Christ is in our midst! He is and ever shall be!
In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“By faith Moses, when he had come of age, refused to be called the son of Pharoah’s daughter, . . ., esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he looked to the reward.”
Today, the Church offers commentary on the journey of Great and Holy Lent already embarked upon by us nearly a week ago. This follows the ancient pattern of mystagogical catechesis of experience followed by reflection on that experience. In other words, now that we have experienced our first week of the Great Fast together, let us spend some time reflecting upon that experience so that we might suck the marrow from the bones. In some ways, this goes against our Western mindset. We tend to want to understand something before we experience it, you know, study it, analyze it, and then go find out if we got it right. But, as it is, the Church has always said first, as her Lord to some early inquirers, “’Come and see’” (Jn. 1:39). First, come and see – come and experience – the Jesus Whom you seek, then let’s talk.
The Church on this First Sunday of Great and Holy Lent offers us Moses for our reflection. He is the icon for our contemplation. We recall that this Sunday is also referred to as “The Triumph of Orthodoxy,” commemorating the restoration of icons to the Church on this Sunday in the year 843 AD – 56 years after the Seventh Ecumenical Council’s definitive affirmation on the right veneration of icons.
Moses is the icon offered to us. He heads the list of saints for our prayerful consideration. He sets the tone for us. He serves as the quintessential disciple of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ, albeit long before the advent of our Lord in the flesh. And yet, as St. Paul understands things, Moses served our Lord in his own day, telling us – assuring us – that Moses chose the Passion of our Lord over his own privileged position in Egypt as “Pharaoh in waiting” and all the treasures afforded to his socio-political status. He “esteem[ed] the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt.” Moses had found that treasure hidden in a field he was willing to trade it all in for; that “’one pearl of great price’” worthy of sacrificing everything for in order to obtain (Mt. 13:44-46). Like St. Paul, who bears his own witness to this, Moses gladly considered everything gained up to that point in his life as nothing but manure good only to be cast aside all for the gain of Jesus Christ (Pp. 3:7-11).
There comes a point in our lives when we will have to choose. In fact, there are many such points along the way because the spiritual life is a dynamic life, a heavenly and timeless life, ever interacting with the vicissitudes of this world, and that demands making choices between the kingdoms of this world and the Kingdom of the age to come. Just like Moses, just like St. Paul, just like every other saint memorialized in this litany of saints and those commemorated by the Church every day of the year, we will have to decide. Do I want to enjoy what the world offers me now or surrender that so as to gain the promise of the good things to come already obtained for me through Jesus Christ? Am I willing to dabble in and tinker with the fleeting, though tantalizing, pleasures of sin now in exchange for the loss of the eternal salvation of my soul? Just “’what will a man give [or be willing to give] in exchange for his soul?,’” Jesus once asked, a very good question any time of the year but a poignant one for our Lenten meditation. “’For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?’” (Mt. 16:26; Mk. 8:8:36-37; Lk. 9:25). Do we believe that our choices made today have eternal consequences? Do we believe, as do all the other saints commemorated, of whom this world is not worthy, that “the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Cr. 4:18)? And, do we make those unseen eternal and heavenly Mysteries our goal, the guiding light of our lives in this world? Are they what motivate us and keep us on course?
Or, asked differently, where are we storing up our treasures? We’re all laying up treasures some place, somewhere, whether we have ever thought about it or not. Jesus once said that. We’re either stockpiling them here for use now or we’re sending them ahead to be preserved in Heaven as a memorial before the Lord (Ac. 10:4; 1 Tm. 6:19). “’For where your treasure is,’” our Lord says, “’there your heart will be also’” (Mt. 6:19-21; Lk. 12:44). Is your treasure here in this world and its temporal life or in the world to come that is eternal? Where do you store your thoughts? Where do you store your dreams? Where do you store your hopes? Do you long for the Kingdom of the age to come or are you stuck here, unable to even gaze beyond this world’s horizons? The world here only offers us a final resting place – a grave – and all it offers us ends the moment we are laid in that grave. But, the Kingdom of Heaven offers us Life Everlasting, memory eternal in the Presence of God. Whatever we have sacrificed here for the sake of Jesus Christ is preserved intact in the age to come and multiplied exceedingly!
But, as our Lord also has told us, if we have been attentive, we can’t have it both ways. We can’t be half in and half out, betting against the middle and hedging our bets. “The holy things are for the holy” (Divine Liturgy). We can’t dabble here and expect to enjoy the riches of God’s glory there. We can’t flirt with “the passing pleasures of sin . . . and the treasures of Egypt” and bask in the Kingdom of God. We can’t serve two masters (Mt. 6:24; Lk. 16:13). We are not capable of divided loyalties for a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand (Mt. 12:25; Mk. 3:24). We can’t love the world and love God, too. It doesn’t work that way. It can’t, according to Sacred Scripture. “Do not love the world or the things in this world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 Jn. 2:15-17). And, again, James the Brother of our Lord asks, “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (Jm. 4:4). But, it is our Lord Who ultimately challenges us:
“He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take up his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it’ (Mt. 10:37-39).
There are some, if not many, who see this as too restrictive and even out of touch with reality. But, our Lord was willing to stake our salvation on it and the saints have been willing to live and die by it. The saints have always kept their eyes locked on Jesus and His promises which determined their lives. They “looked to the reward.” And Jesus has always kept the salvation of the world in His sights so much so that He, too, was willing to sacrifice His glory temporarily in order to gain our souls. Moses “esteem[ed] the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward.” He “looked to the reward.” He looked to Jesus Christ of Whom he wrote prophetically (Lk. 24:25-27, 44; Jn. 5:39, 46). And Jesus, the Son of God, “the Author and Finisher of our faith, . . . for the joy that was set before Him endured the Cross, despising the shame, . . . .” Indeed, for love of the world He Himself had created (Jn. 3:16), the Incarnate Word of the Father,
being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bond-servant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a Man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the Cross (Pp. 2:6-8).
Our salvation was well worth the sacrifice He had made for us beggars and scoundrels and sin-mongers. It was the joy set before Him. Our restoration to the true image of God – as icons of the One Who is the Icon of God Himself (Gn. 1:26; WS 2:23; Jn. 1:14; 2 Cr. 4:4; Co. 1:15; Hb. 1:3). There was no greater joy for Him than our redemption, no greater joy than our sharing in His eternal Kingdom and divine nature. There is – and can never be – no greater joy and delight and goal for us than Jesus Christ, Who, “for us men and for our salvation came down from Heaven” (Nicene Creed)!
Moses understood that and did something about it. The question for us in this Great and Holy Lent is, Will we? Pascha is coming!
Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
Hb. 11:24-26, 32-12:2