|Homily 3rd Sunday after Pentecost Matthew 6:22-33|
In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen; glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
“Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?” Thus spoke the Lord to the people of His day…and His words are still relevant to us today. He is still the Lord and we are still His people to this very day. Why are these words so important to us, though? Why are we told not to worry about the material things that we need? A short answer comes from another saying of the Lord, “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word which proceeds from the mouth of God.” We can take these words even further when we realize, or rather remember, that the Lord Jesus Christ Himself is the eternal Word of God.
In the chapter of Matthew from which today’s passage is drawn, we are taught how to pray by Christ. He teaches us a short and pointed prayer and our Lord tells us why, “When you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.” We are then told how to pray with the Our Father.
Further on, Jesus tells us why we are not to worry. In the verse immediately preceding today’s reading we hear, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Let me repeat that, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” What we are dealing with, then, is the cure for one form of heart disease.
Of course, I am not speaking of high cholesterol, blocked arteries and the like, but rather a spiritual malaise that, as Fr. Maximos in our Thursday night book study says, “Based on the experience of the saints, this is a given for all of us.” This “given,” this heart disease that we all suffer from to one degree or another, is known as hardness of the heart.
Now by hardness of the heart, I do not mean someone is unfeeling. We are not talking about the classic tough guy that is moved by neither puppies nor babies. We are not talking about someone with the emotional capacity of the statues on Mount Rushmore. No, this is a different kind of hardness. Father Maximos explains, “A person may fervently desire to listen to the word of God, to desire union with God, to come in contact with wisdom that comes from God, but the heart is impenetrable. The Grace of God cannot enter the essence of that person. The heart does not allow the seed of God’s grace to take root.” Fr. Maximos continues:
If we consider ourselves a parcel of land that we begin to dig and cultivate with the Prayer [the Jesus Prayer], we’ll notice that at first the ground may be soft and relatively easy to plow. But as we continue digging we reach a level full of pebbles. Further down we reach solid rock. It is like sowing on granite. Nothing can penetrate it.
Does this image sound familiar? It should. Our Lord Himself used similar imagery later in the Gospel of Matthew. In telling the Parable of the Sower Jesus said concerning the seed, or Word of God, that is planted in men’s hearts:
“5 Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth. 6 But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away. 7 And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them. (Matthew 13: 5-7)
Of a truth, the hardness of heart is coupled by our Lord with the thorns and weeds in our hearts which often grow well on rocky soil. Now the Lord spoke of this shallow soil full of rocks as being those who gladly hear the word of God, but cannot hold onto it because of persecutions and temptations. The weeds and thorns are the cares of the world and deceitfulness of riches which choke the seed and do not permit it to grow to maturity.
And so, we suffer from hardness of heart, which the Lord warns us about and tells us, “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?” And He also tells us what we treasure is where our heart will be drawn.
Now we ask ourselves, how did we get this disease of a hard heart? Father Maximos tells us that there are three things that lead to a hardened heart and these three things are directly related to today’s reading. They are: 1) “Over pre-occupation with worldly affairs.” 2) Focus being on physical pleasures, and 3) “obsession with wealth.” (p. 59 The Mountain of Silence). Father Maximos and the Church Fathers did not make this up. They simply listened to the Lord and examined their own lives and saw the truth in what the Lord was saying. These three passions which so closely resemble what Jesus was teaching us about today, “rob the power of the heart to channel its energy toward God.” as Father Maximos puts it. Or as our Lord told us today, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”
How then, can we switch our investments? How can we change bankers so that our treasure is laid up in heaven? It takes a conscious effort of will. Some of the things that Father Maximos suggests are that knowing the heart is hardened by the seductions of the world we must become vigilant:
so that we keep the mind focused on God, regardless of whether we are monks, hermits, or ordinary people living in the world. For instance, upon waking up, anybody can begin the day with the Prayer [Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me]. If you do that, whether you are a monk or not, you will notice the following: when you discipline the mind to start being preoccupied with God from the moment you wake up, your day will begin to unfold within the Prayer and will bring a certain inner peace. (p. 59)
This is a very simple and pragmatic approach to follow. Many people like to think of the Orthodox Church as mystical and otherworldly. Maybe it’s the incense and the chanting, I don’t know. However, we really aren’t. We are firmly grounded in the pragmatic, the spiritual, yes, but the spiritually pragmatic. We look at something and evaluate whether it works or not. We inherited this approach from the writers of the book of Proverbs. Wisdom is practical knowledge that works. We can take a look at our lives, see that we are broken and separated from God, look at how we are supposed to live according to the words of Jesus, and then we see how it is that we can fix this with God’s help. The Lord tells us to shift our focus from things that perish onto Him instead….so we do. There is nothing mysterious or “out there” about that.
Do we suffer from hardness of heart? Well, it’s time to chip away at that hardness one prayer at a time until we have a broken and contrite heart, which, we are told in Psalm 50, the Lord will not despise. We will have a heart of stone replaced with a heart of flesh that is receptive to the Lord and will allow Him to flourish there as He so desires to do.
31 “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”
© 2010 Fr. Philip Kontos