- Zephaniah 2:3, 3:12-13
- Psalm 146:6-10
- 1 Corinthians 1:26-31
- Matthew 5:1-12
The Lord, who protects the stranger, who defends orphan and widow, who overturns the counsel of the wicked!
Psalm 145:9 (146:9 in the MT) Knox
This Psalm is sung nearly every Sunday in the Slavic recensions of the Byzantine LIturgy. (On some Sundays it is replaced with the verses sung nearly every week in the Greek form.) Today it is the Responsorial in the Novos Ordo, and we are invited, in this Psalm – as in all the readings really – to consider what this might mean, that God protects the Stranger, defends the Orphan and Widow and overturns the counsel of the wicked.
Our Bible readings are overly full of descriptions of the good folks: humble, chaste, obedient, forgiving, loving. I remember a story of two (Orthodox) nuns visiting a parish. One of the members who was very opposed to traditional monastics in the “modern” world – a situation that many Orthodox and Roman Catholic readers will recognise – decided she did not like having these “moochers” in her parish hall and so she accused them – loudly – in front of others of stealing food. “See how they ‘fast’ by stealing our food!” One Nun stood there, quietly taking the yelling but not at all sure what was going on. The other Nun fell at the woman’s feet and begged forgiveness of whatever had happened… this totally discombobulated the accuser, who ran from the room. In the eyes of the world, the accuser was defending the parish’s property. In the eyes of the world the nuns are the stupid ones.
Another story: of the president of his parish council, who walked into his church one night and found a woman praying: she was dressed traditionally, in a shawl. His own wife wouldn’t stoop to such chicanery. He walked up to the woman and yanked her shawl off, grabbing her hair as well. Her head jerked back with such force that the long hairpins holding up her bun actually punctured the skin of her neck! “Now maybe you will stop dressing like a Muslim.” He said. And his wife smiled as they walked away. This was in 2016. In a modern and liberal Orthodox parish in a large city the USA. And I know she prays for him. And we all should: but I can’t quite figure out how though, I add in all honesty and shame.
There are humans who are working to divide other humans one from the other. Yet there is only one source of such division: the Evil One. For Christ seeks the unity of all, with all, in all, and through all with the Holy Trinity. Today’s readings are all about how to get there, how to enter that Divinely-Sourced unity.
Our Bible readings are overly full of descriptions of the good, of the process of salvation. It takes humility, forgiveness, love. It takes charity, and it takes hospitality. It takes stupidity in the eyes of the world – yet wisdom in the ways of God. The poor, the foolish, the weak, no less than the rich, the intelligent, and the strong, need salvation. But knowing that you are poor – and depend on others for your bread – that you are foolish – and depend on others for guidance – that you are weak – and depend on others for protection – means that you are ready to rely on God much quicker than others who vainly imagine themselves to be “self-made”. It is hard to be humble when (in the eyes of the world) you’re perfect in every way.
Where are the descriptions of the wicked? What can be said of the strong nation who won’t care for its weakest, who won’t feed its poorest, who won’t welcome the stranger, the orphan, the widow – and all for very wise, worldly reasons? Even worse: what are we to say of the Christians who won’t do those things directly, even though they say it is – or perhaps especially if they say it isn’t – the place of the nation to do them? A nation of Christians would surely do such, but not only would they do such through the state, they would do so by their own hands. Surely?
And what of the nation that does exactly the reverse of all the commandments and in fact hinders their performance – again, all for very worldly-wise reasons? If they are hindering the work of Christians, whose work are they advancing? Maybe we don’t really need descriptions of those things – for they are all around us.
While there are humans who are working to divide other humans one from the other, there is only one source of such division: the Evil One. Christ seeks the unity of all, with all, in all, and through all with the Holy Trinity. Yes, any can reject this unity… any can run away… but there is no other unity, there is no other peace. You can work for this unity and peace even unbeknownst to yourself, but to consciously (or unconsciously) work against it, to knowingly turn human against human, to deny the image of God present in any person for any reason is an act of desecration.
Simply: you are doing the work of demons.
No matter why you think you are doing so, that is what you are doing.
And it cannot work to your salvation in fact, quite the reverse.