Sermon by Metropolitan Philaret (Voznesensky, +1985)
on the 15th Sunday of Pentecost
Many questions were put to our Savior during His earthly life. For the most part, they were not well intended. His enemies would try to catch Him in His words to prove that He was not divine. Instead, they fell into their own trap and find themselves silenced by His wisdom.
Not too long ago we heard one ask the Lord “Master… is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not?” It was not a simple question, because many considered it wrong or sacrilegious to give to Caesar, yet if He said “No, it is not necessary.” Others would accuse Him of being a lawbreaker. His answer, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” confounded their evil intentions. It is not that Jesus was a clever debater or a brilliant logician; He was teaching divine truths, while silencing His enemies.
Another question regarded the punishment of a woman who was an adultress. According to the law of Moses she should be stoned to death. “What do You say?” If He said “She should be stoned.” many would consider Him hard and unmerciful. If He said that the law need not apply, He would again be accused of changing the law. We all know His answer: “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.”
Many other such questions were put before the Lord; not all of them from a bad motivation. Three weeks ago we heard the gospel reading in which a rich young man asked Him “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” To the Savior, Whose very purpose was to show us the way to eternal blessedness, this was a very good question. The Lord looked on him very kindly.
In today’s gospel reading one of the Pharisees, a lawyer, asked Him “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?” The evangelist notes that he asked the question to tempt Him. The Lord answered “Thou shalt love the Lord with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the great commandment. And the second is like unto it: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” It seems that the conscience of this lawyer was not entirely extinguished. As recorded by Saint Mark, he exclaimed “Well, Master. Thou hast said the truth…. To love God with all the soul, and with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And the Lord answered kindly, “Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.”
And to you and I, beloved is this eternal question: “Will we learn to love God with all our heart, all our soul, all our strength, and with all our understanding?” So that all our thoughts are how to love God with all our being? It was this way with the saints. Recall the troparion to Saint Seraphim: “From thy youth didst love Christ, O blessed one, and didst ardently desire to serve Him alone.” These words were the goal of the great ascetic. And that is how we should love Him. Not because He has need of it; but because there is no greater good, or greater joy for a man, than to love the Lord.
We must remember this when we repent of our sins. Before all else, we must repent that in our worldly life we have not yet learned to love God with all our heart, all our soul, all our strength, and all our understanding. For such a one, although he is still on earth, in his heart is paradise! He is already in blessedness. It is not by chance that the faces of Saint John of Kronstadt and Saint Seraphim often shone radiantly like the sun. The Lord said, “Where there is love, there God dwells.” We need to think more often, Christian soul, and pray that the Lord will teach us to love Him with all our being as our most valuable treasure. When our holy father Saint John of the Ladder appealed to a man to love God, he went as far as to make this comparison: “Love God as others love their lovers.” He thinks only of her. She is always in his thoughts. In such a way a Christian should love the Lord, so that it will be the main treasure of his heart and soul.