Fr. Richard's Sunday Homily, December 1, 2019
Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Let Us Focus on the Riches That Come from Christ
Epistle: Ephesians 4:1-6
Gospel: Luke 18:18-27
St. Philaret, whose feast we celebrate today, lived in the 8th century in what is now Turkey, in the village of Amnia. He himself was wealthy and he married a wealthy woman, Theoseba. Although they owned a great deal of money and goods, they often ended up broke, because, for the love of Christ, Philaret kept giving it all away to the poor.
Once a man came and asked for a calf so he could start a herd. Philaret gave it to him. The cow missed the calf and it bellowed and bellowed. Theoseba began to yell at her husband, “Don’t you feel sorry for that cow now that you separated her from her calf?” The saint praised his wife and agreed with her. He called the man back and gave him the cow as well.
That year there was a famine and Philaret took a donkey and went to borrow six bushels of grain from a friend. When he returned home a poor man asked him for a little wheat, so he told Theoseba to give him a bushel of wheat. She replied, “First you must give a bushel of wheat to me and our three children, then you can give yours away.” Philarent gave the man the two bushels he had left. Theoseba grew angry. Sarcastically, she told him, “Oh, why not just give him half of all the wheat if you really want to share.” So, he gave the man a third bushel.” Even more angry now, Theoseba continued, “Why not give him the bag also, and how’s he going to carry it away with him. Just to spite me, you better give him the donkey too.” Philaret blessed his wife and did just that and man left with all the wheat loaded on the donkey. She and their children began to cry, fearing they would starve to death, but not long after that a family friend sent 40 bushels to them and they had plenty to eat.
The Byzantine empress Irene was looking for a bride for her son, and she sent emissaries out into the country to find a good candidate for the future emperor. One day they came to Amnia and decided to visit Philaret’s home, because, even though they were often on the edge of bankruptcy, Philaret was a dignitary and enjoyed a great reputation in the region. Theoseba was distraught because they had very little to offer these important guests, but all the neighbors pitched in with food and a fine dinner was served. In the end, their granddaughter, Maria was chosen to become the royal bride. This is historically true. As a result, money and fame came to Philaret, but just as before, he continued to give to those in need. People were deeply impressed by his humility and they called him a true disciple of Jesus Christ. There are many more details about his life, and even his wife was slowly converted to greater faith during their marriage, but there’s not time to tell it here.
What I want to talk about is focus. Obviously, the man in today’s Gospel had a focus—it was on his wealth. He couldn’t follow Christ by giving it up, not even for eternal life. Philaret’s focus was on Christ, so he was willing to give up his goods to those in need for the sake of Christ. What you focus on is the lens you use to see this world and then you decide how you want to live in the world you see. One man chose to focus on himself and the riches he possessed, while the other man chose to focus on the Lord and the riches that come from Christ. One man was distracted by his money, the other man was attracted first of all to Christ, despite his wealth.
We get distracted all the time by the people and the things and events in our lives. We can easily lose our focus. Sometimes it is hard to keep our focus where we know it should be, and then live as we see life through that lens. It is not easy to keep focused on Christ, to walk in His way, to see our lives and this world as He shows us, teaches us and guides us. Our thoughts and our passions constantly tempt us to focus on ourselves as the masters of our own lives, telling us to live for ourselves, not for the Lord and for the people He has put into our way. It’s difficult to resist that focus on ourselves, and it’s so easy to be distracted by what is not good for us and what is not helpful to us.
We may be living on automatic pilot so often, instead of plotting the best flight plan for our lives and we can end up flying more by our weaknesses than our strengths, more into what superficially seems good or important, and we neglect to take our plans from Christ. Is it a surprise then that we often crash, even when we are not intentionally doing something wrong? If we do not see this world and live our lives according to the lens of our faith, we have an outlook that will not lead us into the arms of Christ, Who only desires our good. We will land somewhere else.
Christmas is a great opportunity for celebration. It comes in 25 more days. Twenty-five more days that we can use to sharpen our focus on the Lord Who has given us life. Twenty-five more days not to allow ourselves to be distracted by the people and events of our lives, but rather to take those people and events and see them through the lens of our faith.
The days grow darker, let our faith grow brighter. Spirits may sag; then let us lift up our hearts to the Lord. We will be annoyed and angry perhaps; let the peace of Jesus soothe our hearts and let us forgive those who have wronged us. Material stuff and emotional neediness may get in our way; let us take care to nourish our souls and only seek consolation in Christ, not in other people or things. We will be tempted; let us be strong, and if we should fall, let’s repent, get up and move on towards our goal. Every day until December 25th let us get up and say “Blessed be the name of the Lord! Thank you, Lord, for giving me this day and help me to live in, so that all the day long I live according to Your truth!” (I think we sing that somewhere in the Liturgy.) To do this every day.
(My experience at the priests’ retreat.)
So, I will make that my focus to remember that time every day this month. I pray we all will keep a sharp focus these days on Jesus, so that we become, like Theoseba gradually did, better followers of Christ. The rich man fatally lost his focus and allowed distractions to ruin his good desire. May it not ever be so for us. Not ever.
Jesus is Wisdom. Let us be attentive!