Today we are here celebrating, with pomp and circumstance, the resurrection of our Lord, God and Savior, Jesus Christ. This celebration does not stand-alone; it is adjoined to the Passion, Crucifixion, and Burial of our Lord. So, as in the history of the Orthodox Church, which is often forgotten in our day, Maundy Thursday, Holy Friday, Holy Saturday and Resurrection Sunday are not seen as separate religious observances, isolated with its own purpose, but rather all three observances are seen as one, having a singular divine purpose. If such were the case, then I would postulate “all” of the religious observances of the Church, the “major” Feast Days and the ones that we might consider “minor,” are to be considered one singular divine movement from one end of the liturgical calendar to the other…from the beginning of time, to present and into the future…for is not Christ eternally begotten of the Father, having no beginning or end. So likewise, this experience of Great Lent centers on the Christ, who, as the Bible say, is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. Therefore, our fasting is not confined to 50 days. Our experience of a “greater” prayer life is not isolated to this Fast alone. Our turning away from certain foods is not only for this time period; but for many of us, it is medically recommended to continue it, at least is some sort of modified way, throughout the year. The “extra” steps that we took to refrain from sinful behaviors or excessive desires is not be seen as a struggle for only Lent, but one that must be continued, probably with more intensity, after today.
Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem is anything but triumphant. He rode in on a donkey to enter the gates of Jerusalem. Further, he himself knew this was the beginning of the end, at least in human terms. That is, in the days approaching, he would be betrayed by all, especially by one of his own, and eventually be killed by the plot of the Jews and the authorities of Rome. If we were to stage our own “triumphant” entry in the context of the 21st century, we would “roll in” with the best car, best attire, best shoes, and best perfume. But Christ showed us that to be triumphant has little to do with wealth, prestige, honor, power or glory. Rather, it has everything to do with “humility.” That’s right! Humility! Humility is the key to salvation--so declare the Fathers of the Church. The definition of humility is: a person’s ability to conduct themselves in all things without pride or arrogance.
In the Gospel reading today, taken from the Gospel of Matthew chapter 15, we encounter a gentile woman from the area of Canaan. She approaches Jesus and asks that he heal her daughter who is “extremely” demon possessed. At first Jesus doesn’t answer. Then after a few moments, realizing that she wasn’t backing down, Jesus explains that he came for the Jewish people and not for the Gentiles. The woman, upon hearing this, pleads with Jesus, by worshiping him and saying, “Lord, help me.” But Jesus answered by way of a metaphor and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” She in turn provides a surprising rebuttal: “Yes, even the little dogs eat the crumbs from their master’s table,” showing Jesus how great her faith was. Finally Jesus healed the woman’s daughter at that very moment.
All physical illness is not a result of sin. Although, sometimes, with proper spiritual guidance, it could be determined that there is a connection. For example, the Gospel of John states that the man who was healed from his blindness (John 9) was not blind due to his sin but rather he was blind for the glory of God. In the Gospel of Luke chapter 13, Jesus healed a woman who had a bent back, which was due to a “spirit” of infirmity. How she got the spirit of infirmity is unclear but we can infer that it might have been due to sin. Whatever the case, the Bible teaches us that sickness can be due to our sin, that is, active participation with sinful behavior, or it could be due to our fallen nature, that is, because to us being born into a world of sin we consequently get ill.
As we bring to a close the first week of the Great and Holy Lent, we are introduced to a leper in the Gospel reading. This leper is an outcast of society, quarantined outside the city limits, and forbidden to have contact with anyone. He is treated as sub-human. Further, society has labeled him as accursed by God. Due to this ill treatment, the feelings of despair and hopelessness set in. Life seems almost not worth living. However, a possible way out of this despair seems to be available--Jesus Christ. This “healing-messiah” has been conducting his healing ministry and the leper wanted to receive healing from him.