This sermon was preached by Father Joseph Gleason on Sunday, April 26, 2015 at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois.
Transcription by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. God is One.
In the Gospel we just read, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.” In the Epistle reading today, in the book of 1 Peter, Saint Peter also talks to us about returning to the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls . In today’s Epistle reading, he says this:
Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake; whether it be to the king as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God. Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king. Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward.For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls. [1 Peter 2:13-25, KJV]
For a moment, I want you to think about Jesus on the Via Dolorosa, the way of suffering, the way towards His Crucifixion. On the way to the Cross, do you think Jesus ever said, “I don’t deserve this. I am God. I am hole and perfect. I haven’t done anything wrong. I don’t deserve this”?
On the way to the Cross, do you think Jesus ever said, “these sinners, these people, they don’t deserve this. They don’t deserve what I am doing for them. They’re not worth it”? On the way to the Cross, while people were cursing Him, spitting on Him, abusing Him, murdering Him, do you think He said, “I have to set them straight. If I don’t put a stop to this, nobody else will”?
On the way to the Cross, do you think Jesus ever said, “man, I just really want my La-Z-Boy, and a Dr. Pepper, and a nice TV show, and a hamburger. I just want to relax. I just want some comfort”? On the way to the Cross, do you believe that Jesus ever even thought any of those things?
When another person mistreats us (and I am not just talking about any random person out in the world, even though that counts too. I am talking about those closest to us – a parent, a child, a husband, a wife, a priest, a deacon, subdeacon, bishop; anybody that really matters to us). . . If someone mistreats us, at what point do we say, “I’m not putting up with this anymore”?
Why do we respond that way? Why are we often unwilling to obey the command God gives us in 1 Peter chapter 2 to patiently bear suffering and not to fight back? I think in most cases it is one of four reasons:
1. “I don’t deserve this.”
We put up with it for a while, and then finally we are done. We’re not willing to put up with it any more. The reason we give is, “I don’t deserve this.” In other words, “I am so good, that I deserve to be treated better than this.
2. “You don’t deserve this.”
We put up with it for a while, but finally we’re done. Our reason is this: “You don’t deserve this.” In other words, this other person is bad and undeserving of patience or respect.
3. “If I don’t put a stop to this, nobody else will.”
“If I don’t put a stop to this, nobody else will.” In other words, “justice depends on me.”
4. “I don’t like the way this feels.”
“I just don’t like the way this feels. It hurts, and I want it to stop now.” In other words, “I want personal comfort now at any cost.
Let’s look at these four reasons that we give for refusing to endure suffering, for refusing to endure verbal abuse from other people, for stomping our feet and lashing back at them in anger.
I Don’t Deserve This
The first reason is, “I don’t deserve this. I am so good that I deserve to be treated better than this.” We imagine that we ourselves are so good that we are above these rules that are set forth in Scripture.
“If I had been a rotten kid, then of course, I should be forced to listen to my parents. But I’m a good person, so I shouldn’t have to put up with this verbal abuse.”
“If I were an evil wife, then I would need to learn submission. But I’m a good wife. I’m nice to my husband, so I shouldn’t have to put up with this from him.”
“If I were a lazy employee, then of course I’d have to learn obedience to my boss. But I’m a good employee. I’m a good worker, so I shouldn’t have to put up with his from him.”
Yet, think about it: Did Jesus deserve what he suffered? No! Yet, when He received verbal abuse, He did not open His mouth in anger. When He suffered, He did not respond by threatening anyone. Jesus patiently endured verbal abuse and physical suffering. In today’s Gospel, Jesus says, “the good shepherd gives his life for the sheep.” He was willing to endure suffering and death because He loves us.
When somebody mistreats us, when somebody is abusive towards us, why do we lash back in anger? Why do we return evil for evil?
You Don’t Deserve This
The second reason that we do this is because, in our hearts, we say, “you don’t deserve this.” The other person is bad and undeserving of patience and respect. We imagine that we would obey this command under better circumstances.
“If my parents treated me better, then I would honor and obey them.”
“If my husband was more respectable, then I would listen to him.”
“If my boss was more reasonable, then I would patiently listen to him.”
Yet, what does God say about the other person and how you should respond to the other person? In Philippians 2:3, we read: “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.”
If you think you’re better than your parents, better than your spouse, better than your kids, better than your boss, you’ve already disobeyed this! You are commanded by God to be lowly in your thinking, not just in your words and actions but lowly in your thinking.
We are really good at putting on a show. We have learned how well humility works socially. So with our words, sometimes we are very humble. With our actions, sometimes we are very humble. But in our minds, we are still thinking, “you jerk! I am better than you. You don’t deserve my respect.” As Scripture says, out of the treasure of the heart, the mouth speaks.
Eventually, you can’t keep it back anymore. It just pops out of your mouth. You say, “where did that venom come from?” Well, it was in here [the heart], and it finally came out.
God says, in your heart, in your thoughts, in your mind, “in lowliness of mind, let each esteem others better than himself.” That’s right! Think of yourself last.
When you think of your husband, think of him as being better than you. When you think of your wife, think of her as being better than you. When you think of your parents, think of them as being better than you. When you think of your boss, think of him as being better than you.
You say, “I can’t do that!” You can’t obey God? Stop saying you can’t do it, and start asking, “Lord have mercy on me. How can I do this?” He will answer.
In Romans 12:10, we read: “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another.” If it is between you and that other person, you give preference to them. “Oh, but I’ve done that ten times already.” Great! Do it an eleventh time.
“But I have given preference to the other person 700 times.” Great! Time for 701. Christ went all the way to the Cross, and who in this room has gone that far yet?
The other person, the one you despise, the one you say is unworthy of respect: that person is created in the image of God. Not one of you in this room would dare to spit on the face of Jesus on any one of these icons that you see in this room, would you? Do you not spit on His image whenever you despise a person created in His image?
Leviticus 19:18 commands, “love your neighbor as yourself.” You say, “you don’t understand. This isn’t my neighbor. This is my spouse. This is my boss. This is an evil, abusive clergyman. This person so messed up that this person is my enemy!” Guess what Jesus says you are supposed to do with your enemies. You love them. You love your enemies.
In 1 Peter 3, what did Saint Peter tell us?
Finally all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous, not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing. [1 Peter 3:8-9, NKJV].
Jesus would respond to His detractors when they mocked, when they asked Him questions from false motives. He would calmly, gently, and respectfully talk about it. There are cases in which they would say, “this is what’s going on. This is wrong. This isn’t right.” But never did that inflame His anger.
When do you see Jesus angry in Scripture? Rarely. When they had blasphemed the name of His Father by turning His Father’s house from a house of prayer into a den of thieves, a house of merchandise, a place of greed. Then Jesus gets angry. He makes a whip. He drives out animals. He knocks over tables. He makes a scene.
When there is a crippled man with a hand that has been withered up for years, and he cannot use it at all, the question is posed as to whether it is okay to heal on the Sabbath. The religious leaders are more interested in the letter of the law on the Sabbath than they are compassionate for this man. Because of their lack of compassion, it says in the book of Mark that Jesus was angered.
He was angered when His Father was blasphemed. He was angered when self-righteous religious leaders would have no compassion for the sick, the poor, and the suffering. Never once in Scripture do you see Jesus respond in anger when somebody verbally abuses Him or physically beats Him. Even when they give the ultimate insult and crucify Him as a common criminal, murdering the innocent, his response is, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.”
There are things which could arouse the wrath and anger of Jesus, but He Himself being personally attacked was not one of them. He did not respond in anger just because people attacked Him. Think about it: did Jesus patiently suffer all of this for the deserving or for the undeserving? He didn’t go through all of that because we deserved to have God die for us. We don’t deserve it at all, and He endured it anyway because He loves us. He has called us to follow His example in showing our love for one another, deserving or not.
If I Don’t Put a Stop To This, Nobody Else Will
When somebody mistreats us and speaks at us in anger, why do we lash back in anger? We say, “I don’t deserve this,” or we say, “you don’t deserve this. You’re not worth me bearing this.” Then the third reason, “If I don’t put a stop to this, nobody else will. In other words, justice depends on me.”
We imagine that justice depends upon us and that we alone can carry it out. We imagine ourselves as knights in shining armor battling the forces of evil. We imagine that we would patiently endure suffering except for the fact that it wouldn’t do any good in this case. We imagine that if we keep our mouths shut and patiently endure suffering, then the “bad guy” is going to get away with it. In this way, we convince ourselves that we are lashing out against the other person not because of selfishness but because of a desire to do good.
Read Romans 12 beginning in verse 17:
Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceable with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather, give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” syas the Lord. Therefore
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
If he is thirsty, give him drink;
For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. [Romans 12:17-21, NKJV]
For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
[Matthew 6:14-15, NKJV]
As we read in today’s Epistle reading in 1Peter 2, Jesus set the example. He didn’t revile back. He didn’t threaten back. Jesus committed himself to Him that judges righteously. Jesus had no worries that justice would fail to be done. Jesus trusted His Father to take care of things all in good time. The man, Jesus, did not have to take justice in his own hands.
I Don’t Like the Way This Feels
Finally, there is a group of people that will lash back to verbal abuse in anger. They’ll return more verbal abuse back. They’ll “holler back.” They’ll complain back. It has nothing to do with any of these first three reasons. They aren’t thinking it through at all. They’re not saying, “I don’t deserve this.” They’re not thinking, “you don’t deserve for me to respond nicely.” They’re not even thinking about justice and that “if I don’t put a stop to this, nobody else will.”
This last group of people is the most self-centered of all. They just say, “I just don’t like the way this feels. This hurts. I want personal comfort now at any cost.”
It’s not that they think about how their actions are going to hurt their spouse, or their children, or their church, or their family. It doesn’t even cross their mind. They don’t think about it at all. All they think about is their own suffering, their own pain, and “how can I stop it now? I want comfort now.” Nothing else matters.
This reason is the most selfish of all. It does not even take the other person into account. In this case, you lash out in anger simply because you want to avoid pain at any cost. You seek your own personal comfort without taking time to think about what God commands and without thinking about how your words will affect the other person.
Read Philippians 2:4: “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”
There are many people in this world who have been deceived into thinking they are good people. You ask them, “how often do you plot evil things against your spouse?” That person will honestly say, “well, never! I never plot anything evil against my spouse. I don’t want to hurt him.”
“Okay, how often do you plot self-centered and vile things against your children or your parents?” This person will honestly say, “never! I don’t want anything bad to happen to my parents or my children.”
“How often do you plan to do wicked things to your boss or your co-worker?”
Because this person, truly from their heart, never makes evil plans for other people, never plans to do wicked things to other people, they think they are good, they are righteous. Yet, they are violating this command: “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”
You see, there are some people that don’t plan any evil things to happen to anybody else because they don’t think about anybody else at all. All of their thoughts are simply on “what’s going to make me happy today? I hurt. How can I stop that pain? Here’s something I want to do. Here’s something that would give me pleasure. Oh! This would be a lot of fun.”
And 24/7, every waking moment of every day, all they think about is themselves. They don’t have any time in the day to think evil thoughts about anybody else. They don’t think any thoughts about them at all. How their own self-centered actions hurt and affect other people doesn’t even enter their minds. They truly don’t care. They just don’t think about it.
So don’t just asked whether you have recently thought some evil thought about somebody else. Ask this:
When is the last time I put my own wants and desires and sufferings on the back burner and said, ‘how could I really bless my spouse today? How could I really bless my children today? What could I do that would show honor to my parents?’
Push every thought of self to the back burner, and focus on another human being, and ask, “how can I serve that person? How can I love that person? How can I show that person honor and respect and show that person that they are valued?” When was the last time you did that?
If you are a follower of Christ, you should do it every hour of every day.
Think about it: did Jesus patiently endure suffering and go to the Cross because He was trying to seek His own personal comfort? No. Jesus is our example.
Jesus patiently endured verbal abuse and suffering even though he deserved to be treated better. Jesus patiently endured verbal abuse and suffering to help us even though we did not deserve to be helped. Jesus patiently endured verbal abuse and suffering, and He left justice in the hands of God the Father, trusting Him to judge righteously. Jesus patiently endured verbal abuse and suffering, and He did not seek for His own personal comfort.
We say that we want to be like Christ. Do we really mean it? Are we willing to follow His example?
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Our God is One.
This sermon was preached by Father Joseph Gleason on Sunday, April 26, 2015 at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois.
Transcription by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services. Dormition Text Services provides full service secretarial support (including transcription and publishing services) to Orthodox clergy and parish communities.