Fifth Sunday of Lent – 2019

My dear friends in our Lord: Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

My dear friends, the days when the Holy Church remembers salvific suffering of our Lord Jesus Christ are swiftly upon us, and therefore on this Sunday we hear the Gospel in which the Lord foretells for His disciples His coming sufferings.

The Lord tells the disciples about His future trials, He describes the details of His humiliation, His torment, and ultimately His death. The Lord is willing to drink this bitter cup of suffering for the sake of the savlation of the world, showing His immense love and patience for us sinners. The whole earthly life of Our Lord Jesus Christ, from His infancy to His death upo n the cross and to His glorious Resurrection, is all a wonderful, loving service to the salvation of the human race. As He Himself said: “[T]he Son of man also is not come to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a redemption for many.”

The Lord suffered for our sins. He suffered because otherwise our salvation could not be accomplished. He suffered so that we would know the path of salvation for which we should strive with all our strength. Our Lord, sinless Himself, voluntarily took our sins upon Himself, that is, He accepted for us all the responsibility, all the punishment that we should endure as sinners. And truly, the idea – the truth – that the Son of God suffered precisely for each of us, for our sins, should fill our hearts with gratitude and compassion for the Divine Sufferer. Likewise, this truth should cultivate within us a hatred of sin, for we must understand that our sins, which we so often think insignificant – if we think of them at all – cost the Son of God His most precious Blood and His death upon the Cross.

We may wonder, and we may ask: Why was it necessary for the Son of God to suffer for our sins? Could not the Almighty and Wise God have found a different way to our salvation instead of the sufferings and death of His Only Begotten Son? Could not the Merciful God, the Lover of Mankind, simply forgive us and have mercy on us or save us, but without the sacrifice of the Cross?

Saint Athanasius the Great answers this, saying: “We must look at what is useful for humanity, and not merely at what is possible for God. Of course God could save man with His word alone; but then only the power of God would be seen, and the man himself would have remained the same.”

Surely, an omnipotent God could have saved humanity in some other way than He did. Forgiveness, for example, deals with sin, but not with the wages of sin, not with the consequence of sin, mortality and corruption. Divine fiat fails to ‘internalise’ grace, leaving human existence as, at best, a sequence of sin and forgiveness, followed by more sin and further forgiveness. Divine fiat would not transform matter. It does not, for example, engage with death. It does not assume mortal humanity; it does not transform a dying race into children of God, into inheritors of divine immortality and incorruption. And divine fiat does not bring humanity to participate in the life of God, to enjoy the eternal relationship of the Father and Son.

“For this purpose, then,” Saint Athanasius continues, “the incorporeal and incorruptible and immaterial Word of God entered our world.” Being immortal, God could not die; yet, God in Christ took on our mortal body and exchanged His death for that of all human beings so that we all might live. Christ’s incarnation and death made possible our own recreation in the likeness of the immortal Word of God; consequently we are able to share in Christ’s immortality and in His divinity. As Saint Athanasius sums up: “Through this union of the immortal Son of God with our human nature, all men were clothed with incorruption in the promise of resurrection.”

For our sins, the Savior accepted the life-giving Cross, which served for us as a model of salvation, and He offered Himself as a sacrifice in order to purify and heal our souls and our consciences, which were sick with sin, far and departed from God. We heard the Holy Apostle Saint Paul speak of this in today’s Epistle: “[T]he blood of Christ, Who by the Holy Ghost offered Himself unspotted unto God, [shall] cleanse our conscience from dead works, to serve the living and true God.”

Therefore, only the blood of Jesus Christ as the precious blood of the Immaculate Sacrifice could perfectly reconcile us with God, be transformative of our very natures, and give us the perfect example which we are to follow. It is only through Christ giving the entirety of Himself in His perfect sacrifice that we are ourselves able to be transformed through Him and with Him and in Him, and that we ourselves become dwelling-places of divinity through sanctifying grace.

The above words of Saint Athanasius the Great: “We must look at what is useful for humanity, and not merely at what is possible for God,” are very consonant to today’s Gospel, in which we heard how our Lord’s disciples James and John, the sons of Zebedee, displaying a certain ambition, come before the Lord with a request for participation in our Lord’s accession to glory, saying: “Grant to us, that we may sit, one on Thy right hand, and the other on Thy left hand, in Thy glory.”

And our Lord responded: “You know not what you ask. Can you drink of the chalice that I drink of: or be baptized with the baptism wherewith I am baptized?” For they were asking of Him who goes to Jerusalem not to reign as eartly king, but to die; not to sit upon an earthly throne, but to be crucified on the Cross; not to be crowned with gold, but crowned with thorns. Our Lord went forth not to earthly glory and honour, but to humliations and sufferings.

We see that Christ does not give honors out of the intrigues of bribery and kinship, but only to those who will work, who will suffer, who will daily pick up his own cross and follow Him.

So we ought not to pray for honours, for position, for power. Rather, as Saint John Chrysostom tell us, we are to “ask what is useful to us, and is befitting to the one who gives,” that is, ask for things that are good for the salvation of the soul and are upright before God. The difficulty, of course, lies in the fact that we sometimes do not know, as the Apostle Paul says, what actually is useful for us. He says: “All things are lawful to me, but all things are not expedient. All things are lawful to me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” By this Saint Paul instructs us not to consider something useful simply because it seems to be so from our own limited human reason, nor to become addicted, even to that which is otherwise good, for this makes an idol out of that to which we are addicted. Note that the Apostle says “All things are lawful to me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” Even lawful things can become detrimental, if they serve to enslave rather than to free us..

In order to have the sense of discernment, we must pray for God to send us the grace of the Holy Spirit, instructing us about what it is really worthy to pray for, as the scriptures attest.

The reason that we do not know exactly what is useful for us is that the human will is by its sinful nature unstable and easily changed: now it wants one thing, and then a little bit later it wants another. Our will is corrupted and blinded; sometimes it looks at the bad as something good, and often it does not distinguish between good and bad, virtue and sin.

Our desires and tastes are different and whimsical, we want to do everything according to our own way. But think: if, in fact, God were to fulfill the changing desires of each of us, the world would turn into chaos. We ought not demand that God fulfill our whims and our fancies.

Rather than our own will, let us, as we are instructed by our Lord Himself, let us pray that God’s will be done, not only within the world and within society, but also within ourselves, within our hearts. And we know from the holy scriptures that God’s will is our sanctification.

Our sanctification takes place in confession, repentance, weeping for our sins. In our confession of our own sin, we can be cleansed, and washed of our sins. And if we are cleansed and washed from our sins in repentance, then God undoubtedly gives to us every grace of forgiveness and all the benefits of the Kingdom of Heaven. And this, my friends, this is the true glory in which our Lord reigns and unto which our Lord invites us.

This is the glory of the Lord: The eternal Kingdom.

This is the practical manner in which we daily pick up our own cross and follow the Lord. This is the how we indeed drink of the chalice that our Lord drinks of: and how with the baptism wherewith our Lord is baptized, we also are baptized.

Our own repentance. Our own concordance with our wills with the will of God. Our sanctification. Our daily picking up our Cross and following Him. Our turning away from sin. Our turning away from that which is against the law of God, unto the light of grace which assists us, and leads us, and guides us in all that we are to do every day, every moment of our lives – in the light of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who reigns in glory. And ultimately, to minister. We are to minister in this grace, one to another. To serve. To bear one another’s burdens. For whosoever will be the first among us, shall be the servant of all.

Our Lord sums it up: For the Son of man is not come to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a redemption for many.

As we now enter into the next week, let us take these words of our Lord and plant them in our hearts. Let us let them grow in the light of grace, watered by our tears of repentance. And may they find with us fertile ground, so that we too may serve even as He Who is the Son of God gives His life in ministry as a redemption for many.

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