by Fr Gabriel-Allan Boyd
Christ is Risen!
This Sunday, we celebrate the Myrrh-Bearing Women whose extraordinary courage led them to serve Jesus in the midst of some pretty discouraging and frightening circumstances. Courage is the choice and willingness to confront danger, uncertainty, intimidation and pain. The courage of the Myrrh-bearers wasn’t the kind of courage where one enters in to confront danger because they have all the right ingredients to fix the situation. Neither was theirs the kind of courage that someone has because of their indomitable power. It was the kind of courage where they had so much love for God, that they decided to stick by Him and to offer of themselves to Him, no matter what the circumstances. This is what God meant when He told us to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:30; and Luke 10:27). Of course, we also remember on this Sunday the daring valor of the Pharisee, Joseph of Arimathea, who at certain loss of his standing in the Jewish community—as a respected member of their council, and at the risk of his own life, offered ministry to Christ after His death, identifying himself as another one of our Lord’s disciples. About 700 years before the birth of Christ, the Old Testament Prophet Isaiah, lists courage as one of the seven spiritual gifts, as he foresees in the coming Messiah. Thus, it stands to reason that our Lord regards such courage highly, because it’s a participation in who He is…in His courageous love for us. Just a few days ago we celebrated Jesus’ valiant willingness to hand Himself over to a horrific death at the hands of the people He came to save, so that he could kick down the doors of Hades (darkness & death) and fill it with Himself (the source of all light and life), lifting His beloved children to restored wholeness in Him. That’s the ultimate in bravery.
While our Lord holds us in high esteem when we live in courageous faithfulness in Him, He’s conversely displeased with those of us who think that our spiritual gift is to spread a spirit of fear to others. He’s also quite disappointed in those who put stock in such reports. For instance, take the story of the Israelites after God rescued them from Egyptian slavery. God had promised Abraham that he would inherit a land of promise. For these descendants of Abraham, God’s promise to Abraham applied to them as well. God had reiterated His promise through Abraham’s son Isaac, and then through Jacob. Now, through their God-ordained leader, Moses, God has promised that it’s theirs for the taking if they would trust Him to give it over to them. Now, keep in mind, that God had done the impossible in miracle after miracle (plaque after plague), to liberate them from slavery. Then, when their back was against the wall, with Pharaoh’s army bearing down upon them, God parted the Red Sea, allowing about 3 million Israelites to cross over on dry land and swallowing up and drowning the Egyptian army. Guiding this very large group of people through the wilderness, God manifested Himself to them by a pillar of cloud in the daytime and a pillar of fire by night. God, continued to miraculously supply them with enough food and water along the way to help them survive the trip. Over and over again, God was faithful in caring for them every step of the way…and yet they consistently worried. Even though they had escaped Egyptian slavery, they continued to be enslaved to a spirit of fear. When they finally approached the land that God had promised, God told Moses to choose a leader from each of the twelve families (tribes) of Israel, to scout out the land and report back to the Israelites. The account of this is found in the Old Testament book of Numbers, chapters 13 & 14.
So Moses instructed them saying, “Go, see what the land is like and whether the people living there are strong or weak, few or many. Is the land they live in good or bad? Do their cities have walls around them or not? Is the soil rich or poor? Does the land have trees or not?” He also told them to bring back some fruit from the land, because it was the season when grapes were beginning to ripen.
So, these twelve leaders spent the next 40 days, scouting out all the various regions of Canaan (The Promised Land). Then ten faithless scouts gave their report. “This land really is a land flowing with milk and honey…and the fruit was the best we’ve ever seen or tasted. The cluster of grapes we brought back is so large that we had to hang it from a pole carried between two men. But we’ve got to warn you that we’re better off staying away from there. The people who live there look pretty menacing, and their cities have very large, fortified walls.” These ten scaremongering scouts had begun to spread a spirit of fear among the people.
But one of the twelve scouts named Caleb, having united himself with the spirit of the Lord, was far more courageous. He stood up and silenced the crowd saying, “Let’s go now and take possession of the land. With the Lord’s help, we’re more than able to conquer it.”
Nevertheless, the other ten scouts shouted Caleb down saying, “We won’t be able to take back God’s Promised Land from these people! They’re far too strong for us!” And they began exaggerating to the Israelites about what they saw in the land they had explored. They said, “This place is so overwhelming that it will devour us if we try to live there. Most of the people we saw there are actually giants. We’re so small by comparison, that they’ll just squash us all like we were a bunch of grasshoppers.” They did their best to instill a sense terror.
Unfortunately, these alarmists’ fearmongering worked. They had accomplished their dirty work, spreading the voice of doom. The Israelites were filled with fretfulness. Every possible negative scenario was at the forefront of their hearts and minds, rendering them paralyzed from ever accomplishing God’s will. And so, they spent the entire night complaining to Moses and Aaron.
Both Joshua and Caleb—the only two scouts who were united with the spirit of the Lord—tore their clothes in mourning over the people’s lack of faith in God…and because of their treachery against their God-ordained leader, Moses. These two brave men stood before all the people and asserted once more, “If the Lord is pleased with us, He’ll bring us into this land flowing with milk and honey and give it to us! Don’t rebel against the Lord, and don’t be afraid of the people of the land. The Lord is with us, so be courageous in doing God’s will!”
But instead of listening to the wise council of Joshua and Caleb, the people suddenly began planning to stone to death Moses and Aaron. That’s when the glory of the Lord appeared and asked Moses, “How long will these people treat Me with contempt? How long will they refuse to trust Me in spite of all the miraculous signs I have done among them? I’ll strike them with a plague…I’ll destroy them….” God was pretty angry with both the fearmongers and with the people who were so faithlessly willing to be swayed by them. As a result, none of them ever entered the promised land. Instead, they wandered around the wilderness for 40 years, until they died off, and their children learned well enough to trust God’s instructions for entering the Promised Land.
What a contrast these terrified Israelites are from the courageous Myrrh-bearing women we celebrate this Sunday. What a contrast they and Joshua and Caleb are from us many of us today. Are we united with the spirit of the Lord? Our Lord has conquered death by death. Over and over again He’s been faithful to us in leading us out of one misfortune after the other.
Have any of us fooled ourselves into thinking it was all our own doing that led us out of that misfortune? Have we succumbed to the faithless impulse that we can’t devote our resources to fulfilling God’s will in San Jose, in our Metropolis, or in our Archdiocese, because of the precarious state that this might leave us in…or worse, because we can’t be in control of it? None of those thoughts are from God. But this is: “For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of miraculous-power, agape-love, and sober self-discipline” ( 2 Timothy 1:7). Truly, our Lord is Risen! So, under what spirit have you been operating?