Saturday, June 14, 2014

St. Luke of Simferopol: On the Power of the Good Word

Jesus Christ: The Great Shepherd of the Sheep (source)
St. Luke Archbishop of Simferopol, the Surgeon: On the power of the good word, and mercy towards sinners
“And Jesus passing by there saw a man sitting at the tax office named Matthew, and He said to him: 'Follow me.' And he arose and followed Him.” (Matthew 9:9)

Who was this Matthew, who later became a great apostle and evangelist? He was a publican and collected taxes. The people hated tax collectors and perceived them as sinners, for they performed many injustices in order to obtain more money for themselves. And this man, whom everyone perceived as wretched, and whom they distanced themselves from, the Lord called, saying to him: “Follow me.”

Only two words, and these began a revolution in the soul of the publican. He arose immediately, and threw down his money and followed Christ.

What does this mean? It means that the call of Christ can summon within the soul of man a revolution. In the lives of the Saints there are many examples of men who returned to Christ after one word of the Gospel. From my experience, I know that one good word can startle the soul of the sinner, as it startled the soul of the tax-collector Matthew. People who are choking in sin, thieves, robbers, and murderers, when you tell them a good word and show them the love, condescension and reverence of your person, are moved greatly.

And we sinners, weak and insignificant men, with one word of love and reverence can move and startle the hearts of sinners, as did the Lord Jesus Christ. Remember this, and never condemn sinners, that we not stigmatize them, but offer to them love, showing reverence to their person, even if they themselves do not honor it, and though they have trampled upon it.

“And there was a dinner in the house, and behold many tax-collectors and sinners came to dine with Jesus and His disciples. And behold the Pharisees told His disciples: 'Why does your teacher dine with tax-collectors and sinners?' Jesus, hearing them, said to them: 'Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what it means: 'I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.' I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.'” (Matthew 9:10-13)

The Pharisees resented that the Lord Jesus Christ socialized with sinners, harlots and tax-collectors. They disdained these people and perceived it as unclean to communicate with them. They never spoke to them, but they spoke ill of them, and condemned their behavior.

We know that harlots washed the feet of the Lord Jesus, and wiped them with their hair. Never did they hear from him a word of rebuke. He forgave them, saying: “Go and sin no more.” (John 8:11)

The Pharisees were unable to comprehend Christ's behavior, and they were displeased at his stance towards sinners. But the Lord responded to them with the following: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” (Matthew 9:12) He came to save sinners. With love He embraced every sinner and sought to lead them to salvation. Of the Pharisees who complained about him, He said: “Go and learn what it means: 'I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.'” (Matthew 9:13) The Scribes and Pharisees placed their hope of salvation in their sacrifices and their prayers, and the Lord says that He does not desire sacrifice, but mercy, mercy towards sinners.

Sacrifices were necessary in the Old Testament, because they were a foreshadowing of the One Sacrifice which the Lord Jesus Christ offered upon the Cross at Golgotha. When this Sacrifice was offered, the other sacrifices lost their meaning and intention, and because of this we do not offer them any more.

Now, the Lord does not expect any sacrifice but mercy. He expects from us compassion towards all sinners and those disdained. Our behavior towards these people should be the same as that which He showed. Let us not act as if anyone, anyone is lower than us. Let us behold our own sins and not those of the other, let us obtain humility and meekness, imitating His humility and meekness. Let us love and be gracious towards those disdained and those humbled, in order to offer them spiritual help, showing care towards their salvation.

The Lord says that when we prepare a table, we should not call people who could call us back for a meal, but paupers and the destitute. He wants us to do this with love, and to always offer with empathy to people whom the world despises, calling them filthy and scoundrels.

Our Lord gave us paradoxical and wondrous commandments. He said that He does not desire sacrifice, but mercy, mercy towards all those who need it. A great, uncountable multitude of people await someone to show them compassion, to tell them one word of love and consolation. People wait for someone to show them tenderness and to help them, but instead of this, they meet coldness and indifference around them. But above this, from some, even Christians, they see disdain and disgust.

In the eyes of God, he who thus disdains his brethren commits a grave sin. In all things we must be imitators of the Lord and follow His example. Let us follow Him, therefore, and not perceive ourselves as higher than our neighbor, whatever he may be—thief, murderer, or robber—for in the eyes of God, we might all be worse than him.

Let us always remember how the Lord behaved towards sinners, how He spoke to the tax-collector Matthew and how He spoke to other tax-collectors, harlots and sinners, and because of this brought about the rage of the Pharisees. Let us not be like the Pharisees, but let us imitate our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
(amateur translation of text from: St. Luke Archbishop of Crimea. Words and Homilies, Volume II. Edition of “Orthodox Kypseli”, Thessaloniki. Source)
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

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