Daily Reflection for September 25, 2020

DAILY REFLECTION  •  SEPTEMBER 25  •  Repose of St. Sergius, Abbot and Wonderworker of Radonezh


A saint does not shine outwardly. All of his riches are within, in his soul. A peasant came from afar to the monastery to see St. Sergius. When he asked the monks for the abbot, they told him he was working in the garden. The peasant went to the garden, and there saw a man in poor, ragged clothes, digging like any other peasant on a farm. The peasant returned to the monastery dissatisfied, thinking that the monks had made fun of him. So, to make things clear, he asked again for the glorious holy father, Sergius. Just then, Sergius returned to the monastery, and welcomed the peasant, serving him at the table. The saint saw into the heart of his guest, and knew the low opinion he had of his appearance. He consoled him by promising that he would see Sergius in a little while. A prince and his boyars then arrived at the monastery, and they all bowed low to St. Sergius, and asked his blessing. The monks then removed the peasant from the room in order to make room for the new guests. In amazement the peasant looked on from a distance, to see that the one he had sought had been nearby all the time. The peasant rebuked himself for his ignorance, and was greatly ashamed. When the prince departed, the peasant quickly approached the saint, fell at his feet and began to beg his forgiveness. The great saint embraced him and said to him: “Do not grieve, my son, for you are the only one who knew the truth about me, considering me to be nothing-while others were deluded, taking me for something great.”
(St. Nikolai Velimirovich, Prologue from Ochrid)

Fr. John’s Reflection

So all bore witness to Him, and marveled at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth. And they said, “Is this not Joseph’s son?” He said to them, “You will surely say this proverb to Me, ‘Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in Your country.’” Then He said, “Assuredly, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own country.
            But I tell you truly, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a great famine throughout all the land; but to none of them was Elijah sent except to Zarephath, in the region of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” So all those in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath,
and rose up and thrust Him out of the city; and they led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw Him down over the cliff. Then passing through the midst of them, He went His way. (Luke 4:22-30)

We see in the lectionary reading for today from the Gospel of St. Luke the paradoxical contrast in the way people see and respond to the Lord. This is the continuation in chapter four of the remarkable encounter he has in the synagogue in Nazareth. He reads the passage from Isaiah in which the Anointed One (Messiah) is prophesied. He closes the book and says, “Today, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Then the paradox. On the one hand, the people “marveled” at the gracious words, for “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” Then Jesus turns His “gracious words” to them, when He knows that they want Him to do the great things in Capernaum they heard about in His own country. But not only does He tell them a prophet is without honor in his own country, but reminds them that Elijah and Elisha could do only one miracle each in their own country because of the hardness of heart of the people and their unwillingness to hear God. So it then is the “other hand,” their marvel turns into wrath when they deduced He was speaking of them and they led Him out of the city, intending to kill Him by throwing Him over a cliff. Once there, however, He passed through their midst and “went His way.”

We know that the paradox of “marvel” on the one hand and “wrath” on the other hand is produced in whomever feels like the target of His words. We are at least tempted regularly to act in the same way, marveling at the beauty and majesty of the Lord’s words, until the words convict us in our thoughts and hearts, if not our deeds. To act as if the Lord’s words and the Church’s teaching is a giant smorgasbord, picking out and gorging ourselves on the commandments we like and perhaps even find easy, then rejecting and even judging those we find hard or disagreeable, is day-to-day Christianity for many, including those in the Church. The paradoxical temptations must be fought tooth and nail by anyone seeking the Kingdom of Heaven.

But at the end of this, I’ve always been fascinated by the last line. How could the Lord be “taken” out of the city by a crowd with the intent of murder and then just “pass through their midst?” The only conclusion I’ve ever been able to come to is that the Lord is not subject to anyone or anything unless He wills to be subject. This is not the only time He “passes through the midst” of angry crowds. It was not His time. But when they come to Gethsemane to arrest Him, He freely goes to His passion. I think the lesson for me is that He absolutely, more than anything, wants to reside in me and my soul, and wants me to reside in Him and His Kingdom. But if He finds that I am full of wrath, He will simply pass through and go His own way. He is the Lord of me. I am not the Lord of Him. It is not enough for me to “marvel” at His gracious words. They must become alive in my life.