July 7 - Matthew 6:22-33 & Luke 1:1-25, 57-68, 76, 80 - our patronal feast day - the Birth of Saint John the Baptist
The Gospel lesson for the third Sunday after Pentecost
THE Lord said, "The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
"No one can serve two masters because a servant will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon (wealth).
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow, they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you - you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things, and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well."
The Gospel lesson for the Birth of Saint John the Baptist
SINCE many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the Word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the beginning, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.
In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.
Once, when Zechariah was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. Then there appeared to Zechariah an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified, and fear overwhelmed him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink, even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before the Lord to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
Zechariah said to the angel, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.” The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.”
Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. When he came out, he could not speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept motioning to them and remained unable to speak. And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home.
After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, “This is what the Lord has done for me when He looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.”
Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.
On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. But his mother said, “No, he is to be called John.” They said to her, “None of your relatives have this name.” Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give the child. Zechariah asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And all of them were amazed. Immediately Zechariah's mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. Fear came over all their neighbors, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. All who heard them pondered them and said, “What then will this child become?” For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.
Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has looked favorably on His people and redeemed them. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare His ways." And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel.
As you can see, for this coming Sunday we have two Gospel readings. As I mentioned in the past posts, there are readings prescribed for every day of the year. Of the two readings for this Sunday, one is a regular reading for the third Sunday after Pentecost (which is always read on the third Sunday after Pentecost, no matter on what date Pentecost falls) and a regular reading for the Feast of the Birth (Nativity) of Saint John the Baptist (which always falls on July 7).
Even though our parish is named in honor Saint John, he has seven feast days throughout the year. More specifically, the parish was dedicated to the Birth of Saint John. So every year, July 7 we celebrate our patronal feast day, and this year it falls on a Sunday. Hence, our two readings for the Sunday.
The two readings above are not meant to have a connection, but I think they do connect very nicely. In the first reading, Jesus Christ tells us not to worry about anything in this life, but strive first for the Kingdom of God. And in the second reading we see an example of a couple who did just that - they were righteous before God, took what life gave them and tried to live it out to the glory of God.
Now, when we are told not to worry about what to wear, or what to eat, or how to live, I do not think Jesus means for us to abandon all care in the world. He calls us to strive first for the Kingdom of God, and from this striving make all other decisions in life.
Life is very difficult and life is very different for everyone. Some have it better, or a lot better, than others; while others have it worse, or a lot worse, than others. As the saying goes - grass is always greener on the other side. Strive first for the Kingdom of God, do not be content with what you have.
There is another saying, "God gives to each only what they can handle." I am not fond of this saying because it is not true. Let's look at what Saint Paul has to say about it, "We do not want you to be ignorant, brothers and sisters, of the affliction we experienced in Asia, because we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death so that we would rely not on ourselves but on God, Who raises the dead" (2 Corinthians 1:8-9, emphasis mine). Meaning, life is hard, sometimes way beyond of what we can handle, but still we strive first for the Kingdom and rely on God. We do not worry about why we have this hard life, we do not curse God or those around us about this hard life. We take what we have ("take up your cross" - Matthew 16:24) and do the best we can, trusting that God will fulfill His promise rewarding us for our faith.
Let's take as an example an elderly couple, Zechariah and Elizabeth. They were righteous, they followed the commandments of God as consciously as they could, they loved God and strove for His Kingdom. Yet, they were not blessed with a child. You might say, well, it's not that bad. They grew together to an old age, they remained together, they enjoyed life, not everyone is blessed with a child. In the times they lived, childlessness was not so easily explained away. Israelites considered childlessness a curse from God.
Zechariah and Elizabeth were not content with what they had, they kept praying, even though they were well beyond the age of child-bearing. With childlessness came ridicule, basically, from everyone around. Hence, Elizabeth's words after finding out that she is pregnant, "This is what the Lord has done for me when He looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people." God took away their disgrace, He blessed them with a child, for whom they always prayed.
Zechariah and Elizabeth strove first for the Kingdom of God, and their life reflected this effort. They were ridiculed by their own people, but they remained confident in God, Who guides us to salvation. They did not worry about the things they could not control, and worked on those they could.
Yours in the Lord,
Father Aleksey - your friendly Singac priest