|12 - The Rich Man's Barns, Nov 23, 2008|
St John the Evangelist writes that God is love. In the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, the priest prays: “By the greatness of thy mercy thou didst bring all things from non-existence into being.” According to St Paul’s Gospel, Jesus Christ is himself the icon of the invisible God; and Christ is the love of God. Created in the image of God, which is Christ, man is created in love; he is brought from non-existence into being by the greatness of God’s mercy. From this it is easy to see that the good works that God prepared beforehand, which St Paul talks about in this morning’s epistle to the Ephesians, and in which we should walk – in other words, in which we were made to live – are love and mercy.
Love and mercy are the heart of God’s Law as they are the fundamental qualities of God’s nature. This is why the prophets again and again beseech Israel to keep the Law of God. God alone truly is. The world exists not in itself but in the mercy of God. Man exists not in himself but in the image and likeness of God, in other words, in Christ; in other words, in the Love of God. If men and women want truly to live, they must walk in the way of God’s commandments. They must walk in the way of love and mercy.
In the bible, love for the neighbor means justice for the oppressed, the orphan and the widow, hospitality to the stranger, showing mercy and kindness to one’s enemy as well as to one’s friends, and humility before God.
The bible teaches us that the way the world exists now is not the way in which it was originally created. Evil, suffering and death are not natural; they are unnatural to the world’s existence. The bible teaches us that the world exists in this unnatural way because of our own lust and greed. Eve was the Mother of all living; yet she became the Mother of the dead because in the Garden, that is to say, in her heart of hearts, she chose the way of lust and greed. She turned away from the command of God and so she turned away from eternal life. She became rich in lust and greed and poor toward God. She turned toward the darkness of death and the Mother of all living became the Mother of the dead.
In our parents, Adam and Eve, we all turn away from the Law of God to follow our own law. According to our own law, our neighbor is not the stranger, the orphan or the widow, in other words the social outcast, but the one who belongs to our social class. According to our law, love is only for those who love us and mercy is extended only to those who are good to us. According to our law, riches are measured by how much property and money we can amass to ourselves. In our own law, we live in a human society governed by self-interest and self-preservation. This is the opposite of the Law of God. The Law of God is manifested by Jesus Christ who out of his great love for mankind, emptied himself and was obedient to the Father even to the point of death on the Cross. Our law is manifested in self-love, in which we become consumers, quite the opposite of the self-emptying love of Christ, the Love of God. And, according to the teaching of the bible, our self-love, in which we turn away from God and his Law of love and mercy toward the neighbor, is why the life of the world is not life but death; because in our own law we walk in darkness, and our path ends in the grave.
Compare the rich man in this morning’s Gospel with the blessed Theotokos, whose entrance into the temple we celebrated on Friday. With her entrance into the temple, the Church begins seriously to prepare for the glorious Feasts of the Winter Pascha: Christmas and Theophany and the Meeting of the Lord in the Temple. With the Theotokos’ entrance into the temple, she begins to prepare herself to become the Birth-giver of God and the Church begins seriously to prepare for the birth of the Savior in the mystery of his Incarnation.
The story of the Theotokos’ entrance into the temple embodies the whole of the Old Testament. In the Theotokos, the Old Testament is made incarnate in a personal way. In her, the Old Testament prepares to bring forth into the world the New Testament, Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. In the Theotokos, the love for God that permeates the Old Testament in the Law and the prophets finds its personal fulfillment. Of course, the Christ is what the bible is all about. But you could very well say that the Theotokos completes what the Old Testament was all about. In other words, the word of God came to the prophets just as it came to Adam in the beginning, in order to create a Second Eve from the side of Israel, just as he had created the first Eve from the side of Adam. The whole history of Israel is a history of how God was preparing the way for the birth of her who would love him with her whole heart, soul, mind and strength, who would become the bride of God that Israel was called to be, so that as bride of the Father, she could receive his Holy Spirit and give birth to his Son, the New Testament, the Love of God, who came into the world through the birthgate of the Theotokos’ womb in order to recreate the world, to bring it from death to life just as in the beginning he had brought the world from non-existence into being.
The rich man is the fool who says in his heart there is no God, and so he lives for himself. He spends all his energy amassing for himself a great fortune, which does nothing to save him from death. And so the paths in which he walks, though lined with gold and silver, are dark and dreary, overshadowed by the tomb that looms ever nearer on the horizon of his earthly life.
The Theotokos is the wise one; she is Sophia, wisdom, who fears the Lord with that fear that is the beginning of wisdom, that fear that gives birth in the heart to love for God. At three years of age, she is offered by her parents, Joachim and Anna, to the Lord; and the Theotokos, in her love for God turns away from the lust and greed of the world and with great joy, she dances into the temple. She becomes poor toward the world and she becomes rich toward God. She turns away from gold and silver and she receives into her womb the Son of God. She becomes rich in Him who is the love of God and in the Holy Spirit of her Son and our God, Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior, she becomes the true Eve, the Mother of all living.
She is the Mother of the Church. She is the Mother of all those who unite themselves to Christ in Holy Baptism. How do you think God became the Son of Man without a Mother? How do you think you became a child of God if you think you have no Mother? How can you be born from above without a holy Mother? And how could you not honor her who gave birth to the God who came forth from her womb and delivered you from death? How could you not honor the Theotokos, the Birth-Giver of God, who has become your loving Mother through your holy Baptism?
Let us understand the joy of the Theotokos and her feasts. It is the joy of the Church. Let us understand the joy of this blessed Advent season. It is the joy of Immanuel, the joy of God with us, the joy that comes from the love of God the Father for his Son and the Mother of his Son, and the love of the Mother for the Father and for her Son and our God. It is the joy of an orphan – we are the orphans, for in the world we had no father and mother who could bring us into life eternal; it is the joy of an orphan who becomes the child through the grace and love of adoption of a loving Father and a loving Mother, who is taken away from the darkness and terror of loneliness and brought home to a Kingdom filled with light, whose halls reverberate with the sound of saints and angels singing the praises of God the Holy Trinity and of the Mother who gave birth to the Love of God, Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God and the only-begotten Son of the blessed Virgin Panagia, who so loved us that he emptied himself and became obedient to the Father even to the point of death on the Cross, that he might deliver us from death and restore us to the love of God in the light and life of God’s Heavenly Kingdom, and impart to us the riches of God’s mercy. These are the riches of life eternal, of hope and love and of joy unspeakable. How much gold and silver can you acquire that would even begin to compare with such heavenly riches? Of course, even if you could acquire all the gold and silver of the world, it would not deliver you from death.
So, how does one become rich in the mercy of God? Through your baptism, you have already been made rich in that you have been made heirs of God’s inheritance. In receiving the most pure body and precious blood of Christ Jesus in Holy Eucharist you have already been made rich in God because you have received God himself, you have received the Heavenly Spirit, you have received the joy of God’s Heavenly Kingdom that worships the Holy Trinity now and ever and unto all ages.
Having received the riches of God’s compassion towards us, why would we want to walk in the ways of the world? Walk in the ways of God, the good works of love and mercy that he prepared before the foundation of the world. We have been born from above; we have found the true Faith; we have received the Heavenly Spirit. With the shepherds, let us take up our Cross and make our way to Bethlehem. Let us make our way to the Church; let us make our way to our own heart and discover ourselves as children of God made in his image and likeness. There in the cave of our heart, in the sanctuary of the temple, we will behold the Mother of the Lord, the blessed Theotokos. There we will behold her who has become our Mother through our union with her Son and our God, Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior, in our holy baptism. There we will hear her urging us to enter with her into the place none may enter that we may learn its mysteries and like our Mother, prepare ourselves to become the pleasing and beautiful dwelling-place of Jesus who grants the world great mercy. Glory to Him who gives us life. Glory to Him who grants to us a crown. Glory to Jesus Christ! Amen.