My dear friends in our Lord: Glory to Jesus Christ!
On this first Sunday after Pentecost, we celebrate the memory of all the saints who have gone before us and whose souls now stand in the presence of the Lord. We have in today’s Gospel a special instruction of our Lord regarding the trials that await those who make the decision to follow Him in this life, in order to be happy with Him in the next. This is no small thing, and our Lord wishes that those who would follow Him are prepared by His word and His grace for the resistance which they will face in this falled world. Our Lord likewise shows that every trial, every difficulty faced in living the life of grace is absolutely worth accepting, and even embracing, all for the love of God.
The Lord says to His disciples: Every one therefore that shall confess Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father Who is in heaven.
Here Christ prepares His disciples for the suffering which is to come; He prepares their hearts and disposes them to disregard all the cruel evils which are to befall them: cares, humiliations, attacks and all other afflictions, trials and woes; moreover, He bids them to despise even death; He teaches them and strengthens them saying: “Fear ye not them that kill the body, and are not able to kill the soul. Behold I send you as sheep in the midst of wolves.”
Our Lord prepares His disciples them in every way, and He fortifies them to face to their trials boldy, armed with divine grace. He foretells the evils which are to happen to them, and says that in knowing all these things ahead of time they have consolation against the day when they will suffer.
He Who is mighty, glorious, and omniscient sends His disciples forth. In His word therefore, we ought to be of good cheer, for by His word will we be firm and unshakeable, by His power we will not be overcome; but let us be prepared bravely to bear all afﬂictions and adversities.
Just as it is impossible for sheep in the midst of wolves not suffer harm, so also it is impossible for us not to suffer in the midst of our unbelieving enemies. But even when we suffer, even when we are persecuted, let us never bear enmity, and let us never lose heart. Rather let us be humble and tranquil, as befits the sheep of the Lord’s flock; and thus it is that we will be able to overcome our enemies. Even though our bodies may be killed, our souls will be alive forever, rejoicing in unending gladness and joy.
Our Lord says: Be ye therefore wise as serpents and simple as doves. Our Lord wishes His disciples to be wise, and to walk in every way of Wisdom and understanding, so as not to give a bad example, even to their enemies. It should be kept in mind that when we hear the disciples of the Lord called sheep, our Lord also indicates that his disciples are to be wise, knowing how to live in the midst of many enemies. Just as a serpent will allow its whole body to be beaten, while guarding its head as much as possible, striving to keep it safe in every way, so also let a Christian surrender all that he has, be it money, possessions, worldly honours – and even surrender his body to be wounded, but with all his strength let him guard his head, which is Christ, out of faith and love towards Him. And just as the serpent, as it lives and grows, will shed its old skin, so let us also, as we walk the narrow path of grace, put off the old man, as the scriptures affirm.
Contrarily, whereas a serpent can be harmful, and even brings death to men by its venom, Christ commands us to be harmless; that is, straightforward, not deceitful, not carrying harm and malice like the serpent, but rather harmless as doves.
Let us also, then, brethren, be wise as serpents; let us strive in every way to keep the great treasure of the Faith unspotted, pure, and irreproachable. And let us likewise be like doves, simple and guileless, not rendering anyone evil for evil.
Our Lord continues: “But beware of men. For they will deliver you up in councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues. And you shall be brought before governors, and before kings for My sake, for a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. But he that shall deny Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father Who is in heaven.”
For the Lord sends His disciples not only to the Jews, but also to the gentiles; therefore, He says, For a testimony against them and the Gentiles; in other words, to reprove unbelievers of whatever extraction.
And further, it is not only belief with the soul that Christ desires and seeks; He requires confession with the lips. As Saint Paul writes in his Epistle to the Romans: With the heart, we believe unto justice; but, with the mouth, confession is made unto salvation.
One who makes a confession of faith does so aided by help and grace from above; with God’s assistance, every believer can become brave and steadfast, but God does not help us without our own effort and our own volition. If we neither desire God’s help nor strive for it, He does not help us. By His help and grace we confess our faith in God, and He also confesses concerning us, concerning our diligence, zeal, and faith. If we give God no cause, if we do not confess Him, then neither will God make confession concerning us, but rather will deny us, as we hear in today’s Gospel from our Lord.
And these things our Lord speaks not only to the disciples, but also to all believers in general, spurring us to greater boldness, stirring us up to greater love, elevating us and inspiring us to be sound and to stand courageously in the faith. Whoever confesses before men that Christ is God, whoever thinks nothing of all trials and tribulations for the sake of His love and faith, will find Christ confessing before God the Father that such a man is His true servant; He will receive him into eternal dwellings, where he will abide forever, rejoicing.
Our Lord then says, “Do not think that I came to send peace upon earth: I came not to send peace, but the sword. For I came to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s enemies shall be they of his own household.”
It is the sad case, my friends, that unity is not always a good or desireable thing; it sometimes happens that division is good. Not every sort of peace is praiseworthy; it often happens that peace is harmful, and drives men far from divine love. If we have made peace with the destruction of truth, this is a false peace, the devil’s peace. Christ did not come to bring such a peace, but rather its opposite. He wishes us even to separate from one another when it is for the sake of a good cause. Not all peace and unity is good; there are occasions when separation and even contention are great and divine deeds.
This goes not only for that which is exterior, but even moreso for that which is interior, in our own hearts. For our Lord says, “He that loveth father or mother more than Me, is not worthy of Me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than Me, is not worthy of Me. And he that taketh not up his cross, and followeth Me, is not worthy of Me.”
Our Lord speaks these words not to lead to alienation from, or hatred of, the family, nor does He make it lawful to hate one’s parents or children, but rather to love Him above all others. To love one’s parents or children above Christ invariably leads us to disaster. Our Lord also adds: And he that taketh not up his cross, and followeth Me, is not worthy of Me. If any man is not willing to renounce his life and to give himself over to battles, struggles, self-sacrifice, even the shedding of his blood for Christ’s sake, he is unworthy to be His disciple or His servant.
In truth, you will find, my dear friends, that the one who does love Christ above all others, is then filled with the love of Christ himself, and through this divine love he or she loves all others infinitely more than they ever could by their own natural power. By loving Christ above all, you will then love all others infinitely more. Our Lord expresses this when He says: He that findeth his life, shall lose it: and he that shall lose his life for Me, shall find it. This goes equally for love.
“He that receiveth you, receiveth Me: and he that receiveth Me, receiveth Him that sent Me. He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet, shall receive the reward of a prophet: and he that receiveth a just man in the name of a just man, shall receive the reward of a just man.”
Our Lord urges us to receive those who have been chosen and duly sent for our spiritual visitation, oversight, and care. He who honours Christ’s disciples honours Him, and one who honours Him also honours God the Father.
“And whosoever shall give to drink to one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, Amen I say to you, he shall not lose his reward.”
Our service need not be to those of high standing, for our Lord takes notice even of “these little ones.” Nor need our service be in extravagant or expensive works, for our Lord takes notice even of “a cup of cold water.” Even he gives a cup of cold water who instructs those who are in danger of being burnt by the divine fire, who are on fire with wrongful desires and deeds, and who makes them disciples of Christ; such a one will certainly not go unrewarded.
Hearing these words, brethren, let us follow the Lord’s commandments; let us adorn ourselves with good habits and strive to distinguish ourselves in all the virtues. Let us flee earthly passions and worldly works; let us flee the fellowship of the deceiver. Let us steadfastly oppose the wiles and treachery of the enemy, the author of evil. Let us do good while we yet have time. For it truly is later than we think.