The Orthodox Pages

email: pater@christopherklitou.com 

 TALK ON APOSTLE AND GOSPEL

 READINGS FOR 16 NOVEMBER

        13th November 2008

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Today we are going to begin a new series of talks more in line with a Bible Study class. On days when we haven’t got a specific topic to talk about, we will read and interpret the Apostle and Gospel readings for the coming Sunday. The English text used will be from the Authorized King James Version of the Bible, but we will also compare this with the Greek and rectify any mistranslations as they appear. But before we see the readings I think it would be beneficial for all to know how the readings are selected; in other words, how do we know which reading to say on any particular day? There are two cycles in the Church’s year: the movable cycle and the immovable cycle. The first, the movable cycle is called so because there are no fixed dates in this cycle. It depends entirely on when Easter falls which has a movable date, for example: this year it fell on 27th April, next year Easter will be on the 19th of April and in 2010 it will be on 4th April. Most of the year’s readings fall under this cycle so before I explain what the immovable cycle is let’s see how the movable cycle works.
In the Orthodox Church, the readings of both the Gospels and Epistles are divided into daily readings in such a way that the whole New Testament is read throughout the year except for the Book of Revelations. The order is not the same as found in the New Testament, for example we do not begin with Matthew and end with John: neither do the readings begin with the New Year on 1 January or the Ecclesiastical year which begins on 1 September. The First readings in the Church’s Gospel Book and Apostle Book begin with the readings for the Sunday of Easter. Easter, or Pascha as is more appropriate, is the day of the New Beginning, the New Age. We often call it the eighth day because it symbolises the end of this world which was created in six days and on the seventh the Lord rested. This eighth day is a new day and is the new kingdom that Christians will inherit after the Second Coming of Christ and where everything is transfigured and begins anew for all eternity.

Thus we don’t start with Matthew who begins with Jesus’ ancestral line and with the incarnation of our Lord into this world, but rather with John who begins his Gospel even before the world was created, by telling us that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.” Thus John begins from the very beginning telling us that Christ is God and that he always existed and everything that was created was created by him. For the next few weeks we continue reading from St John’s Gospel until Pentecost. On the Monday after Pentecost, in other words the Monday of the Holy Spirit, we begin readings from St. Matthew’s Gospel, which continue until the Feast of the Universal Exaltation of the Cross on the 14th September. On the following Monday we begin readings from St. Luke and these continue until we reach Great Lent. On the first Saturday of Great Lent we begin with the Gospel of St. Mark, which will lead us to Great and Holy Saturday where ends the cycle and begins again with Easter Sunday. Thus we have four periods of readings with each period assigned to one of the four Gospels.

Having said this it doesn’t mean that during the Period of St. Luke we only read from St. Luke’s Gospel. The Periods refer to the Sunday Gospels readings, but the daily Gospels readings may also contain readings from the other Gospels. Another thing that someone might find confusing is that some readings are not taken from continuous verses or from just one Gospel. In other words the Reading might begin with verses 1 and 2 of a certain chapter then skip a few verses to begin again at verses 9 and 10 and finish with a verse from another Gospel altogether. This you will notice more during Holy week which often has combined readings from the four Gospels to make one reading. The Apostle readings follow a simpler order. They also begin with the First reading on Easter Sunday from the Acts of the Apostles and all the readings until Pentecost are likewise from the Acts. Paul’s letters are then divided into readings for the next 35 weeks, following almost the exact order found in the New Testament, beginning with Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians and so forth. These readings end with the Saturday of Meat-fare Week and then from Cheese-fare Sunday until Holy Saturday special readings are assigned for each day. The readings for the Saturdays and Sundays of Great Lent are from Paul’s Epistle to the Hebrews. That then is the movable cycle.

The immovable cycle means exactly that. It doesn’t move, in other words every reading in this cycle has a fixed date and is read on that date every year unless it falls on a Sunday or is overlapped by the movable cycle. This is the cycle for the fixed feasts for each month. To this belong feast like Christmas, Epiphany, the Meeting of our Lord, the Annunciation and all the Saint Days. When Saint Days fall on a Sunday it is usual for the Apostle reading to be taken from the immovable cycle, in other words the reading is the appointed reading for that particular saint, but the Gospel reading remains from the movable cycle. This is because the main feast on any Sunday is the Resurrection of our Lord. This rule is ignored when one of the Lord’s feasts falls on Sundays. In such cases the resurrection is ignored and everything is taken from the appointed readings for that feast. The resurrection rule is also ignored for certain saints. This Sunday for example, we should have had the Apostle reading for the 22nd Sunday and the Gospel for the 8th Sunday in St. Luke’s cycle, but because this Sunday we celebrate the feast for St. Matthew the Evangelist, both readings are from the fixed cycle for the 16th November.

So after that rather long introduction let’s hear the Apostle reading for St. Matthew’s feast. The reading is from the First Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians, chapter 4, verses 9 to 16.
“Brethren, God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ's sake, but ye are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong; ye are honourable, but we are despised. Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwellingplace; And labour, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it: Being defamed, we intreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day. I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you. For though ye have ten thousand instructers in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me.”
The reading is a common reading for most of the apostles and we will hear it again in two weeks when we celebrate the feast of St. Andrew the first-called. Let’s now see the meaning for each verse:
1) “Brethren, God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death:
Paul is explaining how the apostles must seem in the eyes of non-believers. For them it is not logical for those who have been appointed by God to be his representatives, to be his ambassadors that they should not also share in the glory of Jesus Christ whom they preach. All they can see is that God has shown them to be in the sight of men as the lowest of all men like those who are condemned to death and are walking to their place of execution. But are they not in fact walking the same road to Golgotha as did Jesus Christ? Jesus’ glory was hidden from most men until he was Crucified and Resurrected and even after this, it was only revealed to those that believed in the Resurrection. To all who lack faith they cannot understand the difference between the temporary glory of earthly kings and the eternal glory of Jesus Christ in the heavenly kingdom. The glory promised to everyone who takes up his Cross and follows in the footsteps of our Lord, who follows this road to Golgotha. In this sense all Christians who have inflicted upon themselves a humble life, often accompanied with harsh rules of conduct, are seen by non-believers as people who are depriving themselves of the glory and pleasures of this world and are therefore like convicted prisoners who have been deprived of their freedom to enjoy life.
2) “for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men.”
Paul continues saying that the way of life of the Apostles, the way of life for all Christians makes us a strange spectacle to all the world: to the angels who look upon us with wonder and admiration because we are willing to be humiliated for our faith and with mocking and sneering from men who cannot understand our way of life.
3) “We are fools for Christ's sake, but ye are wise in Christ;”
Indeed to those who do not believe in Christ, we appear like fools and stupid. Only fools would deprive themselves of life’s pleasures, only someone lacking in mental stability would believe in a God who was put to death by his own people. Only someone with the mind of a moron would give up his own life and become a martyr for a God that doesn’t exist. For this same reason they alone are wise and well balanced because their intelligence places them above the simple and gullible followers of a man who said he was God, but was then beaten and humiliated and crucified like a common thief.
4) “we are weak, but ye are strong; ye are honourable, but we are despised.”
Here, the Greek text does not say despised, but un-honoured or without honour. Thus it should read “we are weak, but ye are strong; ye are honourable, but we are without honour”.
The faith of Christians appears as a weakness to non-believers, a weakness associated with uneducated people who are ready to believe whatever anyone tells them. Even today many educated people, especially in the field of Science, tell us that religion is manmade and people inclined to believe in a God have weak characters. It is something concocted by man to control the masses by putting the fear of God into them. Therefore Christians are weak because they have allowed themselves to be controlled in this way, but they are strong because they are above the average man who allows himself to be brainwashed. Again they are honourable in the sight of their fellow non-believers and Christians are despised. They seek for the honour and glory of men which is a recognition of their importance and position in life based on their education and material wealth. As for Christians there is no earthly honour for living a life of humility, for turning the other cheek. Where is the honour in being meek and gentle and in allowing oneself to be led as a lamb to the slaughter? Where is the heroism when one doesn’t retaliate and fight back. Is this then not a sign of weakness, a sign of cowardice which would indeed be seen as despicable.
5) “Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwellingplace; and labour, working with our own hands”
The Greek text has the word “ἀστατοῦμεν” meaning unsettled, which in the King James is translated as “no certain dwellingplace” and in other translations as homeless. Both are correct in meaning, but wandering from place to place would be a more exact translation.
The apostle is saying that from the day that they received the apostolic calling and until that present day, they have been living with a multitude of inconveniences and misfortunes. They have been hungry and thirsty and without clothing to protect them from bad weather. In other words they didn’t preach the word of God to be rewarded with a daily meal. They didn’t preach because they were lazy and instead of doing an honest days work found it easier to rely on charity. In doing God’s work they were often rewarded with beatings and fists in their faces, and they didn’t have the comforts of a permanent roof over their heads. Their mission was to spread the Good News of the Resurrection which meant that they had to move from village to village, from town to town and country to country travelling thousands of miles and this mostly on foot. And they didn’t remain idle as some supposed, but laboured with their own hands to earn their daily bread. This Paul also verified when writing to the Thessalonians saying that: “at no time did they eat another man’s bread for free, but worked for their upkeep labouring day and night so that they wouldn’t be a burden on anyone. And this they did even though they were entitled to ask from the believers to be supplied with food and shelter because they wanted to be an example for others to follow. And they even commanded that if anyone was not willing to work then neither should he be given to eat: a rule that they themselves followed to the letter. (2Thess. 8-10)
6) “being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it: Being defamed, we intreat:”
Being reviled, abused or jeered at, we bless. This is the same teaching we heard from Christ, but with the words “love thine enemy, do good to them that do you harm” This is the test if one truly follows in Christ’s footsteps. It’s easy to love thy neighbour, but to bear no hard feelings for someone who does you harm and on top of that to bless him is indeed a test of ones faith. Many who try to practice this commandment fall into a false delusion. They accept being abused without retaliation, but say within themselves that they suffer it for Christ’s sake, in other words they make martyrs of themselves. Many Jehovah Witnesses do the same when they go from door to door and often hear abusive language or have the door shut in their face. They bear the abuse as thou they are martyrs, but that is not what Christ or Paul had in mind. One blesses and prays for those who do us wrong because we actually love them as our brothers. They do not realize the wrong they are doing because their spiritual eyes are still closed and they are like blind people living in darkness. It is as Christ said on the cross “forgive them for they know not what they do”. If we love them then we would pray for them that their eyes may be opened to see what we see and then they will change from their ugly ways. We hate what they do, but not the person. We must see in all men that they are God’s children created in his image and likeness just as we are. When we can do this then we can suffer or more correctly endure being persecuted with patience. When we are defamed, that is when we are slandered we try with words of kindness and love to calm and pacify the situation.
7) “we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day.”
In the Greek the word for filth is refuse (rubbish) and offscouring is the residue left after cleaning grain. Thus Paul is saying that they have become in the eyes of non-believers as objects that have no worth similar to the rubbish that people cast out and like the chaff that remains after separating the wheat which has no value except for food for the swine.
8) “I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you.”
Paul is justifying why he has written all these things to them: he doesn’t want to be misunderstood that he is accusing them of such unchristian behaviour; he doesn’t want them to feel embittered or ashamed, but to accept his advice as from a father to his children because that is how he himself sees them.
9) “For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me.”
Even though you might have so many instructors and teachers to teach you about Christ and the Christian faith, yet you do not have many fathers, only one is your father and that is me, because through the enlightenment and power that Christ has given me, I have spiritually given birth to you and given you a new life through the Gospel. Therefore I beseech you as my beloved children follow me and be as I am, use my way of life as an example and mimic me.
Now these last lines give me an opportunity to speak of something I was asked about 2-3 weeks ago by someone who on reading the bible was puzzled by the passage where Christ says: “call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.” (Matth. 23: 9) He is not alone in his bewilderment, a great many people cannot understand this passage and churches that don’t have Priests, but ministers accuse us of deliberately ignoring the Lord. As Christ gave such a commandment then why do we call our paternal dad and Priests by the title father? Is this not a blatant disregard for what Christ has said? Well Yes, if we take the phrase out of its context and think only on this one passage, if we take it literally as an absolute prohibition then we are purposely ignoring the Lord. But when trying to interpret passages from the Bible we must be very careful to not isolate passages. We must search for the meaning not only in the chapter we find it in, but also in the rest of the Bible.

So when did the Lord find it necessary to say these words? He was reprimanding the behaviour of the Scribes and Pharisees who with their manner and clothing wanted to make an impression that they were important and worthy of the highest respect. They glorified in their own appearance and demanded to be called Rabbi, Master and teacher. They didn’t call their priests father which was an honorary title reserved for great men who had died like Abraham. Their overall attitude was one of authority and greatness and Jesus was warning the people to ignore their outward appearance. Thus he said don’t call anyone Rabbi in other words Master because there is one who is above all of them, Christ is the Master of all men and the rest are like brothers and equal among themselves. He then said don’t call anyone on earth Father because one is your Father, which is in heaven. But in context with want he had already said he is referring to the authority of a father. The complete authority and power over any person is not someone’s paternal father or spiritual father compared with God the Father who is the original father in that he created all people, The paternal father is just the instrument used to give us birth and likewise the Priest the spiritual father is the instrument that was used to give us our rebirth through baptism. They are like guardians of the person compared to God who is the father and gives life. Thus the emphasis of want Christ is saying is not on the words whether they be rabbi, father or teacher but rather on the authority and power the Scribes and Pharisees tried to impose on the people by using these titles.

But let’s not leave it at just that: but verify this interpretation with other passages from the Bible. If Christ meant that it was prohibited to call anyone but God father, then he himself would have been careful not to use the word when referring to any human being. But he does just that. There are many passages in the New Testament where Christ refers to others using the word father. When telling the rich young man to keep the commandments he mentions among others to “honour your father and mother”. (Matth 19:19) In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus does he not name Abraham as father Abraham? And when he explained that he was the bread of life did he not say that “Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead.”? (John 6:48-49)
When talking on martyrdom He says: And the brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child.” (Matth. 10: 21) and “I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother: and “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me.” (Matth. 10: 37)
“For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death. But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; And honour not his father or his mother, he shall be free.” (Matth. 15: 4)
When he came down from Mount Tabor he was asked to cure a boy possessed with a demon and its say: “He asked his father, How long is it ago since this came unto him?: (Mark 9: )
Then there is the passage where he tells us that if we knock we shall find and “If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? (Luke 11: 11)
So we see that Christ used the word father countless of times which means that he did not prohibit the actual word but that the authority a father has over a child should not be above the authority God has who is the eternal father. If we take the passage literally then what are we to call our fathers and our teachers? Do not even those who accuse us also refer to their parents as father and mother? But Paul also refers to himself as the father to his spiritual children as we saw earlier. And this not only to the Corinthians but also to the Thessalonians and to individuals like Timothy my own son, and my son Titus and Onesimus who he says I have begotten in my bonds.
Thus it is not wrong to call a Priest Father. It is a term of intimacy and love and acknowledgement that through him we received our second birth, our spiritual birth in the Gospel – our Baptism. But also we look to our priests to continually play the role of a father and to nourish us with spiritual food in the same way we look to our paternal father to nourish and give us everything we need for the body. This is how the Church has always understood this passage and that is why for 2 thousand years she has addressed her clergy as “Father”. In all her wisdom and countless of brilliant minds like Sts. Basil and John Chrysostom who were meticulous in every word of scripture, would they not have questioned the use of father if they believed it was wrong?
Another example where certain passages are taken out of context can be found in the Ten Commandment. The second Commandment states: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” If we take it literally then God is prohibiting all forms of art, but not long after he gave Moses the Ten Commandment he then tells Moses to break his own commandment by making “two cherubim of gold; of beaten work shalt thou make them, in the two ends of the mercy seat”. (Exodus 25: 18)
So, is God contradicting himself? Absolutely not! Because he was talking about idols that would be used as deities where people would bow down and worship as gods instead of the One true God. I think no more need be said.
I have used most of tonight’s time on the Apostle reading which doesn’t leave us enough time to give an in depth interpretation of the Gospel reading. As already said the reading is for the feast of St. Matthew and the reading is taken from the Gospel of St Matthew and the passage where he himself describes his calling to the Apostolic throne. Here then is the reading:
“At that time, as Jesus passed forth, he saw a man, named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he saith unto him, Follow me. And he arose, and followed him. And it came to pass, as Jesus sat at meat in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners? But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Matthew 9: 9-13)
As Jesus passed by he saw a man named Matthew sitting in his office where he collected taxes. We have spoken of Matthew before when we saw a brief account of all four evangelists. His occupation was a Publican, or simply a tax collector employed by the authority to collect the taxes from the people. Publicans were hated and held in contempt as being the lowest of all men because they forced people to pay much heavier taxes than those imposed by the authority. This Matthew, hated by many because of his occupation, Jesus saw and called him to follow him. For Jesus to invite Matthew to be an Apostle means that he saw deep within his heart and saw there the hidden goodness of his character. Matthew also must have had previous knowledge of Jesus’ teaching and held him in high esteem. He immediately arose and followed him. He didn’t hesitate to first put his house and office in order, but left everything as it was and followed Jesus who he had met for the first time. The other apostles did the same, but Matthew had more to lose than the others. The fishermen Peter, Andrew, James and John left their boats but they could always return to them and their occupation of fishing if for some reason they chose to leave Jesus’ company. Matthew on the other hand would not have been able to return to his position that he abandoned which would have been filled immediately by many who saw it as an opportunity to get rich quick. And who would have given employment to a former Publican?

Now Matthew was so overwhelmed with joy that the Lord found in him someone worthy of such a high calling that he wanted to celebrate this with his friends. He holds a great feast in his house and invites Jesus to sit and eat with them which he accepts. Matthew probably had in mind that if his fellow publicans and other sinners with whom he associated with heard Jesus then they also would follow him. When the Pharisees saw or rather heard because it’s very unlikely that they were invited to the dinner, so when they heard that Jesus sat and talked with Publicans and sinners they were scandalized. No law abiding and pious Jew would have kept company with Publicans or Gentiles let alone sit down with them at the same table. Thus they asked Jesus’ disciples for an explanation: why does your Master sit at the same table with scum who don’t even observe the Sabbath? Jesus heard what they said and answered “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.” In other words He is the physician of souls and was sent by the Father to heal the sinners who are spiritually sick. If the physician doesn’t sit with his patients and hear their pain how can he give them the right medicine to soothe their pain? Thus he was telling them that we do not abandon the sinner when we have the means to correct him and make him whole.

Jesus didn’t bring judgement on the Pharisees who had the impression that they were spiritually whole, he just said that because they assumed and thought themselves in good spiritual health then they didn’t have need of a doctor, they didn’t have need of him. But also he told them to go and learn what the passage “I will have mercy, and not sacrifice” means. What he is telling them is to go to the Synagogue where the law is kept and read, and there to search the scriptures for this passage. They of course knew the scriptures very well, but they only read them without putting them into practice. The quote is from the Book of Hosea chapter 6 verse 6 “For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” Thus with the help of the Prophet, Jesus justifies that it is an act of mercy to sit with sinners when it is for their spiritual benefit. You, he tells them, can go and learn what the Prophet meant while I who understands will put it into practice. He then again stresses that he didn’t come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. In other words he didn’t come to save them who considered themselves as righteous because they obeyed the letter of the law: the outward requirements like keeping the Sabbath, fasting on the days required and offering their burnt offerings. What they lacked was the spirit of the law and when they realized that they were sinners, because they had no compassion, love or mercy for their fellow men, then he would be there for them as well.