teacher and disciple. He lovingly relates to us as a father to his children.
Jesus does not commonly call us his children. Today’s gospel offers us a rare instance of that. Other friendly and familial images prevail. Jesus says that whoever does the will of his Father in heaven is his brother and sister and mother (Matt 12:50). So, we more commonly understand ourselves as brothers and sisters of Christ, our fellow human, our fellow son of Adam. He is the Son of God who became the son of Adam, the Son of Man. He is the God who became like one of us, our brother.
We do call him teacher and Lord, and fittingly enough, for that is what he his (John 13:13). He is our brother, but we are not his equals. He is our elder brother, the first born, “born of the Father before all ages,” and the first born of those who have died (Col 1:18). He is above us, of course, and so he is also like a father to us. In fact, his work is the work of the Father (cf. John 5:17). He is about his Father’s business (Luke 2:49). And those who see him, see the Father. He is the image of the Father for us.
Abbott Joseph says that Jesus brings the paralytic “the Father's love and compassion…. [Jesus] looks upon all as his children…. [and] with the Father's love and divine authority, says: ‘Your sins are forgiven.’”
Jesus does give another parental image of himself, comparing himself to a mother hen. He laments to Jerusalem, "How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!” (Mat 23:37). With words and images like these, Jesus invites us into a familial relationship.
St. Makarios the Great says, “He who wishes to be a friend of God, and a brother and son of Christ, must do something more than other men, that is, to consecrate heart and mind themselves, and to stretch up his thoughts towards God…. When a man gives God his secret things, that is, his mind and thoughts, not occupying himself elsewhere, nor wandering away, but putting constraint upon himself, then the Lord deems him worthy of mysteries… and gives him heavenly food and spiritual drink.”
Contrary to these recommendations, we often get caught up in a minimalistic approach to life in Christ. We ask, “What must I do to be saved?” And we mean, what’s the least I can do and still make it to heaven? What kind of restrictions is Christianity going to place on me? What are the minimum requirements of the job of being a Christian? What rules do I have to follow if I am to be a follower of Christ?
Do I have to go to the liturgy every Sunday, or is it alright if I make it just once or twice a month, so long as I don’t miss three Sundays in a row? The Council of Trullo says that’s enough to keep from getting excommunicated, so is that enough? What about feast days? Do I have to go to church on feast days, too? Which ones? Do I have to go on all the great feasts? Or just on those days that Byzantine Ruthenian Catholic Metropolitan Church of Pittsburgh has designated as holy days of obligation? What about fasting? Do I have to fast? Do I have to keep the full monastic fasting tradition as described in the Typikon or is it enough to just eat fish on Fridays? What about tithing? Do I have to offer a full ten percent, or can I figure the ten percent after the taxes have been taken out? Or what if I just put in a five spot? Is that good enough?
My brothers and sisters in Christ, it’s not about being good enough. We get caught up sometimes in these rules. Rules are good and they have their place. They are there for us when we need to fall back on them. But Jesus is inviting us to more than this. Not to less, but to more. He’s calling us to be his children, his brethren, his friends. He loves us as more than slaves, followers, servants, disciples, or students. We are these things, or should be, but he freely and gratuitously loves us more than that. He loves us as his brothers and sisters and mothers, and as his friends. He says to his true disciples, “I no longer call you servants, but friends” (Jn 15.15). And he loves us as his children, saying to those who are faithful, “take heart, my children, your sins are forgiven.”
So we shouldn’t seek what is the least we can do for Christ who has done everything for us – who lives and dies for us. Rather, we should seek to make everything we do to be for Christ.
In terms of our worship, let us everywhere worship God who is everywhere. Yes, come often to the church for worship, but let us also worship God everywhere. Pray unceasingly. Make everything we do prayerful. Worship Christ, who is present in the least of his brethren, by serving them wherever they are in the world.
In terms of giving, let’s give all that we can to the parish, yes, but also recognize that all that we have is really the Lord’s – not just ten percent, but a hundred percent. Even the money we pay toward our mortgages is for the Lord’s work. Our houses are to be for the building up of the domestic Church. The Church includes and needs the parish, but it is not limited to parish buildings, programs, and operations. It is everywhere. It is where we live and work and play.
What I’m saying is that life in Christ is not to be merely a part of our life, but our whole life. Jesus does not want to walk into our lives like a boss walks into an office and makes everyone feel the need to look busy. When Jesus comes into our lives, we should invite him to make himself at home, as we would a member of the family. He gives us the unbearably profound opportunity to be on intimate, friendly, and familial terms. So let us practice constantly an awareness of God’s presence in every moment of our lives, in everything that we do, everywhere that we go. Because, Christ wants to be more to us than our master. Not less than our master, but more. He wants to be our friend, our brother, and our father.
Archimandrite Irenei says, “Christianity proclaims, into our broken and disfigured world, promises that defy our expectation – that sin can be forgiven, that the broken can be restored, that the sick can be healed, that the dead can arise. And yet in the midst of so many great and wonderful promises, there is perhaps none greater and none more profound than the promise that the human person, for all his frailty, weakness, rebellion, and apostasy, this human creature may become the friend of the Creator of all; that he may become brother and son to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

[i] P. G. Mathew says, “But when God's Son, Jesus Christ, says to this paralytic, "Cheer up, son," that's the gospel.”

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