5th Sunday of Lent
I will confess to you that I was tempted to buy a ticket for the $640 million Mega Millions lottery. I told myself that if I won, I could live with a paltry $50 million and give the rest to family and to charity. But alas, I did not buy a ticket, and I will tell you why.
If a person believes in God as we Orthodox Christians do, then he/she accepts that everything happens either with God’s blessing or with His permission. Thus winning the lottery is a result of God’s will. I do not believe that God would want me to win. Even if I gave it all to charity, having a boatload of money is not always a good thing. I think that if this parish had $100 million in the bank, its problems would not be solved. Instead, it would have a new set of problems. If I gave $100 million to my friends, the missionaries of India or Africa, they would have a new set of problems. To paraphrase St. Basil, there are two kinds of temptations, one from bad luck and the other from good luck. I cannot say which kind of temptation is worse.
Today’s gospel reading begins with the Lord cautioning His disciples about the coming events. “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death, and deliver him to the Gentiles; and they will mock him, and spit upon him, and scourge him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise." A core belief of Christianity is that God did not choose the easy path, but rather the path of suffering for humanity, for His creation.
Two of His disciples, the brothers James and John, came with a request, "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory." One of the vices is something called vainglory, the desire for recognition or attention. Satan once tried to tempt the Lord with vainglory,
“Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: ‘He shall give His angels charge over you,’ and, ‘In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone’” (Matthew 4:5-6).
Though the Lord did not fall to temptation, apparently James and John did; many of us do the same. Notice how gently Jesus corrects them. He does not attack or insult them, but instead He points out that greatness comes at a price. “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?" Later, when all the disciples are gathered together, He gives them another lesson.
"You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.”
Today’s epistle ended with the words, “purify your conscience from dead works to serve the living God. “ We are called to do what is important, to serve the living God, rather than to do what is popular, “dead works,” in the language of the Bible. . And so, when I am tempted to buy the lottery ticket, I remember what the Lord told James and John, "You do not know what you are asking.” In trying to win the lottery, I am asking for power; I am asking for pleasure, and I am asking for recognition, all by means of the money that I would win. True joy and true power come not from these, but rather from God. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23).
I leave you with a wonderful hymn, sung today near the end of the Matins service.
"The Kingdom of God is not food and drink, but righteousness and ascetic practice and holiness; therefore rich men will never enter it, but only those who place their treasures into the hands of the needy.This is what David the Prophet teaches when he says, 'Righteous is the man, who is merciful day in and out, who delights in the Lord. He walks in the light; he will not stumble.'"
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Text: Mark 10:32-45
At that time, Jesus taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death, and deliver him to the Gentiles; and they will mock him, and spit upon him, and scourge him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise." And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him, and said to him, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." And he said to them, "What do you want me to do for you?" And they said to him, "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory." But Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?" And they said to him, "We are able." And Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared." And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant of James and John. And Jesus called them to him and said to them, "You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."
Text: Hebrews 9:11-14
BRETHREN, when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the Holy Place, taking not the blood of goats and calves but his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify your conscience from dead works to serve the living God.