The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (5:14-19)
Humans have always had an irresistible urge to reach for greatness. Rarely do people wake up and say “I want to be completely mediocre as a person.” We should desire to be great. Great husbands and wives, great friends, great children, great students, great co-workers, and great children of God.
Actually this is commanded of us. We are meant to reflect the greatness of God Himself in our lives and our work. This doesn’t mean that we will do all of these things perfectly. But that we will continually strive for perfection, for greatness. But what are the criteria for greatness? Our Lord Jesus Christ tells us very clearly. “Whoever does them (the commandments) and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” That’s it. Greatness is found by obedience to Christ and by teaching and encouraging others to obey the teachings of Christ.
According to the Lord, greatness isn’t found by learning to argue with others, or by joining the various causes of the day. I change my profile picture to the flag of Egypt and then I think that I am great. I tell people that I recycled today and that makes me special. All of this is fluff, a worthless substitute for the gospel of the Lord. The gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is concerned with our repentance and the forgiveness of our sins, leading to righteousness and holiness of life. These are the true attributes of greatness. We recognize and commemorate the multitudes of the saints because of their willingness and desire to follow the teaching of the Lord and to teach others through their words and even more so, through their examples.
In today’s reading Our Lord Jesus begins with these words, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”
Do we appreciate who we are and what our role is in this world? Your role isn’t yours to decide. You were bought at a price. Your life belongs to the Master. Your role is simply to be the light of the world. To reflect the light of Christ. To walk into places that might not be very bright, places that in fact might be pitch black and transform those places by your presence. It is so sad that we are so worried about what the whole world thinks about us. We are so eager to fit in with classmates and co-workers. We live to be liked. We aim not to offend. We just want everyone to think highly of us. But in truth, that isn’t supposed to be our path. The path for saints is the path that makes us seek the acceptance of God before everything else in life.
St. John Chrysostom once said “If you are a Christian, no earthly city is yours. Of our City ‘the Builder and Maker is God.’ Though we may gain possession of the whole world, we are but strangers and sojourners in it all. We are enrolled in heaven: our citizenship is there! Let us not, after the manner of little children, despise things that are great, and admire those which are little!”
You are the light of the world. You became light when you were illumined by the teachings of Christ and put on Christ in your baptism. You now always carry the light of Christ with you. Sometimes the light we carry is a tiny barely lit wick. At other times the light we carry is enough to shine light on everything we are near. Our ability to be light is a reflection of our love for God and the teachings of His only begotten Son Jesus Christ. Let me share another word from the saints. The great modern saint, St. Nektarios of Aegina writes,
“Christians, have we understood the great responsibility that we have taken on before God through baptism? Have we come to know that we must conduct ourselves as children of God, that we must align our will with the will of God, that we must remain free from sin, that we must love God with all our hearts and always patiently await union with Him? Have we thought about the fact that our heart should be so filled with love that it should overflow to our neighbor? Do we have the feeling that we must become holy and perfect, children of God and heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven? We must struggle for this, so that we may not be shown unworthy and rejected. Let none of us lose our boldness, nor neglect our duties, nor be afraid of the difficulties of spiritual struggle. For we have God as a helper, who strengthens us in the difficult path of virtue.”
St. Nektarios reminds us of what is really important, of which kingdom we seek. Our Lord Jesus Christ also tells us what it will take to be considered great in the kingdom of heaven. There is no thought for greatness in this life. The greatness of the world looks like foolishness from heaven. And there is no doubt that the greatness of the kingdom looks like foolishness to the world, since that is precisely what we see with the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Greatness through obedience, humility, sacrifice and surpassing love.
Today as we think about the kingdom, we are reminded of some of the saints of this day including the Holy Royal Martyrs of Russia. Tsar Nicholas, His wife Alexandra, and their beloved children Aleksy, Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia. We remember the tragedy of that day for the Russian people and their homeland. But above all else we remember the victory of the Royal Martyrs. We admire their willingness to disregard one kingdom to inherit another. They were literal royalty. They had a vast kingdom here on earth, and yet they became like the great apostle Paul who wrote “For his (Christ’s) sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him… that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” Phil 3:8-11
Resurrection with Christ. This is the kingdom promised to those who truly love Him with all their heart, mind, soul and strength. May we reach out with boldness and grab hold of what is offered to us with the help of God. AMEN.