St Paul the Apostle Orthodox Church
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/ Weekly Message / 10-23-11: Ninteenth Sunday After Pentecost
10-23-11: Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost

Nineteenth Sunday

Not simply the Golden Rule, but what believers might describe as the "Diamond Rule," is our objective and our challenge in life. We who follow Christ already relate to those with whom we are friends and treat them as we would have them treat us. But on the command and expectation of our Lord, we are willing to go a step further and put into practice a far more serious and responsible insight shared with us today.

Initially our Lord observes a common human characteristic we easily put into practice. It is one that characterizes each of us. We all admit readily we like the people who like us. We even love the people who like us and wish them well. Our Lord asks the pertinent question: "If you love those who love you, what merit have you? Even sinners love those who love them."

It becomes obvious enough, then, that we who follow the Saviour have a richer, deeper vocation to pursue. The rest of the world, including pagans, who have no enriching sacramental grace live and act the way we do. So our Lord is raising the bar for us if we wish to identify ourselves with him. The very badge or sign of Christianity is pure love and consideration for one anther out of love for Christ our God. It means doing as He does, it means relating to all other as He relates to them.

We like the loftiness of Christ's ideal, but dismiss it quickly as unattainable, since we are limited human beings, but we forget the truth enunciated by St. Paul in the epistle reading, We can do all things in Christ because of the answer our heavenly Father gave him when he asked for a reprieve from he thorn he suffered in the flesh, "My grace is sufficient for you; for strength is made perfect in weakness."

How much we are reminded of the life of Jonah the reluctant prophet. Our God is calling him, commanding him to go to Nineveh, a city outside the periphery of God's Chosen People, the home of the Assyrian people, one of the most cruel and barbaric on the face of the earth. They were in the process of vying to conquer the known world of that day. They were making war against city state after city state and they would stay at war as long as it took until they finally conquered that place, over ran their target.. They camped outside the walls of the city of Samaria for three solid years until they finally starved them out. Stubborn people those Assyrians and in their regard now that we look at them they would have made great present day Orthodox, don't you think?

The British museum in London in its Assyrian Hall has a collection of stone carvings from the Assyrian palaces and among them is the interesting scene of Assyrian soldiers at the end of a battle playing catch with the heads of their victims. Even brutes would agree, these were not nice people. They were most cruel, militaristic and were literally attempting to wipe God's people off the face of the earth.

Jonah, of course, cannot understand why God is interested in these Ninevites. As a matter of fact, we will never understand how much our heavenly Father loves us until we come to grasp and appreciate and plainly understand how much God loves people like the Assyrians. It is so easy in our subconscious mind to think what many of us are occasionally tempted to think when we stand in front of the mirror getting dressed up to out for a day of serving God and kingdom: "God loves me and I an not surprised. If I were God, I would love me, too!" But the love our God has for us is exactly the same in its depth and passion, in its encompassing seriousness as the love God has for the people of Nineveh. It has no deferential respect for our character, no respect to our actions and no respect to our family or background. God loves me; God loves you; God loves each us because He chooses to love us and it has nothing to do about whether we deserve it or not. The reality of God's love for us is illustrated in his love for the most unlovable, unworthy through we be. And of course, we Orthodox can be the most unlovable because we have been given the greatest of all gifts and do not know what to do with them. Undoubtedly, to us applies the adage, "the right religion has been given to the wrong people!"

Jonah does not want to be what God expects of him. He likes his own self-definition and self-determination. But our Lord insists the dignity of man is far greater than Jonah perceives it and understands it. In the end, Jonah does go, does preach and even the king is converted by God's grace.

Because God's method, God's idea, God's will, God's procedures are pursued, there is success.

Loving our enemies, then, is a difficulty that must be overcome. It starts with our prayer life being entrusted to his will. Permit today's narrative be an inspiration. May even the reluctance of Jonah inspire us that with God's grace everything good thing is possible, even for us!

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