by Fr Gabriel-Allan Boyd
“We are called to keep the faith, but we are not called to keep it to ourselves.” ~ St. Spyridon
"When he saw the crowds, Jesus was moved to compassion for them, because they were distressed, exhausted, and fragmented, like sheep without a shepherd." ~ Matthew 9:36
That’s the beginning of the Gospel reading for this Saturday’s feast of the Apostles. Jesus has been walking around through the various towns and villages of Judea, teaching and healing and proclaiming the Good News of how our life is transformed when we push aside our own will to let God’s will prevail over our lives. Crowds have begun following Jesus from town to town. They hear His message…and although they don’t quite understand it…it resonates upon the strings of their hearts in a way that nothing else has before. They seek Him out and follow Him, because, they know they suffer the effects of a brokenness of communion with God and they desperately want to feel whole again.
When Jesus looked out upon the crowds of these exhausted and fragmented people, He was moved with “compassion.” The Greek word that’s translated into English as “compassion” (ἐσπλαγχνίσθη) literally means that it “gnawed away at His gut.” When Jesus saw the struggle that people around Him were going through it had an emotional effect …starting from the pit of His stomach. Why? It was because He loved them. He loved them all the way back to the first man—Adam—and it gnawed at His gut that the pride that ripped humanity apart from our true nature, all the way back in the garden, was the very thing that continued its destructive effects upon the crowds who now longingly stood before of Him…hoping to find in Him a healing balm for their weary soul. Looking out upon those crowds who so desperately needed God’s Kingdom, He told His disciples about the desire of His heart. “The harvest is abundant but there are very few people who are willing to gather His crop. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers.”
In the Orthodox Church, we have a wonderful tradition of asceticism (acts of struggle) from fasting to praying, to giving offerings to the poor. None of these are an end in themselves, but rather, meant to help us learn to abolish our own wills—the pride that rips us away from our true selves in God, so that we may become united with God’s will…with the desire of His heart.
What reigns over your own heart? When you look around are you moved with the same compassion that our Lord had for the crowds? Just this last weekend there were crowds of people gathered in San Francisco for a procession through the streets, celebrating the very thing that first ripped the devil (who was at first an angel in heaven) apart from communion with God—“Pride.” Since humanity’s creation, the devil’s sole objective has been to use that very thing, pride, to rip us away from our truest selves of communion with God. The evil one continues to do what he did in the garden, all those years ago, because his goal is to destroy humanity.
There’s such a temptation for each of us to be lovers of self, stubbornly exalting our individual independence over God’s will. It’s a distortion of communion…of what we were meant to be in Christ—God’s merciful love poured out on behalf of others. Our hyper-electronic interconnectedness hasn’t united us in communion because it mostly gives us so many new ways to exalt our individual appetites. Chronic loneliness, mental illness & suicide have continued to rise over the last 17 years…showing us that our continued self-absorption isn’t making us happier or more fulfilled. In ancient times, idols were merely stone carvings…but the idols of the 21st century have exploded with new sophistication. Today’s idols are celebrity, fame & riches, to sports & entertainment, science & technology…you name it and Americans fervently pour their money and time and offer their adoration to any of those things instead of God. Fearmongering, polarization and virtue signaling have become the new normal in this country—and like sheep being chased by a pack of wolves it’s exhausting. Our participation in the devil’s continued efforts to fragment our communion rots us from the inside out. Perhaps now, even more than in Jesus day, the crowds around us are also “like sheep without a shepherd.” But the question is, does that gnaw at your gut the way it did with Jesus? Do you really share in God’s compassion for them?
If we, in the Orthodox Church ever hope to be unified with Christ…to be one with God in His merciful love…it means that we too must be moved by the suffering hearts around us. When we participate in Christ’s mission to those “sheep without a shepherd,” then we become our truest selves in Him. Thus, we struggle to quash our self-absorbed appetites, learning to unify ourselves with God’s will in reaching out to our neighbor.
But if you’ve never done that before, how do you start? Each of us must begin by simply obeying Jesus’ request to His followers on that day. “Pray to the Lord of the harvest that He would send forth workers.” Then begin praying for each of those who are part of your circle of friends and co-workers. It doesn’t even have to be in front of your icons…you can simply pray to God throughout the day as you encounter each of these people. Simply ask God to help you minister in love to whatever they’re struggling with. Then be alert, paying attention to God’s lead. Wherever you are, the Holy Spirit was there doing His ministry before you ever came along. Wherever you are, He’s there, strengthening and ministering to your heart as well. Wherever you are, He too cares about the people you’re praying for, and He’ll bring the struggles of their heart to your attention. When the time is right, He’ll lead you to the necessary acts of love. Just keep praying and keep paying attention to the Holy Spirit’s lead so that you can cooperate with Him…becoming God’s co-worker (1 Corinthians 3:9). “There is no need to use fine words or elegant phrases; even the most uneducated people can convey joyful love by the spirit which accompanies their words.” ~ St. John Chrysostom
Are you unified with the desire of Jesus’ heart…and joined with Him in His loving will?
Then keep the Faith…but don’t keep it to yourself.