December 10, 2023

Homily One for the Tenth Sunday of Luke (St. Luke of Simferopol)

Homily for the 10th Sunday of Luke

We Are Obligated To Rebuke Those Who Sin Before God

(Luke 13:10-17)

By St. Luke, Archbishop of Simferopol and All Crimea

(Delivered on December 10, 1944)

This Gospel narrative shows us the great mercy, love and divine power of Jesus Christ, directed towards the benefit of an unfortunate woman. At the same time, we also see the evil, foolish hypocrisy of the synagogue leader.

What is hypocrisy, which the Lord so threateningly rebuked? A hypocrite pretends to be something other than what he really is. A hypocrite is one who wears a mask of piety, being in his soul devoid of all piety, who expresses love and loyalty to his neighbor, speaks kind, nice, flattering words to him, but in his soul harbors hatred for him, plotting against him with malice. The hypocrite hides from those around him all the evil, black movements of his soul, all the bad thoughts and speaks to his neighbors, pretending to have a loving, pure heart. Hypocrisy is common to so many of us.

The hypocrisy of the leader of the synagogue consisted in the fact that, being one of the teachers of the people, he portrayed himself as a bearer of all piety and righteousness, but in his soul he was not at all like that, on the contrary, he was ruthless and callous, as his speech showed toward the healing of the unfortunate woman. He cared only about observing the letter of the law, and the spirit of the law about love for one's neighbor was alien to him. And it was necessary for the Lord to rebuke him in front of the people!

It may be puzzling that Jesus Christ, Who forbade us, ordinary Christians, from calling our neighbor even a fool, Who said that if we call someone a fool, we are subject to fiery hell (see Matt. 5:22), Himself often spoke harsh words, as in this case. He repeatedly called the scribes and Pharisees “hypocrites and serpents, brood of vipers” (see Matt. 7:5; 12:34 etc.).

Once, when Jesus Christ was in Judea, He was warned that Herod was seeking his destruction, and they advised him to leave Judea as quickly as possible. How did the Lord answer? He calmly said: “Go tell that fox: today and tomorrow I work, and on the third day I will finish” (see Luke 13:32). He rebuked the king as a fox! And one day he said terrible words to the greatest apostle, His friend Peter: “Get behind Me, Satan, because you think not about the things of God, but about the things of men” (Matthew 16:23).

The Gospel says that the Lord sometimes became angry, that He drove out the cattle traders from the Jerusalem temple and scattered the money laid out on the money changers’ tables. One day He made a scourge from ropes and drove the merchants out of the temple (see John 2:14–16). So terrible was the wrath of the Son of God sometimes.

How to understand this apparent contradiction in Jesus Christ, which cannot exist in the Son of God, for with Him everything is “yes”-“yes” or “no”-“no” (see Matthew 5:37). The explanation is simple: we need to distinguish between what Christ forbids and what He Himself did; we need to distinguish between words of abuse and words of rebuke. For when we call our neighbor a fool, a madman, then we express contempt for our brother, we humiliate him. The Lord strictly forbade such abuse, such exaltation over one’s neighbor.

And with harsh words - “serpents, brood of vipers, foxes” - Jesus Christ rebuked people worthy of this (see Matt. 23:33).

Rebuke, in contrast to warfare, is commanded to us as a matter of course in the Holy Scriptures: “Do not participate in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead rebuke” (Eph. 5:11). Saint Paul commands the Apostle Timothy: “Rebuke those who sin before everyone, so that others also may fear” (1 Timothy 5:20) and “Preach the word, be persistent in season and out of season, reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and edification” (2 Tim. 4:2).

Since we are commanded to expose evil deeds, we do not dare and should not silently and indifferently pass by wickedness. However, the Lord, speaking harsh words, did not degrade human dignity, but only denounced hypocrisy for its deceit, for “the father of lies is the devil” (see John 8:44).

There is holy anger commanded to us from God, with which we must flare up when we see a desecration of a shrine. Jesus Christ fell with holy and fiery wrath against the wicked selling in the temple of God. The same anger prompted the great saint and wonderworker Nicholas of Myra, when discussing the Arian heresy at the First Ecumenical Synod, to strike Arius in the face.

The Lord's harsh, accusatory words are fully justified. Didn't Herod deserve the title of fox? What is characteristic in the behavior of this animal? The cunning with which she deceives both the hunter and her prey is known. By calling Herod this way, Jesus Christ legitimately accused him of cunning and a tendency to betray.

Why did the Lord call the Apostle Peter Satan? Because Peter, having heard from Jesus Christ that He must be betrayed and crucified for the salvation of the human race, began to dissuade Him from such a terrible death and ask Him to take pity on Himself. Wasn't this the work of Satan? Was it not Satan who needed to keep Christ from the sacrifice on Golgotha? Satan himself then spoke through the mouth of the apostle, which is why the Lord spoke such a threatening word to him.

The pastors of the Church, according to the covenant of the Apostle Paul, are obliged to publicly rebuke sinners; this is considered their duty. Therefore, now I will convict you, God’s given flock to me, of one grave and universal sin of ours - the sin of judging our neighbors. Who among you is free from this sin? How many of you are afraid with all your soul of the Gospel words: “Judge not, lest ye be judged. Why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not feel the plank in your own eye? Hypocrite! First take the plank out of your own eye” (Matthew 7:1, 3, 5)?

And we are always busy not only with the smallest knots, but even with specks in the eyes of our brothers, and we condemn everyone from morning to night and from night to morning, even our loved ones. We condemn both priests and bishops, without fear of an answer before God, without fear of the words of Christ: “Judge not, lest ye be judged.”

They also judge me, your archpastor! It’s not so much you who are judging - perhaps such a condemnation can be heard from you as an exception - but they are judging very harshly in Kirsanov and Morshansk. Those who judge me are those whom I have the right to call cursed - wandering monks and nuns, who convince the people that I am not a real bishop, that they do not need to obey, that I am deprived of the grace of God.

What am I being judged for? For the fact that I alleviate the suffering of many of our unfortunate brothers who shed their blood for us, for the fact that I save from death many, many who stand not with one, but with both feet in the grave. The Lord helps me remove them from the grave. The Lord gave me great surgical art and depth of knowledge, and according to the behest of two late Patriarchs - Tikhon and Sergius - I do not dare to stop my surgical activity. The late Patriarchs demanded this from me.

And these cursed ones, who know everything better than the Patriarchs, say: “What kind of bishop is this who today serves in church, celebrates the Liturgy, and tomorrow goes to shed human blood?” This is the extent to which human condemnation reaches, this is what lies people are capable of!

May we not be guilty of such a terrible sin of condemnation, from which it is extremely difficult to get rid of, for this sin has become so ingrained in our hearts that we cannot get rid of it on our own.

What should we do? Let us learn from the Apostle Paul, who instructs us: “My brothers, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might” (Eph. 6:10), for only by the might of the Lord’s power can we get rid of the terrible sin of condemnation. “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil; because our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against the spirits of wickedness in high places” (Eph. 6:11–12).

Just as there are nine ranks in the radiant countenance of the angels, so Satan has principalities, powers, rulers of the world, spirits of wickedness in high places. And our fight against sin is a fight against them. This is the purpose of our life. “For this purpose take on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand” (Eph. 6:13). Like soldiers going to war, put on the whole armor of God.

“Stand yourselves therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness.” Only with this armor will you protect yourself from the arrows of the evil one and the condemnation of your neighbors. “And having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; and above all, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the fiery arrows of the evil one.” With the shield of faith, hot, fiery faith, you can extinguish these arrows of the evil one. “And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (see Eph. 6:14–17). With this sword you will cut off all the “spirits of wickedness in high places” (see Eph. 6:12).

And if you are always armed as the holy Apostle Paul says, if you are soldiers of Christ, ardent defenders of the faith, then the kindled arrows of the evil one will bounce off you like from a stone wall. So, warriors of Christ, go ahead to fight the evil one, the wiles of the devil, and the spirits in the heavens! Amen.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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