Glory to Jesus Christ.
Our Father Sophrony’s name was chosen to signify that he seeks to follow the wisdom of Saint Sophrony who founded a monastery in England and died 30 years ago. This homily is inspired by
recent words from a companion of Saint Sophrony, Father Zecharias. Timothy, today, is exhorted to follow the wisdom of Saint Paul. What is the purpose of this time of preparation to celebrate the Easter Mystery?
Our purpose, says Father Zecharias, is to taste death, deaths of our own ways of being, of conduct, of pursuit, deaths by giving the preference to acts of faith, patience, love, humbly staying underneath, death by welcoming persecutions and sufferings that come to us. This is what Saint Paul’s life exemplifies to Timothy... Taste death so as to experiment the resurrection of Jesus when we will celebrate the Easter Mystery. During Lent the Church proposes death through 1) fasting, 2) prayer and 3) confession. Confession is a great honor God is giving so that we expose the shame of our soul. God considers it as a thanksgiving. Therefore let us keep weeding our garden, weeds continually reappear, so let us confess again and again the same things.
Today, Jesus renews a theme in the whole Bible: two ways divide the whole human race into two categories. Jesus invites us to discern: in today’s story we can be either the Pharisee, or the publican. Who is the Pharisee? The Pharisee is a man who has made the fundamental choice to follow the teachings of God revealed through Moses. God teaches us the primacy of thanksgiving. We are now celebrating the liturgy of the Eucharist, literally “the liturgy of thanksgiving”. And there are many things for which to give thanks. I thank you, O God, for the family you have given me, for my baptism that has made of me a child of God, for that bit of faithfulness to your commandments that has led me to be here today in this Sunday Divine Liturgy at Mount Tabor. All such thanksgivings we have in common with the Pharisee. Jesus is not questioning the greatness of giving thanks. Jesus questions our intentions when we give thanks.
What is my focus when giving thanks? Am I focused on the benefits and accomplishments which I recognize in my life and in the life of my community? Giving thanks now, for me, is it not principally to perceive success in the homily I am delivering? Am I not giving thanks because you are listening to me attentively? I am giving you examples of thoughts of my heart to which I give credit, thoughts of my heart by which, in realty, I show off that I am just, and this happens constantly in my day. In her canticle the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, says that such thoughts will be dispersed by the mighty arm of God. In today’s parable Jesus warns us that thanksgiving based on such thoughts, can very easily turn to thanksgiving that I am better than some of the others here present and contemplating myself as higher, more holy. True thanksgiving should be in
pristine innocence and turned towards recreation of my person, openness to receiving the mystery of the Resurrection that we will celebrate fully at Easter. Today, Jesus invites me to wake up to my motivations for giving thanks. Are they motivations that God intends me to have? God sees that I have come to this temple today.
For what is God seeking me to give thanks? Jesus teaches that I should focus on none of the above
thoughts. I should not focus on any good which I find in my actions, that “I am in good health, that I like the beauty of this liturgy, that I like Father Damian, etc...” What does Jesus want me to give thanks for? Jesus seeks that my thoughts be turned to my greatest duty. What is my greatest, ultimate duty? Is it to fulfill the great and first commandment? To love God with all my heart, with all my soul...and my neighbor as myself? Jesus teaches that there is greater than even accomplishing all the commandments. What does He say? “When you have done all that is required of you, say, 'We are useless servants; we have only done our duty.'" Luke 17.10. Greater than any other thought is the confession of my shame: I am useless, I do not deserve any special praise, I am not worthy of any particular commendation.
The publican going up to the Temple exposed his shame before God. Jesus seeks those ready to expose their shame and pain. If there is a little door open before God for our shame and our pain, we will easily approach Jesus, God saves us with this little cooperation, and our brothers and sisters can powerfully intercede for us. The contrite heart easily approach Jesus. Those who justify themselves, in fact, hate their own souls, they keep themselves away from Jesus. Those who openly bear shame and pain, lower their heads, lower their minds, they anticipate God’s judgment, they can recognize that God alone has the power to save them. God does not judge twice.
Let us go now before the judgment of God and present our shame and pain, and we will return home justified. God does not want exterior works of piety; God wants us to accommodate His mercy, to meet with His identity as the Merciful One. The last word that God has to say about himself is that He is merciful, compassionate, that He comes for those who are wounded. He cures our wretchedness. “I will not remain angry with you, for I am merciful, says the LORD” to the prophet Jeremiah. Our father Saint Basil recommends: “Approach yourself without boldness and you will find boldness.” You who are wounded, you will find boldness. Jesus’ death is the revelation of his love. His grace softens our heart and gives its imprint in our hearts, and we begin to forgive as God forgives, to take the blame on ourselves. When we are offended, we will force ourselves not to retaliate. God will help us, and one day we will pray for that person, for his or her suffering soul. Thus we give thanks and glory to God, but never as He deserves. So we remain useless servants, We remain in a divine competition of humbling ourselves before our brothers and sisters.
Even in times that are hard, we will keep the lessons of our first graces, and we will see at Easter the Resurrection of Christ. When we approach God without boldness we become angels. Angels are portrayed with six wings for they unceasingly glorify God because of their humility.
Glory to Jesus Christ.