Four men are bringing a paralytic to be healed. They couldn’t enter through the door, but that didn’t change their mission. They went to the top of the house, let down their friend through the roof, to finally see our Lord Jesus Christ and be healed.
Desire to see Christ and bring others to Christ regardless of the obstacles ahead.
How will persecution come upon us? At the hands of grey men in suits and carrying clipboards. In the name of health and safety they will prevent us offering incense to God. In the name of equality they will require us to ordain women, and those who follow a lifestyle incompatible with our faith. When we will not comply they will remove the charitable status that many use to receive state benefits. In the name of combating extremism they will require all places of worship to be registered. And when we speak out about moral issues, and on behalf of the most vulnerable, the unborn and the elderly, we will lose our registration under the guise of silencing hate-speech. We will be taken to court for causing offence to those who object to traditional Christian teachings and will face exemplary punitive fines that will lead to church buildings being seized in the name of debt collection. Bishops and priests will face prosecution if they speak out. Some will go to prison. Sunday Schools will be closed in the name of child protection. Faithful Christians will lose their jobs in state industries and organisations because their traditional views will be considered hateful and discriminatory merely by being held.
What should we do? How should we prepare? The only preparation possible is to live out the authentic Orthodox life in its fullness now, while we still may. The only preparation possible is to live as sojourners now, and not as those building an earthly city. The only preparation that might prevent such persecution is to engage in mission, sharing the divine life of transforming love.
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
You shall not build a house, sow seed, plant a vineyard, nor have any of these; but all your days you shall dwell in tents, that you may live many days in the land where you are sojourners.
Is this far-fetched? I don’t believe so. At times of social revolution the Church suffers. During the French Revolution the Church was persecuted fiercely by atheistic revolutionaries. During the Protestant Revolution in England the Church was almost destroyed in two generations such that it even lost the memory that England had been Orthodox and Catholic. In Russia the Church was driven into catacombs and forests. In Albania the atheistic Government was proud to proclaim that it had eliminated Christianity.
There are already many means by which the life of the Church can be made difficult. There are many who wish that it be made difficult. But we have allowed society around us to lose that vital connection with the authentic Christian tradition, morality and principles. We have been silent. We have been inward looking. And while we have been busy with our own affairs the world around us has lost the shared appreciation of Christianity and increasingly fails to be even sympathetic to what it sees as a redundant and irrelevant minority religious activity.
What is our hope? It is that by living out our authentic Orthodox Christian life in the power and grace of the indwelling Holy Spirit, and sharing this life with those around us, the tide might yet be turned. If we remain inward looking, if we focus on our own culture and habits, if we spend all we have on building in stone and wood, then the tide will fall upon us. I have no doubt.
If we become sojourners, seekers of another Kingdom, living the life of eternity now, then whether the tide rises or not we will be preserved. Lord have mercy. Prepare your Church.
In the Coptic Orthodox Church, we are currently in the third week of Great Lent, and the Sunday reading is that of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11–32). Side note, I recommend reading the whole chapter and to read the other two parables of the lost coin and lost sheep. For those who like to memorize or think of quick facts, think of Luke 15, as the “lost” chapter of the Gospel. The chapter contains the three parables of the lost sheep, lost coin, lost son. A nice easy way to remember and store information.
Today, I want to focus on this reading and who am I in this parable. I want you to read over the parable (below), and imagine yourself in this story. Who are you in this story, are you the younger son, are you the older son, or are you the father” Think about who you are in this story, as we continue discussing.
“11 Then He said: “A certain man had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So he divided to them his livelihood. 13 And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living. 14 But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want. 15 Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16 And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything. 17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, 19 and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.”’ 20 “And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. 23 And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; 24 for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry. 25 “Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.’ 28 “But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him. 29 So he answered and said to his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. 30 But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’ 31 “And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. 32 It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.’”” (Luke 15:11-32)
If you really think about this, this is a tough story! Read the story again through a different lens and perhaps a current culture.
I am tired of living at home. I want to be independent. I want to see the world. I want more than what is being offered to me at home. I have the perfect idea, let me just ask my dad to give me money now. He is going to give it to me regardless, whether dead or alive. I might as well take it now, and enjoy myself. Who knows, I may not live that long to see my inheritance, or I may have too many responsibilities that prevent from enjoying the life I want.
Why my young son, did you leave me? I took care of you. I raised you. I loved you. I know that you and your brother are different people. My older one is always with me. But where did things begin to differ for you? Did you forget how much I provided for you? Did you forget how much I loved you? At which point in your life, did you, my son begin to lose faith and that you would leave me? I am your father. I love you dearly forever. Why did you leave? As much as this burdens my heart, I cannot keep you a prisoner. I will love you wherever you go, even if it is on the wrong path. I don’t think you should be out there, but I can’t force you, that would not be right, that would not be love, that’s not how I raise my children.
Older Son Grumble..Grumble..How dare he? Seriously, just getting up and leaving like that. How immature. Doesn’t he know the responsibilties here in this home? Why in the world did dad just let him go?! What has gotten into dad? This is so annyoing, When I was that age, I would have never been allowed to do this!!! Whatever, he wants to leave, that’s his business. I am loyal, always listening, and will always stay next to dad.
So, this is my contemplation on the setting or introduction of this parable, with today’s possible language, and perhaps even the psychological thoughts that may have been running through each person’s mind at the time. I know for sure that if I was placed in that situation, I could easily see myself saying any of those items in my head, if I was in that role.
As the parable continues, we don’t hear much concerning the older son, until the end of the parable, but there is a focus on the youngest son and the father.
“13 And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living. 14 But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want. 15 Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16 And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything. 17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, 19 and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.”’” (Luke 15:13-19)
Younger Son Perspective
I really messed up now. All that money dad saved up to give to me. I blew it all away! Were all those extravagant things necessary? You know what, not a big deal, whatever, I am my own person. I will figure something out, maybe I can get a job and work for somebody. This work is not for me, I am still hungry, I am still in need, I don’t remember the last time I ate. Seriously, I don’t mind diving into that garbage can and seeing what I can find, maybe left overs or something. (As he ponders and comes to). HECK NO!! ARE YOU KIDDING ME!! I AM NOT GOING TO EAT THAT!
Dude. I am not doing this anymore. I just realized something my dad feeds the staff at the house better than this. Okay, not a problem, what should I do? How can I show my face at the house? For sure, I will be mocked and laughed at. But, you know what, it doesn’t matter, I messed up, I need to take responsibility for my actions. I am going to go home, tell my dad I messed up, and tell him that because I did things that were not appropriate, please don’t take me back as a son, because a son wouldn’t ask for an inheritance when the dad is alive. I will make it up to him by working for him. At least this way, I can pay back everything I took.
MESSAGE OF REPENTANCE
Do we see this message of repentance? How many of us understand this? How many of us realize that we are that younger son? We think that we don’t need God, we don’t need the Church, or prayer, or the reading of the Bible. We can get along just fine without Him, but usually that doesn’t work out for us. But when we hit the ground, when we hit that spiritual rock bottom, we hit it very hard, and everything comes crashing in and we are left confused, and we start asking why did this happen to me. In this state of nothingness, when we realize that we were created from the dust of the earth, when we realize that we are in fact nothing without our Lord, this is the path of repentance.
As we see in the younger son, when he comes to his senses. He begins to remember the luxury, the honor of living at his father’s home and so desires it again once more. We are the same, when we do these big sins and we move so far away from Christ, we look back and ask ourselves, how did I get this far away from Him? But there is always that yearning to come back, the desire to be restored with our Lord again.
But what about the father? This brings us to the next message.
MESSAGE OF HOPE
Examine the following passage,
“But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20)
When I read this, and I read it through the lens of the father, it brings so much hope and joy. Think about it. This father, in the example I gave was most likely internally asking himself questions of why this happened, questioning his own son and the love of the son for the father, probably contemplating why things went wrong. But the beauty of this verse mentioned, “when he was still a greay way off”. How would the father know he was a great way off? Was he waiting for his son to come back home? I believe that the father with his tremendous love for the son, could not allow for any waking moment to pass without worrying about the return of his son. To me, this verse shows ultimate love, this verse portrays in my mind, a father waiting on the porch every day from sunrise to sunset waiting for his son to come back home. This is true love. The father sees him, HAS COMPASSION, and ran!! He ran for his son, with all the drama, with all the attitude and rejection that his son may have done. The father forgets it all and ignores it, runs to his son and kisses him on the neck! With a kiss, the father tells him I forgive you my son.
Are we that loving? Are we that forgiving towards people? This is a very hard part indeed. Many people leave our lives, or do harmful things, or gossip, or treat us wrongly, or bad-mouth us, but what is our response usually in these cases; sadly, sometimes, if not all the time is to hold a grudge for as long as possible. This is something that many of us, myself included have to work on. We have to learn to be that message of hope, that message of love and compassion. The father had hope, he never gave up. He believed in his heart that his son would return back to him at some point.
I personally wish I could be like the father, when I see someone going on the wrong path. I wish I could learn the capacity to stand at the door having full hope that he will return back and realize his ways. I wish that in that moment, when I see him from a far away that time will freeze and I will forget everything because I am so happy he is home and I will celebrate. I wish, I pray and hope that I can learn to love like the father loves.
So we have repentance, we have love, we still haven’t evaluated the older son. The older son, how many times have I unknowingly in my life been the older son?
MESSAGE OF HUMILITY AND THE EGO
“25 “Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.’ 28 “But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him. 29 So he answered and said to his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. 30 But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’ 31 “And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. 32 It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.’”” (Luke 15:25-32)
Can you imagine what could be running through the mind of the older son? It’s not hard, all too easy I am afraid. Read over my psychological summary of thoughts in his mind if I were him.
Older Son Perspective
What the heck is that noise? Dude, there’s a party without me!? Let me ask this other staff person here. WHAT THE HECK?! I DON’T GET IT!! I AM SO ANGRY! (His dad walks out, tells him to come inside). Are you serious old man? I busted my rear end doing everything you asked me to do, I jumped through every hoop, followed every command, and this is the thanks I get. Come on dad, I can’t believe you. You never let me do any types of these parties, you never let me do a food gathering or barbecue, hanging out with my friends was never an option. But what happens, all the years of being with you, being your second in command, what did you do? My punk little brother, that’s what you did. You did everything for him, I knew it, he has always been your favorite. Why didn’t you correct him? Why didn’t you discipline him? I don’t want to go inside, I don’t want to see him, because if I do, I am going to give him a piece of my mind!!
How sad is this! The oldest son, what a poor troubled soul. This poor soul unable to recogznie the repentance of his brother, unable to recognize that he has come back. This older brother is so focused on the negative, so focused that his younger brother left, so focused that his dad didn’t do anything, but rather gave him a party when he got home. How dare they! I can probably imagine what the older brother is saying, “they should have asked me”, “they should have asked my opinion”. I know more than many of them, I am the one who is older and still here.
See this wicked heart! See this judgement, this ego, this selfishness. Can you recognize all these items in the older brother? If you can, that’s great, now we need one more thing to do. Stand up and go look in the mirror my friend. All of us are the older brother. We all have an excuse to be judgmental, to be negative, to be “always right” even if we are wrong. How sad, that the older brother who should “know more” since he has been alive more, you would think he would know how to act. But what happens? Ego overtakes the older brother and comes off as very condescending on everyone and anyone.
Reality check. We also are the older brother as well. How many times have we left our egos get out of control. This is the core of the older brother. If someone visited the church today, with crazy tatoos or a bad hairstyle, would you let them stay, or would you begin transitioning them out of the church, becuase they don’t fit that “picture”. This is the problem of the oldest son, rather than rejoice and be happy this his brother who was living in sin, was back again, he focused on the negative aspects of what happened.
I urge you again, when you hear this Sunday reading of the Prodigal Son. Review and meditate on it.
Are you the Father, who is a symbol of God the Father, who loves everyone, and wants everyone to return and come back to Him, no matter what happened?
Are you the younger son, who leaves God, because you think you know better, only to hit rock bottom, and come running back, and repenting of your sin, regardless how many times it happens?
Or, are you the older brother, who with all his stubbornness, just like the Pharisees, cannot recognize the fact that his younger brother who was dead is alive, he who was living sin, has repented and come back! But yet, he is so stuck on his own ego, he is so stuck on his own selfishness that he can’t see the lost sheep that has come back home. His own brother, yet jealousy filled his heart instead.
Take some type for deeper contemplation. Utilize the Great Lent period to truly fast and pray for anything that we need or ask of Him as we continue down this journey. We pray that we may have a heart full of repentance continually. We pray that we have a yearning of hope and love of the father towards us.
Another late blog article. I didn’t realize how writing could be so tough. It’s odd because I usually have so much on my mind, and I can also talk about anything for a very long time. But converting my thoughts and my words into something written, that’s another obstacle. This blog article is a little bit late, but it is based on a reflection of the Gospel reading from John 6:22-27.
22 On the following day, when the people who were standing on the other side of the sea saw that there was no other boat there, except that one which His disciples had entered, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with His disciples, but His disciples had gone away alone— 23 however, other boats came from Tiberias, near the place where they ate bread after the Lord had given thanks—24 when the people therefore saw that Jesus was not there, nor His disciples, they also got into boats and came to Capernaum, seeking Jesus. 25 And when they found Him on the other side of the sea, they said to Him, “Rabbi, when did You come here?” 26 Jesus answered them and said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. 27 Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him.” (NKJV, John 6:22-27)
There are many times in my life that I try to push myself to reflect on my actions. My personal goal is to try to do a daily reflection, some days it is easy to remember to do this, other times, I need a digital reminder to do this whether through the use of Evernote or Omnifocus. Two pieces of software that keep me organized and productive (more on that in another post later on). I try to ask myself some basic standard questions.
What did I do today?
What did I accomplish?
What new thing did I learn?
The next question that is the most difficult sometimes for me to answer at times, is Did I Chase After Him today, or Did I Chase After What He Can Give Me?
We all fall into this trap a lot, I myself fall into it many times. We all fall in the trap of asking God, praying to God, for the things that I want from Him.
Dear God…..please I want that new job.
………………please I want that new house.
………………please I need to pass this class.
………………please I want this person to notice me.
………………please I want, I want, i want.
I always want from God, I want, because I know that He can give it to me, He has the power to give it to me. Growing up and looking back at my life, I can see and visualize myself always asking God for the things I want. I remember asking for the job, I remember asking for the good grades and all the things that a typical high school or college student would ask, perhaps even a young adult. But one of the things that scares me, when I look back at my past, I can’t remember the times that I chased after Him myself without wanting anything in return.
Because when I look back at the past, I can see why I asked for certain things. Struggling with a class, so I needed a good grade to pass. Unemployed, and needed a job. The list can go on for this. But I can’t remember, my memory fades here…
Did I pray and say thank you when God granted my requests?
Did I just pray in general without asking for anything?
It’s very tough to remember those details for some reason of our past. Today of course is different, I am older, I am wiser (I hope). But I am still human. I needed to be reminded on a regular basis, so that I don’t fall into that trap again.
To bring it back full circle to the Gospel reading at the beginning of this blog. Many times we say, I can’t relate to the Bible, it was written a long time ago, by old people. But everything is relatable, if you want to learn and read it, that’s the key step. It’s a journey.
The passage in the gospel reading picks up immediately right after the miracle of Feeding of the Five Thousand with the five loaves and two fish.
To summarize the above passage reading here is a very simple outline.
Imagine that you are a part of this group. (the five thousand)
You just got fed in a miraculous way. Five loaves, Two fish. Twelve baskets filled afterwards! (What a buffet!)
Christ ends up in Capernaum somehow (I use the term “somehow” loosely based on how I envision it, if I was there, based on the factual points of 4-7)
We know that Saint John indicates only 1 boat (the disciples were on it) left and our Lord Jesus Christ, didn’t go with them on the boat.
Other people are trying to find Him, other boats coming in from Tiberius.
Finally, this group that you are in get to Capernaum and you’re chasing Him.
You and the group finally see Christ.
You know what happens? The first words out of the mouth of the group….”When did you get here?”. That reminds of the English modern version that I would use with my friends at a restaurant. “Bro, how in the world did you get here so fast? I didn’t see you on the boat. I looked and I checked, you weren’t there, so uh, when did you get here?”
Can you imagine that mentality? “When did you get here?” Seriously. That’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you see Him? Let’s hold on to this mentality for a bit, as we go deeper into this.
Christ responds to that “group” mentality. In verse 26, Jesus answered them and said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.
That is rough! But the TRUTH! It’s like a passive slap on the face. Again, in our “modern” English understanding if this were to happen today with family or friends.
“Guys, you’re not following because you saw the miracle, but because you saw the abundance of food, you’re here because I fed you.”
I often think, how many times do I chase after God, because He fed me. How many times do I do the exact same thing that the multitude did as well? Then, of course, comes the thought, well, why did Christ even answer in this manner to them. My opinion, Christ spoke to them on a blunt level so that they could understand. They spoke from their stomach and their eyes (their needs and wants). So He responded to those needs and wants directly. They were so caught up in everything, they forgot about the miracle. They forgot that 5,000 were fed with five loaves and two fish.
Looking back at it…the thoughts that cross my mind…
Who cares when He got there?!!!!
Who cares how He got there????
He just performed a miracle. He just appeared there. There is more to Him that we can possibly imagine (that should have been the thoughts of these people, but it wasn’t).
Again, His response to them, “You seek me to satisfy the flesh, not the Spirit.”
You are here because you’re not chasing after Me, you’re chasing because what I can give you, and today that’s food.
You came because you wanted something, and that something was not spiritual.
Let’s bring it all back again, now.
Do I Chase After Him or Am I Chasing What He Can Give Me
How many times do I seek Jesus for no other objective than to get some kind of temporal benefit! We all fall into this one…I will do this spiritual item (attend Liturgy early, pray more, fast more) IF, and only IF I get this job, this program, this raise, this item of benefit in the world. Unfortunately, we all do this, all the time, we remember God when we want our belly full. It doesn’t have to be physically with food, but when we “want” things.
Our Lord is scarcely sought after for His own sake.…He says, “you seek me for something else; seek me for my own sake. He insinuates the truth that He Himself is that food … “that endures to eternal life.” We want to make sure that when we seek out our Lord, we seek Him diligently through active prayers, readings, fasting, partaking of the sacraments to bring us closer to our Lord, because our souls yearn to be with Him.
The Fast of Nineveh is coming up tomorrow on February 22 (in the Coptic Calendar), what if we took Nineveh as an example for us. When the message of Jonah the prophet arrived, the city prayed, fasted, and sought after and chased God. Hopefully, we can learn to not just chase after Christ, because there is a “fun” event at church, or some “social” event. Yes, these could be tools to help us get our foot in the door, but what about the days when there is no “fun” event, when there is no “social” activity. We still need to come to church, we still need to chase after Him.
I wish that all of us, myself included, of course, will learn to chase after Him every day of our lives, when we wake up in the morning, when we go to sleep. How amazing would that be? My first thought in the morning would be to give thanks for letting the night pass in peace, and then when I sleep, I can thank Him for all that He gave me today. Baby steps. Works in Progress.
We don’t want to labor for the food that which perishes, We don’t want to do things that are temporary. Our focus should be on the everlasting life, on the eternal life.