11'th Sunday after Pentecost

4'th 2005

Matthew 18:21-35


In old days when Christians were gathered for sermons on the word of God in the small villages in North, some of the preachers had to choose at least one passage from Matthew, chapter eighteen. If a preacher visited a place and had sermons for three days and did not preach on these themes to the congregation, he was held for being a false prophet.

   This chapter is indeed very important, because it is the evangelical law for the Church in every time. I emphasize the word evangelical, because a Christian “have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another – (not to Moses) to him who was raised from the death, that we should bear fruit to God.” (Rom. 7:4)

   The canonical law of the Orthodox Church is not the evangelical law, nor is it a new law we need because we have become dead for the Law of Moses. The canons are rules for the Church in time and history. Many of these laws are now almost ridiculous, because if you are a priest for example you can’t sleep on a hotel. Some of these laws are old and some will be old. But the evangelical law is the law the baptized and newborn Christians who are “not under the law but under grace”. (Rom. 6:14). It is the law for the Church of the first disciples and it is the law for the last disciples and Christians, who bear fruit to God. This fruit is the eternal life.

   Then what is important in this evangelical law?

   The first is humility. The first story in the Church law of Matthew eighteen is this: “At that time the disciples came to Jesus saying: ‘Who then is the greatest in the kingdom of God?’ Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them and said that whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the heaven. And in Matthew 11:29 we can read: “for I am gentle and lowly in heart.” God is humble. And without humbleness it is not possible for us to please God, the holy apostle says. And Peter, who has some problems in the Gospel of this day, how often he had to forgive his brother, he says in his old days in the first letter: “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5). Even Peter seems to have learnt something that he didn’t know before he asked Jesus how many times he had to forgive.

   The Church law is so important that Jesus talks gives advices about what to do with a hand or foot, that causes one to sin. Cut it off and cast it from you. Pluck out the eye that causes you to sin.

   What sin? He doesn’t talk to the world. He talks about his congregation, he talks about his Church and the love between brothers and sisters. Rather my hand and foot, even my eye before not forgiving, not loving my brother and sister. This is the new law of freedom and love. Then, why do we in the Orthodox Church speak so much about canon laws and so little about the evangelical law of Lord our God? The law is for him, the Son of Man too. If he looses one of his hundred sheep who goes astray, he leaves the 99 and seek for the lost. The Church law is even for the Father who is in heaven, because he doesn’t want that anyone will perish. He gives not only his foot, his hand for the nails, he gives his body to the cross and death for us. He really knows and He really has the right to give the advices, that I named.

   What do we do if one of our brothers or sisters goes astray, falls in sin? Shall we call to the priest? Shall we call the bishop? Shall we take our phone and call anybody? Shall we write letters and warn everybody for the brother or sister? That is the usual way. Or those who knows the old canons send copies of canons. What does the evangelical law, the word of God himself say? It says: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother.” (Matthew 18:15). If he will not hear, take with you one or two more. If he refuses tell it to church. If he doesn’t listen to the church, the Church has the power to bind him. Not you or your company, but the church.

  And now Peter is very astonished. If my brother listens to me and I gain him. Then how often shall I forgive him. Up to seven times? It very much!

   And Jesus said: Up to seventy times seven.

   What is wrong with Peters proposal?

   It is the limit. He places a limit and measure to God’s boundless mercy and therefore Christ’s answer to Peter removes the limits and measures from divine mercy a he provides abundant pardon without limits to God’s compassion.

   What are the small sins we do to each other if we compare what we have done against our Father, his Son and the Holy Spirit? It is the foot corresponding to His body. It is the hand and eye to his holy heart and holy body, who the soldier stuck with his lance? Jesus talks about a hundred denarii, 10 cents, ten Swedish crowns, I don’t know exactly, but it is very little. Compare it to more than four millions crowns that the servant owed to his master. It was impossible for him to pay it back. Seven times seven is not enough. God forgives without limits. Then how can you ask for the pennies? If we committed the worst crime that man can commit, to crucified God. How can we pay it back? Is seven times seven enough?

  Then how is it possible that we so often use our foot to bad things against our brother and our eyes to see the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own?

   This is the evangelical law. Amen.

f. Benedikt

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