7th Sun. after Pent. Aug. 8, 2021; Matt. 9:27-35, Ep: Rom. 15:1-7,
In today’s Epistle St. Paul tells us we who are strong are to bear with the scruples of the weak and not please ourselves. This is a very instructive bit of advice in today’s North American culture. What are these “scruples” we are to bear? We don’t use the word very much anymore, so we should perhaps start with a definition. The dictionary definition is “An ethical consideration that inhibits action.” We might say having scruples is similar to having and listening to our conscience.
There are many “scruples” or morals that we used to share with others without much debate in our culture and in most every human culture. It used to be that the “10 commandments” were considered fairly universally held “scruples,” in North American society. That thou shall not, kill, steal (or even covet), lie (bear false witness), commit adultery seemed to go without saying. However, in our present post-Christian culture, we would have to eliminate the ones pertaining to God; You shall have no other gods before Me, You shall not make idols, You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. We now live in a pluralistic society where everyone’s truth is equally valid, so these simply don’t apply any more. But today, those values which even non-Christian cultures would consider important are under attack. You shall not murder (unless it is a government approved killing such as a helpless developing infant through abortion or someone suffering wants you to kill them.) Coveting your neighbor’s possessions, lifestyle, etc. is what drives our entire materialistic advertising culture. Committing adultery is a popular and often an admired lifestyle. Honouring your parents is only recommended if they are worthy…
I’m not pointing this out just to rant about how far we have devolved in such a short time – really just a couple generations. No that would be a much longer homily. I’m pointing it out to illustrate just how many varying “scruples” we will encounter in our relationships with each other. This is the case even amongst those who stay closely connected within a group which holds the same values. It is understandable that those of differing religious or non-religious persuasion or diverse political leanings would hold quite different “scruples.” However, it was surprising to see how many various opinions – backed by strong “scruples” – were expressed, even in such a unified group of brothers and sisters as exists within the Orthodox Church, when it came to the moral imperatives of wearing a mask, getting a vaccination, sharing communion, or sharing a hug over the last 1 ½ “Covid” years.
St. Paul is not suggesting we go soft in the following of major moral teachings such as we find in the 10 commandments. In the chapter immediately preceding today’s reading he gives us a couple of examples of the type of “scruples” we are to bear with. He chooses fasting rules and ranking certain days as higher in importance than other days. He tells us we are to (Rom. 14:1) “Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things.” Let us not be judgmental of others who have differing opinions in less important issues.
We should carefully consider today’s Epistle from St. Paul. “Bearing with the scruples of the weak, not pleasing ourselves, seeking God’s patience and comfort that we may be “like-minded” towards each other and together with one mind and one mouth we may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” As we developed our own “scruples’ regarding what appropriate behavior should look like during these times, have we tended to bear with those who have anxiety or differing opinions? Or have we tended to beat them, metaphorically, for not “getting it.” Covid has become a challenge as to whether we are willing to simply love those who have different “scruples,” or do we need to show them the errors of their ways for not thinking as we do. How do we “please our neighbor for his good, leading to edification?”
The culture around us, while espousing to be becoming ever more “tolerant” seems to be increasingly less willing to consider anyone’s viewpoint that doesn’t fit the latest viewpoints of this “tolerant” culture. Polarization – them vs us – type thinking is growing in the prevailing culture. If you are a “conservative” I can’t associate with you as I’m a democrat/ “awoke” person and vici versa. Christ lived in a time far more politically charged than even our own politized era. The Pharisees were constantly trying to get Him to make a political statement. Remember the tax question? I challenge you to find a scripture in the Gospels that espouses a political point of view. Godly morality and Godly “scruples” have no one political home. “My kingdom is not of this world, and you would have no power unless it was given you from above” was Christ’s answer to Pilate, the political leader in charge of the region. St. Paul’s conclusion in today’s Epistle regarding the strong bearing the scruples of the weak and not pleasing ourselves, is that we who are strong and certain of the grace of God, and we who are weak and fearful of transgressing our scruples, together should with one mind and one heart glorify God, accepting each other and praying for the love of God to fill us for each other.
In today’s gospel we find Christ healing the two blind men and casting out another demon, having just raised the ruler’s daughter from the dead. He is travelling about Palestine healing the blind, the deaf, the mute, the cripple, the paralyzed, the infirm, casting out demons and fulfilling the prophecies of the Messiah. (Isiah 35: 4-6) “…He (God) will come and save us. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall hear. Then the lame shall leap like deer, and the tongue will speak clearly…” Fr. Tomas Hopko gives us a good definition of what “saved” means. It is to be, Protected, Healed, Rescued, and Delivered!
How blind must one be not to recognize that this is the Messiah, the Son of God incarnate? Christ often encounters and heals the blind, and yet the paradox is that those physically blind recognize Him as the Messiah – the “Son of David”, whereas many of those following Him with great physical eyesight are completely blind that this is the Messiah whom all of mankind has been awaiting. Who is truly most blind?
Christ is always willing to restore our vision, but only when we desperately want it. We often are not even aware of how blind we are, as our physical vision is so completely dominant, keeping us 100% focused on physical reality, that we are barely aware of the reality of the spiritual realm all around us. The first requirement in being healed is knowing that Jesus Christ is God and loves us and can accomplish our salvation in as much as we allow Him to. Like the blind men we need to have complete faith that He can heal us. But just as important, like the blind men in today’s gospel, we need to know we are in need, and then desperately want to be healed.
May we, like the blind men in today’s gospel, ask God to heal our blindness, to allow His precious light to illuminate the areas in our lives that keep His grace and tender love from reaching into our hardened hearts. May we receive His love for our suffering brothers and sisters, and the strength and courage to allow Him to change our thinking that we may bear with their scruples. He has come into the world to save us – to Protect, Heal, Rescue, and Deliver us.
For He loves us and all of mankind. With the feast!