|37 - All Saints, June 11, 2017|
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Hebrews 11:33 – 12:2
Matthew 10:32-33, 37-38, 19:27-30
Liturgical texts for Pentecost make a huge deal over the many nations gathered in Jerusalem, all hearing the proclamation of the one Gospel in their own language. The backdrop of this miracle of Pentecost is the city of Babel (Gn 11:1-9). Then, men spoke one language; but it was the language of hubris in which they presumed to build a tower that would reach to heaven. God descendedand confused their one tongue into many different languages so that they could no more understand one another, and they were scattered abroad on the face of the earth and the city and its tower were left undone.
Against this Pentecostal backdrop of the Tower of Babel, one’s attention is caught and held fast by this Greek word translated, “to confess”, in this morning’s Scripture lesson. It’s from two words: “one” (homo) and “word” or “to speak” (logeo). My lexicon gives as its primary meaning: “To speak one language.”
Moreover, there’s a word in the Greek that’s left out in its English translation. If we take that word into account, and if we translate “homologeo” literally, we come up with a translation that brings out the otherwise hidden Pentecostal substance of this Gospel’s theological meaning: “Whoever speaks one language in Me before men, I in turn will speak one language in him in the Presence of My Father in Heaven.”
Biblical understanding sees the tongue or mouth, speech, and the heart as a unity. What one believes in one’s heart one confesses with one’s mouth (cf. e.g., Rm 10:8-10). This opens to us a deeper translation of this word of the LORD: Whoever lives in his inner man according to the word of the Father [that is] in me (cf. Jn 14:10), so will I abide in him and so will he be in his inner man in the Presence of My Father in Heaven. Could we say, to bring out the Pentecostal meaning: and so will he be in his inner man in the Holy Spirit of My Father in heaven?
What, then, is this language of the Father with which one confesses or aligns one’s inner man in Christ in the Presence, the Holy Spirit of the Father? I think the answer is given in what follows: it’s the WORD of the Cross. Whoever does not take up one’s cross does not confess Christ, does not speak His language. He therefore necessarily speaks a different language, any one of the languages that go back to the city of Babel, that all derive from a common spiritual root of hubris, presumption. They all speak the wisdom of man’s own opinions.
So, why does the LORD illustrate His WORD of the cross by saying that those who do not love (fileo) Him above their family are not worthy of Him?
The family, is it not, is a “microcosm” of that world constituted of all the families of the earth whose spiritual root grows and develops from the dust of the disintegrated stones of the Tower of Babel. I would comprehend under “family” the world created by man, his civilizations and cultures, his laws, social norms and moralities, his customs and memes, his heroes and folklore, his histories, his mythologies, his philosophical and religious wisdom, his arts, his scientific and technological learning, and so all the ways – scientific, religious, philosophical, mythological – man perceives himself and understands how it’s all put together, where it all comes from, and where it’s all going. The family is the earth I am from, the world that has formed and shaped me, whose norms and memes govern me outwardly and inwardly. It is the world I love because it’s what I am, whose language I speak, whose word I confess and live by.
And what is its word? Is it not “self-interest” on the “macro” level, “self-love” on the “micro”? It is, i.e., the language of Babel, the language of human wisdom and pride that produces both “good” and “evil”. Not only art and literature, but also enmity, feuds, internal strife and conflict, wars and rumors of war. Its unity separates, its communion alienates because it is the unity of the tribe over against the outlander, the communion of the ghetto over against the world outside. The world of the “family” comes from the dust and returns to the dust – as the disintegrated monuments of the great civilizations of antiquity dramatically show. It is the world that, as St John says, is “passing away” with all its lusts and vanities (I Jn 2:16-17).
Dear faithful, this is not the world God created. “God did not make death, neither has He any pleasure in the dissolution of the living. He created all things to be, and the generations of the world [He created] for salvation, i.e., for eternal life in health and joy, and in righteousness, which is immortal” (Wisd.Sol. 1:12-15). The world God created was good, even very good (kalos in Greek, tov in Hebrew: beautiful, vibrant, verdant, brimming with life).
Here is a doctrine, a word not of this world, not from the schools of the families of the earth: this world that God created, St John teaches us in his Apocalypse, is rooted in the Cross of the Lamb that was slain from the foundation of the world (Rev 13:8). “From the foundation (katabole)” or even, “from the conception” of the world: from the intimate union of what the holy fathers call the spiritual marriage of Christ and His Bride, the Church, that was consummated on the “bed”, as Augustine of Hippo calls it in one of his most beautiful poems, of the Cross. I.e., the world that God created came into being not from the hubris of man. Nor is the “oikoumene” or “Kingdom” of the Church built up from the destroyed kingdoms of conquered peoples but from the death of God, from the self-emptying, the extreme humility of the WORD of God from out of His love for mankind. This is the “Light” beginning to shine already from the LORD’s Tomb on the Blessed Sabbath in which and out of which the world of the Church rises. Its seasonal movement, what the world calls “time”, is the Kairos of the LORD, measured not by sun and moon but by the descending movement of divine love consummated in these last days on the Cross, and by the ascending movement of the love for God of the Theotokos and of all the saints in the Glorification of the God-Man, Jesus Christ, where the phenomenon of “becoming” is not a fall from being, but the being born from above of the Holy Spirit as a child of God.
To confess or to speak the language of Christ, then, is to leave father, mother, brother and sister in order to embark on the Gospel’s inner Exodus into the tomb of the heart where we were dead in our sins and trespasses, where Christ God has become perfectly one with us in the dread mystery of His Cross and Tomb even while we were yet enemies of God (Rom 5:10). To confess or speak the WORD of the Father, then, is to leave the language of the “families of the earth”, the “word” of self-interest and its enmity, its wars and rumors of wars, in order to learnhow to confess, how to speak the one language of our LORD, God and Savior Jesus Christ, which He spoke on His Cross. Dear faithful: this is the language of love for one’s enemy, as the LORD spoke: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Dear faithful, this language of God is the root, the foundation of our being that has been renewed in the New Creation of our blessed LORD’s Holy Pascha. It is the language of our being that is new, yet it is from the beginning for it is the commandment of God (I Jn 2:7) by which He created us when He said: “Let us make man in our own image and likeness” (Gn 1:26-28). It is the divine language of God that we learn to speak when we take up the Cross of the Church’s Lenten disciplines and work to fulfill the oath of our baptism to unite ourselves to Christ in the likeness of His death and Resurrection, as the Church “schools” us on Holy Pascha Night: “Let us call brother even those who hate us, and in the joy of the Resurrection, let us forgive all things!”
Dear faithful, who of us can speak this language in order to do it if the language we are confessing, if the word we are living in, that governs and shapes us is from the city of Babel, the language of spiritual pride, of enmity, of death, the language of the “family” or the word of the world created by man?
We begin to learn the ABC’s of this language of the Holy Spirit first by confessing our sins, confessing that we do not know this language; for, crippled by our spiritual pride, we do not know how to pray, how to speak as we ought. But, how can we learn if we do not come out from behind our masks and bow down in our heart before Christ’s Cross so that He can teach us? He gives His Holy Spirit to everyone who asks. But how can He give His Holy Spirit to us that we may be found worthy of His Heavenly Kingdom if we are not leaving the “families of the earth” in order to take up our cross and crucify our self-love that we may be found in the divine family of all the saints and learn through their prayers how to speak God’s language of love for the enemy? Amen.