Our Gospel Lesson this morning begins with Our Savior’s famous words, which have come to be called “The Golden Rule”. “As you want people to treat you, treat them in the same way”, or, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. However, just before our prescribed Gospel reading for today, Jesus is instructing His Disciples in the Beatitudes, as we sing at almost each Divine Liturgy in the 3rd Antiphon. Jesus begins with Blessed are, and goes through the litany we have been accustomed to hearing, as we did this morning. Then Jesus continues His discourse by giving equal time to those others who are not in our Lord’s favor, by telling them, “Woe to you…”
Our Gospel reading for this morning picks up right after all of the “woe to you” clauses, and it is Jesus’ explanation to His Disciples that if you want to be treated well, you must treat others well also. If you want to get along, you need to go along – not to compromise your own principles of right and wrong, mind you, but the way to get respect is simple – you must give it.
Up until now, Jesus was speaking in a very lawyerly way, counterbalancing the scales by illustrating that if you do something good, in return, you will receive something comparably good; if you are nice to nice people, it is a wash. But Jesus takes it up a notch in further telling His Disciples that instead, you need to step up and be nice to the people whom you don’t like. You need to be good to those who are rotten. You need to be merciful to those who don’t show mercy. Only then can you be counted as one of God’s children.
Indeed, my brothers and sisters, it is a hard commandment to follow, I must admit. For who wants to go out of their way to be nice to a jerk? Why should we squander our time helping out nasty and mean people? Why on earth would any of us want to be merciful to a scoundrel with no conscience on how they have hurt and manipulated people?
The sad truth is, each and every one of us, at some point in our lives, have been on both sides of these questions. All of us are good, to a point, but all of us have been rude or obnoxious or arrogant or merciless, whether we realized it or not. This is why Jesus’ command is crystal clear to all of us – be merciful as your Heavenly Father is merciful. Elsewhere in Scripture the term used is, “To those whom more has been given, more is required.” As Orthodox believers, as God’s children, we are required to be “on duty” as one of our Lords Disciples, as an Evangelist, even sometimes as a referee, holding back argument and disagreement, but make no mistake: It is a part of our mission as a Disciple of Christ. Our Lord requires no less. Our Lord wants us to teach firmly, admonish gently, bear wrongs patiently, suffer fools gladly, embrace sinners eagerly, bring others into His Kingdom joyfully, and serve Him with gladness.
All of these job descriptions sound vaguely familiar. Actually, they sound like the job description of a servant of God. These job descriptions, my brothers and sisters, are the job requirements our Lord established for his holy priesthood.
The month of October has been designated as clergy appreciation month since 1992, even though it isn’t printed on anyone’s calendars. It began when a church layman was brainstorming with other parishioners on how to be of greater help to their pastor, when he noticed on the calendar it was almost Groundhog Day. He thought to himself, “If they have a day for groundhogs, there ought to be a day for over 375,000 clergy in America.” While the second Sunday of October is the actual day, I feel that our Gospel reading is appropriately placed before us today so we can take a moment and thank our own beloved pastor, shepherd and Father in Christ, Father Lucas, for walking the walk, talking the talk, and fulfilling all of the job descriptions required of him, and then some in the 49 ½ years he has devoted to walking with and serving our Lord with gladness.
So, my altar brother and fellow servant, I want to thank you, on behalf of your parish family, for your hard and unending labor on behalf of this body of Christ.
-For driving an hour each way for church services on Sundays and weekdays even when the church is not as full as it should be.
-For yourself sacrifice and tireless efforts at all of our pierogi sales, bake sales, bible camp, appointments, meetings, phone calls and sick visits, and every effort you have expended in building up the body of Christ.
-For being an example of leadership by doing, from the most menial task to the most important.
-For following our Lord’s commandment to be His Disciple with humility by denying yourself, taking up your cross, and following Him.
-For continuing to fight the good fight in doing what it takes to complete our building project and build a fitting temple for the glory of God, despite all of the stumbling blocks and setbacks you have encountered with every step along the way.
And finally, thank you for your patience with us, your gentle counsel, and your practical, frank advice in seeing things much clearer than we are able to in our own personal matters and crises. Our appreciation for you goes far beyond what mere words can ever convey. I found a poem that, I believe, best sums up our thankfulness for all that you do:
The truth found in the Bible offers hope and so much more.
Your dedication to God’s Word is something we are grateful for.
Christ is surely the answer, May He strengthen you today.
For even God’s finest get weary helping others along life’s way.
Wisdom, Guidance, loving concern and encouragement mean so much.
Our prayer for you, dear Pastor, is God’s ever refreshing touch.