|30 - At Christ's Right and Left, Apr 2, 2017 (with audio)|
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This morning, the Savior tells His disciples for the third and last time before His Passion that He will be killed and rise again. James and John then come to ask Him to grant them to sit one at right, the other at His left in His Glory. Jesus says to them, “You don’t know what you’re asking.”
Now, remember that when the LORD was crucified on the Cross, two robbers were crucified with Him: one at His right, the other at His left. There is a very sobering lesson here for us as we draw near to the LORD’s Holy Pascha.
The first time Jesus told His disciples that it was necessary for Him to be killed and to rise again was on the road to Caesarea Philippi (Mt 16:21f). It followed Peter’s confession that He was the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Jesus said to Peter that this confession was given him not from men but from God, and Jesus called Him the Rock on which He would build His Church (Mt 16:16-18). But then, when Jesus began teaching that it was necessary for Him to suffer, Peter rebuked Him and contradicted Him: “This absolutely will not be!” And the LORD now turned on him and rebuked him sharply: “Get behind me, Satan!” The “Rock” of His Church was now a “Scandal” to Him because his were “not the thoughts of God but of men” (Mt 16:22-23, Mk 8:33).
Peter, James and John had been disciples of Jesus from the beginning. They had witnessed His healings, they had heard His teaching; and yet, they did not for all that have the mind of Christ! Their understanding of the Scriptures was from men, even from Satan, not from God; and in that, they denied that it was necessary for Christ to suffer. They denied the Cross! But what is it to deny the suffering of Christ and His death on the Cross if it isn’t to deny that “God is love”? (I Jn 4:8)
What are we to make of this? Even though they had been with Jesus from the beginning, had watched Him and heard Him, could present themselves to the world as His disciples, yet their “doctrine”, even in their confession of Him as the Christ, the Son of the Living God, was opposed to the doctrine of Christ! See how their understanding of Christ would make the Church another worldly institution governed by the self-love and pride of men, whose “doctrine” would be a recipe framed by the thoughts of men for wealth, fame and, political power! Under the influence of this “doctrine” opposed to the doctrine of Christ, Judas betrayed Christ, Peter denied Him three times, and the other disciples fled.
The disciples had been hearing the words of the LORD from the beginning. But, what were the words they were listening to? Dear faithful, we have been hearing the words of the LORD from our baptism until now. What are the words we have been listening to? Is ours the mind of Christ or of men? Is ours a faith of the Cross or of self-love, entitlement, worldly success?
The LORD says to James and John: “Can you drink the cup I shall drink and be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” He is talking, of course, of His death on the Cross and taking them back to the “contract” they made with Him when they “signed up” to be His disciples: “Whoever would be my disciple, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. Let him lose his life for my sake, that he may find it.” But, what is it to deny ourselves for the sake of Christ if not to love Him who first loved us? And, what is it to take up our cross and lose our life if not to put to death what is earthly in us: our self-love and the arrogance of our own wisdom that is of men and not of God? And what is all this but to find ourselves being crucified with Him as thieves?
For, have we not stolen what is not ours and claimed it as our own? What have we stolen? What does St Paul tell us? “You are not your own! You were bought with a price!” We have stolen our body and soul and claimed them as our own and done according to our will, not the will of God, embracing the thoughts of men, not of God! Laying aside every excuse and confessing that we are thieves, this is how we would find ourselves one on His right and the other on His left! But, the One who sits at His left in His Glory – this we know from other places where the LORD has spoken – is His Holy Mother (Ps 45:9); and He who sits on His right is the Father (Mk 14:62).
There is one last time, however, when the LORD will tell His disciples that it was necessary for Him to suffer and rise again. It is when He appears to them in His Holy Resurrection. “These are the words I spoke to you while I was yet with you,” He says to them. “Namely, that it was necessary that all the [words] written about me in the Law of Moses and in the Prophets and in the Psalms be fulfilled. Then,” it says, “He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.” Note how their minds are opened by the risen LORD. Does this not imply that they have been humbled, that they have seen something such that there is no trace of resistance anymore, they no longer have any desire to listen to the words of their own wisdom! And, you can see in their behavior now that the arrogance is gone. There is no more contradicting of the LORD; only a readiness if not a thirst and a hunger to eat and drink the words of His teaching and no more their own, a longing to hear and to listen only to what He teaches. And now that He has opened their humbled minds in His Holy Resurrection, what does He teach them? Exactly the same thing! “That it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day!” (Lk 24:44-46)
What has changed? The disciples now hunger and thirst to listen to the words of the LORD! It says that when John entered the tomb and saw the burial wrappings folded neatly and lying off to the side, then at that moment he believed (Jn 20:9). In the Church, we sing: “Having beheld the Resurrection of Christ, let us worship the holy LORD Jesus!” What changed is that the disciples saw the inexpressible love of God for us who are sinners, thieves, manifested in His suffering on the Cross, and they saw His love revealed in His Holy Resurrection as the power that gives life to the world.
How, then, do we acquire the mind of Christ so that ours are the thoughts of God and not of men? Contemplate the humility of the thief who acknowledged that it was he, not Christ, who was suffering on the cross justly. Consider how opposed it is to the arrogance of James and John! What does the thief hear in the humble confession of his sin? “Today you will be with me in Paradise!” What does Peter hear who denies the necessity of the Cross; “You are a scandal to me!” What do James and John hear when they make the Church into another earthly institution of worldly power? “You don’t know what you’re asking!”
But, what is it to deny ourselves and to desire to lose our life for the sake of Christ but the movement of our soul in love for the LORD Jesus Christ who first loved us?
This, then, is what it is to take up the cross of the Lenten Fast: it is to confess with the thief our sinfulness and to give ourselves soul and body in love for Him who first loved us, to let the love of His Holy Mother’s grief wash over our soul so that we could pour out all the love of our soul into the inexpressible love of God on the Cross, the Greatly Compassionate One. In that dying of our soul called forth by the vision of the love of God acted out perfectly in His suffering on the Cross, would she not spontaneously pour herself out in love for this God who first loved us so completely? Would not the love of our soul for this Christ wash away all of our arrogance and ignorance? Would we have any more a taste for the words of our own wisdom? Would we not hunger and thirst to learn and to live the LORD’s doctrine: that the Christ must suffer and rise from the dead on the third day?
Why was it necessary that He should suffer and rise again on the third day? It was necessary because He, in His great love for us, desired to become “perfectly one” with us so that He could raise us up and lead us into His Heavenly Kingdom and make us perfectly one with Him. That’s why He created the world! That’s why you exist! A god, even a child of the Most High (Ps 81:6 LXX): that’s who you are! So, for the sake of the Father’s only-begotten Son who so loved us that He gave Himself for us, let us deny our own wisdom that we may acquire the Mind of Christ and learn the Wisdom of God in the love of the Only Compassionate One. Let us lose our life for the sake of Christ and His most holy Gospel that we may be born from above in His Holy Pascha as children of God and so gain the life of God in the Glory of His Holy Spirit. Amen!