The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost 29 August 2021
The readings the lectionary prescribes for this Sunday are as follows:
1 Corinthians 4:9–16; Matthew 17:14–23
Here is a summary of the two readings, as the beginning of reflection:
1 Corinthians 4:9–16 By the will of God, the apostles were exposed to want, suffering, rejection, and ridicule, whereas their converts construed themselves as righteous, honourable, and wise. However, in a Christlike manner the apostles responded to their oppressors with kindness, forbearance, and blessing. The converts had to look up to the apostles, who birthed them in the faith, learning from them how to walk on the path.
Matthew 17:14–23 A father brought his epileptic son to Jesus to be healed and, reluctantly, the Lord casted out the demon, healing the boy. Since the disciples could not heal the possessed youth, they asked Jesus why and learnt that they needed genuine faith, as well as fasting and prayer, in order to do so. If they had faith, they could have moved mountains. Then the Lord disclosed to them his upcoming death and resurrection.
The message of this Sunday emerges at the crossing of the two readings. Before grasping the message, a brief reflection on the readings is in order, by which we explore their common denominators:
Wisdom Glorious yet put to shame—this was the lot of the apostles. This likewise is the lot of all those who follow the Lord and keep their faith free of worldly concerns. Glorious yet put to shame—this is the destiny of those who live in Christ. They inevitably endure, albeit in different ways, what he endured. Some are still put to death. Some are mocked, persecuted, or marginalised. The supposedly righteous contest with the pagan oppressors to put down more of the Lord’s followers. The supposedly righteous are always right, wise, and honourable, while the servants of the Lord earn ridicule and shame for being truthful to their Teacher. In the Gospel story, the sorrowful father trumpeted the ineffectiveness of Christ’s disciples. In addition, the disciples heard from the Lord that they did not possess true faith, that they did not pray, and that they did not fast. Always learning, always examined, and always falling short of the standards, the first disciples had to keep learning and progressing, as we do. In the process, all the disciples are derided, crucified, and put to death, whether literally or figuratively. Yet this is how they experience rebirth and are able to give birth to others, to move mountains. The mountains that must be moved are not geographical features: they are the prideful, the arrogant, the knowing, the righteous among the believers who are not yet true disciples. But to be transformed and to move, these mountains must endure cross, shame, and ridicule, as we all do. It is up to them to remain mountains of boastful righteousness and dry, arrogant virtue—or to change into mild hills and tame landscapes, ever growing in the Lord and yielding fruit twelve months a year (Psalm 1:3; Revelation 22:2). Should they wish to change, they become spiritual bread for others, including for their guides in the faith, who do neither need not deserve the mockery of their disciples.
It is in this light that we can pinpoint the message of this Sunday, which we can further use for personal and ecclesial meditation:
Message Christian love entails being there for each other, not judging or despising one another for our respective weaknesses and failures.
The materials rendered above are excerpted from Doru Costache, Reading Scripture in the Orthodox Church: The Sunday Cycle (Sydney: AIOCS Press, 2018) 47–48. The book is available in print and in digital formats.
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