Life-giving Love

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Life-giving Love
36th Sunday after Pentecost
3 February, 2008
1 Timothy 1:15-17 ; Matthew 15: 21-28

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

It is important that we remember the Gospel reading today, because it is connected with what the Apostle Paul has just said to us. He says that he considers himself to be the foremost of sinners. He talks about the patience of the Lord with him, and the love of the Lord for him, because he considers himself to be the foremost of sinners. We know details from the Acts of the Apostles (and other writings also) about his life, details which indicate to us why he would call himself the foremost of sinners. Yet, I would say instead that he is the foremost of repenters.

With his co-operation, his life was turned about. That is what this repentance means. His life was turned about. Instead of persecuting the Gospel, the Apostle began to proclaim the Gospel of Christ most effectively. He is an example of repentance for you and for me, because repentance means that we co-operate with the Lord who gives us the strength to turn about. In Him, with Him, and through Him, we are able to turn about from darkness to light, from death to life, from fear to love. This is precisely what happened to the Apostle Paul. This is what happens to you and to me in the course of our lives. I do not suppose that many of us necessarily have quite so dramatic an event happening to us as happened to the Apostle Paul on the road to Damascus ; but that does not matter. What matters is that we are turning our lives about to Him.

What did the Apostle Paul do in the course of his life ? He was primarily known for preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles (that is, the non-Jews). Always, however, in the Acts of the Apostles, he goes first to the synagogues, and then to the Gentiles. This is important for us to remember because there is a correct order to everything. He goes first to the Jews, and then to the Gentiles. All these things are exactly reflecting what happens today in the Gospel. Our Lord, having withdrawn from the Lake of Galilee area, is going into the region of Tyre and Sidon. This area is now known as the Lebanon. This is the time we know about when our Saviour withdraws into non-Jewish territory, and He encounters there, of course, a Canaanite woman. If we hear the word “Canaanite”, it means the original inhabitants of that area of Palestine before the Jewish people came there. It also implies that this person is likely to be a pagan. This Canaanite woman comes to our Saviour today, and she is begging for the release of her daughter from slavery to a demon (at least one – we do not know what the number is, and it does not matter). He answers her not a word at the beginning. Why ? Because our Lord is, in the first place, a Jew living in a Jewish society, living according to the Law. He could not properly speak to this Canaanite woman because she is a pagan, and outside of the house of faith, as it were. It was not correct for Him to speak to her. This still happens today : in an Islamic society, a man cannot speak to just any woman, and I suppose, it goes the other way around, too. There are only certain people you can speak to under certain circumstances. This “whom you can talk to” was very regulated in Jewish society.

He answers her not a word, but she continues to insist. His disciples were saying to Him, in effect : "Do something, because she is pestering us all the time”. Then He speaks to her in a way that often can offend us (such politically-correct-type Canadians). He uses this expression : “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs” (i.e. according to the Jewish reckoning, a person such as she would be compared to a dog, and in such societies this is a very negative comparison). It was a very insulting thing to say. Yet, because she obviously had encountered our Lord and His love somehow, she had been touched by Him somehow. She had heard his words somehow. She knows that this Person could help her daughter. Out of desperate love for her daughter, and with confidence in Him, she begs Him yet more, and she says in her extreme humility : “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table”. Let us remember that immediately our Lord says : “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire”. Her daughter is immediately healed.

In this encounter, by going to the Lebanon, by talking to this Canaanite woman, and by healing her daughter, our Lord is already preparing the way for what the Apostle Paul (and all the apostles also) would be doing after Pentecost. It was definitely not only the Apostle Paul who would be going to the Gentiles. The Apostle Thomas, for example, went to India, and also to parts of Africa. The others went to many other places, but that is another story. Our Lord is preparing them and us for what was going to happen, and He is exactly, in His own way, showing Who He is right now. Who is He ? We heard the answer already in the verses on “Alleluia”. We hear the answer every evening at Vespers : He is a “Light to enlighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel” (Luke 2:32). He is the “Light to enlighten the Gentiles”, and He certainly brought light to the life of this Canaanite woman. He brought light to her daughter who had been possessed by a demon. Such possession is not ever a pleasant condition, because people who are in such a condition are enslaved to fear. We must understand that fear is the opposite of love. God is Love. What is the opposite of this love ? The opposite is not hatred – it is fear. People who are enslaved to “Mr. Down Below” are enslaved to fear. The characteristic of everything in and from “down below” is fear. The Canaanite Woman’s daughter was released from fear this day by our Saviour into the light, and into the freedom of His love.

In the same way, you and I are released by our Saviour from the fears that beset us in our daily lives. Along with the daughter of this Canaanite woman, He sets you and me free, also. If we have the faith of this Canaanite woman on behalf of those who are in need whom we know, the Lord will hear us also. He will hear our cries on behalf of other people whom we know who are enslaved by fear. By our prayers, He will bring them also to the light. I have known this to be the case many times in my life (not because of me), but because I have seen other people pray, and I have seen the results. There are people in our diocese (and outside our diocese) who know how to intercede for other people, and they do so. They seriously care about other people, and they pray for people they love. I have seen how their prayers bear fruit. Their prayers really do bear fruit. Your prayers bear fruit, too. When you are bringing before the Lord those whom you love, those who are in need, you do not always necessarily see it immediately, but those prayers do bear fruit.

You and I are the inheritors of the promise of the enlightenment of the Gentiles (at least most of us are Gentiles). Nevertheless, there are many people who were born Jewish who have come to Christ and put on Christ with us. It is important for us to give glory to the Lord for His love for us, for His care for us, for His patience with us, as He had patience with Saul before he became the Apostle Paul. He has patience with you and me, too, because He is Love. I noticed when I was coming in that you will soon have a whole series of lectures on the topic of love. You could not do better for a subject. When you are studying love and its work, you are studying the Lord, Himself. You are opening your hearts to the Lord, Himself. You are uniting yourselves to the Lord, Himself. You will be the better equipped in this love to be a light shining in this city, which needs so much the light of the love of our Saviour, Jesus Christ. (There once was plenty of the light of His love in this society, but it has been forgotten.) It is time for us to bring it back. That is why we are here.

Let us ask the Lord to give us the strength, the heart, the joy, the focus and the determination to live our lives in the context of this life-giving, liberating love which He so abundantly pours out upon us. Let us ask the Lord to enable us to reveal Him in His love to the people around us by how we, ourselves, live in life, love, joy, freedom, peace, gentleness, long-suffering and goodness. People round about us will take hope, and find our Saviour if they can see this in us. Let us ask the Lord to multiply these fruits of the Holy Spirit in us, so that our lives, glorifying Him, may also help other people come with us to glorify Him : Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.