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.
It has been said in Orthodoxy that if we are saved, we are saved together, in the community of Faith, which is to say, in the Church. And if we are lost, we are lost all by ourselves. We are warned again and again in Sacred Scripture of the dangers of backsliding, of falling away from the divine grace bestowed upon us, of receiving the grace of God in vain (1 Cr. 15:2; 2 Cr. 6:1). Instead, we are charged – each and every one of us – with our brother and sister’s spiritual well-being. “Take heed, brethren,” St. Paul says, “lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, . . ., lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we are made partakers of Christ if we hold the confidence we had in the beginning steadfast unto the end, . . . .” To demonstrate his point, the Apostle offers us our forebearers in the Faith. He advises us to consider wisely and carefully ancient Israel who failed to enter into the Promised Land because of their unbelief (Hb. 3:12-19; 10:). “Let us consider one another in order to stir up [provoke, spur on] love and good works,” St. Paul exhorts. And he ties this to the Church, to the necessity of the Church and her holy assembly: “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together,” he says, “as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much more as you see the Day approaching” (Hb. 10:23-25).
Today, in the Holy Gospel, we hear of a community gathered together in a house around Jesus in Capernaum. There are a multitude of souls assembled, presumably all for varied reasons: some no doubt out of curiosity having heard of this itinerant preacher, some because they are followers of this Jesus, some because of their needs hoping perhaps that Jesus might be able to do something for them, and some almost certainly for reasons known only unto them. Nevertheless, there was a gathering in Peter’s house – at least according to one tradition it was Peter’s home – a gathering of the many and varied, much like the parable of the multitude of assorted fishes caught in the net of the Kingdom of Heaven (Mt. 13:47-50). All sorts of folks crowded into this house all because, as the Evangelist says, “it was reported that [Jesus] was in the house.” Jesus was there.
As I pondered this story found in each of the synoptic Gospels, which is to say, the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, it is St. Mark alone who notes and remarks that at the center of this gathering Jesus “preached the Word unto them.” Jesus, the Word of God in the flesh, the Son of the Virgin, the Son of God, preached the Word of God to those gathered around Him at Peter’s table. That St. Mark felt compelled to specifically preserve this tidbit in his Gospel, I believe, says something about this notation, that it is significant and warrants a remark. The Word of God is front and center. Jesus “preached the Word unto them.” It is powerful to those who hear and believe. St. Mark further notes how our Lord, like His predecessor and Forerunner, came preaching “’the Kingdom of God is at hand’” (Mt. 3:2; Mk.1:14-15), and that it is “preaching” that characterizes the ministry of our Lord, alongside of His teaching and healing (Mk. 1:22, 38-39). There is power to be found in the Word of God or perhaps moreso, there is power in God the Word. There is power in preaching of the Word of God, a saving power, a healing power for both soul and body, as is revealed in this story. As we heard in Rdr. John’s presentation last Sunday regarding evangelism, he quoted St. Paul who asks,
How then shall they call on Him in Whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of Whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!’ . . . So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God (Rm. 10:14-15, 17).
Faith springs forth from hearing the Word of God, a Word inspired by the Holy Spirit (2 Tm. 3:15-16; 1 Pe. 1:12; 2 Pe. 1:21), that lays bare to the bone our souls entangled in darkness, blinded by the god of this world (2 Cr. 4:4), and perverted by sin, precisely because it is God’s Word, “living and powerful” and “a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hb. 4:12-13). God’s Word is “a lamp to my feet and light to my paths” (Ps. 118 :105). God’s Word is as fire, says the Prophet, and as an axe that cuts the rock (Jr. 23:29). We are assured elsewhere in another Prophet that God’s Word is absolute and trustworthy and accomplishes all that the Almighty declares (Is. 55:11). God Who is good and the Lover of mankind does not speak empty, impotent words. But rather, He speaks and all things are created out of that which did not exist (Gn. 1:1-2:3; 2 Mc. 7:28; Rm. 4:17). Indeed, it is the Word of God Himself Who upholds “all things” unto ages of ages (Hb. 1:1-3)!
Jesus Christ the Son of God is there in Peter’s house, preaching the Life-giving Word of His Father, and in that moment Peter’s humble abode is transformed – shall we say transfigured? – by the Glory of God into a Temple, into a cathedral, because the Shepherd and Bishop of all souls was present (1 Pe. 2:25). Peter’s house, therefore, becomes the House of God, “the Church of the living God” (1 Tm. 3:15). Because Jesus the Word and Son of the Father was tabernacling there, that place became a holy place, a sacred place for the salvation of all who poured themselves into His holy Presence. Jesus preached the Word of God to them and His saving Word healed both soul and body. There is sacramental grace present where the Word tabernacles, where the Word of God is to be found.
Brothers and sisters, isn’t this the Church, the place where God and sinners congregate and meet? Isn’t this Gospel story an icon of the Temple of God in which God is adored and sinners are saved? Isn’t this the Body of Christ, the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world? Everything traditionally characteristic of the Church and her worship can be found in this story: believers gather together because Jesus is there, they hear the Word of God in preaching, they receive the Word’s sacramental grace in the Church’s Mysteries – Baptism, Chrismation, Eucharist, Confession, Unction – and then, having been healed and with faith renewed they take up their beds and they disperse out into the world in the fear of God and with faith and love to live Jesus Christ! Lights of the true Light, believers enlighten the darkness of this benighted world (Mt. 5:14-16). Forgiven of our sins by the King of Heaven, the baptized, in turn, forgive others who sin against us, even as our God and Saviour has commanded (Mt. 6:9-15). Anointed with the oil of God’s mercy, the chrismated, in turn, anoint others with the same compassion of the Father. Having received the glad tidings of the Kingdom of God and its blessing, the eucharistized give to others the Kingdom and proclaim the Good News of God that His Kingdom is alive and present in this world. That which we have received freely, we give freely in return, as our Lord and Master has instructed us (Mt. 10:8). As the salt of the earth, we seek to preserve the earth with the salt of the Gospel: we pray, we fast, we give alms, we teach others to observe all that our Lord has commanded us (Mt. 6:1-18; 28:18-20). We bless and do not curse; we repay no one evil for evil; we strive to live at peace with all and to overcome evil with good, even as our Lord has shown us in His Great and Holy Passion (Rm. 12:9-21; 1 Pe. 3:8-22).
Beloved, as unworthy as we are, God has sent His Word of salvation to us – sinners, prodigals, profligates that we are (Ac. 13:26). God the Word comes even unto us in this holy assembly of wheat and weeds so that He may turn the weeds into wheat and make His wheat bountiful! As we hear this saving and sanctifying Word, St. James instructs us to be wise. “[L]ay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness,” he says, “and receive with meekness the implanted Word, which is able to save your souls. . . [B]e doers of the Word,” he continues, “and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. . . [T]his one will be blessed in what he does” (Jm. 1:21-27). The Word of God blesses us when we hear and do what He commands, even unto the healing of our souls and our bodies.
Indeed, Christ is in our midst! He is and ever shall be!
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!