Yesterday’s gospel reading of the second coming (Matthew 25:31 – 46) is the third part of the three-part teaching that Christ gives in that chapter. Together, all three parts form what I call “practical Christianity” and should be read conjointly. In this way we can better understand what we need to do to be at one with Christ.
Elsewhere Christ reminds us that the new dispensation is this: to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your body and with all your might and with all your soul and to love your neighbour as yourself. So, let us look at chapter 25 of Matthew’s Gospel in the light of “loving neighbour”. The first part tells us of the five wise and the five foolish virgins. The wise were so-called by Christ because they withheld oil that their neighbours required to trim their lamps. This teaches that our works, whether good or bad are non-transferable and that each of us must seek our salvation and not rely upon others. The second parable relates to the talents. This teaches that our works and whatever material benefits we derive should be for the sharing with others. You may be the most gifted person on the earth but if you retain that gift and the benefit derived from that gift for yourself then you are no more than a wicked and slothful servant.
Yesterday’s gospel reading gives us the practical consequences of failure to love neighbour. Christ tells us that we need to do it for “the least of these” as if we are doing it for him. We need to give without expecting return. We need to give even though it may be thrown back in our face. We need to give even though we may feel that we are the maligned one. Why?… because we need to recognise the imprint of God in each and every one of us.
Christ loves us unconditionally. He expects the same from us to our neighbour. That is a tough call. How many of us can say that we love Christ unconditionally? We always seem to clothe our love in one request or another. How many of us say: ” Lord, thy will be done” and mean it? If we cannot love Christ unconditionally then how hard is it to love our fellow man unconditionally.
This reading should be read with all the other teachings of Christ. Salvation, is a mystery that relies upon the mercy of Christ. I have seen elsewhere commentary that suggests that we are saved by our good works. Such a view reduces God to an accounting exercise. There is no place in that schema for mercy. Such a reading means that we can save ourselves. Not only is that reading heretical but allows no room for God – and that cannot be so.
Program for this week is as follows:
Regular readers of my newsletter will know that I attended Melbourne last week to see my mother. The oil lamps at St Nektarios were filled and trimmed approximately 7 AM on Sunday, 4 February. Each oil lamp contains enough oil for it to stay light for one day and at most two days depending how they are trimmed. The oil containers contain approximately 200 mill oil other than the oil container in front of the icon of St Nektarios which contains approximately a litre of oil. All oil lamps use the same sort of wick for burning. Unlike previous occasions, I could not arrange for a Lamplighter whilst I was away – so no one attended the Church for that week (I confirmed that with the only other person with a key to the church). I expected in my own mind that all the oil lamps would have exhausted their oil by Tuesday at the latest. I arrived at church at 7 AM on Saturday (some six days later) and a quick glance confirmed that the oil lamps were indeed all extinguished (or so I thought!) The large oil lamp in front of St Nektarios (1 L) had burned-out as expected. I grabbed a bottle of oiled and quickly began to pour the oil into the containers in the sanctuary as I wanted to light them first in readiness for service. There are six oil lamps in the sanctuary and oil receptacles are tapered. If anyone has ever tried to fill these lamps when they are lit then they will know that, despite all caution and care, most times they will be extinguished by the rolling motion of the oil as it the container is filled. I returned to the kitchen to get more oil. Upon my return I was gobsmacked as the oil lamp in front of cross of the crucified Christ was burning brightly… I cannot explain it… All I know is that I saw it with my own eyes… As for the message? – I’m still reflecting on this.
Miracles do happen!… Sometimes the miracle is as inconsequential as an oil lamp that remained burning long after it should have been extinguished. It is in these small things that defy all human logic and understanding that we see the greatness of God.
Till next time.
Father John Athanasiou – 0411 061 554