22 July 2007

Zeal for the Life to Come

The following is an excerpt from the sermon preached at Holy Incarnation Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church. Following the lectionary for "Gregorian Use" parishes in the Western Rite Vicariate, the Gospel reading was St. Luke 16.1-9.

The depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God are so unsearchable, and so surpass our knowledge and exceed our imagination that Our Lord must resort to seemingly strange non-examples in order to illustrate His mercy which we can barely fathom. And so it is in today’s Gospel. We hear Our Lord tell a parable about an unjust steward—a fraudulent and ungodly man whom Our Lord commends because of his wisdom and shrewdness in getting what is not his and in making sure that his crime leads to a soft landing. Why does Our Lord commend such wicked perfidy, such unchristian treachery? Why does our perfect Lord God hold up this criminal as a shining example? What lesson does Our Lord wish to teach us?

The last words you heard sung give us a clue: “The children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light.” To say it another way: those who seek to indulge their flesh, who live as if this life matters most, who look not beyond the grave and yearn for nothing more than the fading, corruptible things that seem to give momentary relief—these folks are more zealous and clever and driven in their pursuit of these things, than those of us who have renounced these things and strive to pursue the kingdom of heaven and the fullness of life in God. Their determination far outdoes our own; and we should be ashamed. That’s Our Lord’s point. That’s His lesson. Put yet another way—Oh, that we exhibited as much energy and passion for the things that lead us into the eternal love of God as many have for the things that drive man more quickly and more deeply into hades.


[P]erhaps you can [also] see that in the parable Our Lord makes yet another point—a more subtle point: namely, that we are both the children of this world and the children of light. In other words, the unjust steward is not the example of the person we’re not or should never be. Rather, Our Lord is subtly stating that we are the unjust steward who often fixates only on this world and the fleeting gratification it offers, while neglecting to stoke and feed the flame of Christ’s light within that urges us to look beyond this world, beyond its empty promises and false hopes, beyond its short-lived loves and into God Himself and the kingdom He has prepared for us, and the love that He is and embraces us with and desires us always to live within.

Who, then, is the rich man? Is it not Christ Our Lord? And are we not the squandering steward—to whom the possession of the world has been completely entrusted for cultivation; and who, in baptism, promised to offer the world back to God not in selfish enjoyment, but in thanksgiving for His enduring mercy?

Let us understand, then, that, in the depth of His rich mercy, Our Lord God reaches out to us and cries out for us in this parable that you have heard. He cries out to us—so that we might not lose our way, but return and continue to be the good stewards of His creation, of His kindness, of His love. And He reaches out to us—so that, by His Spirit, He might enkindle in us a greater zeal, fervency and love for the life to come so that we are willing to sacrifice all that we are and all that we have as we strive to obtain that which matters most. And that which matters most is not this world for our own enjoyment and pleasure. What matters most is this world offered to Him so that He might renew, sanctify, quicken, bless and bestow it back upon us as the good thing that He first made it to be. What matters most is that we make use of this world’s goods, not for our selfish ends, but so that Our Lord might convert them to be the means of our salvation. And so what matters most is that we readily sacrifice our self-loves, our selfish desires, and what we think satisfies—all so that we obtain the fullness of our true love, our heart’s true desire, and all that Our Lord has promised.

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