Passages: Luke 4:42-5:11; Isaiah 33:2-22; Romans 12:1-13:10; Matt. 5:17-48
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!
From a very early age I had a love for theatrics. Every since I could remember, I enjoyed acting. During my 11th grade in High School, my school put on Shakespeare’s play of Hamlet. I played the role of Polonius, the wise advisor to the royal family. One of his most famous lines is, “Neither a lender nor a borrower be.” It is a beautiful phrase that speaks about not being in the debt of anyone. Nor should anyone be in your debt. Wise words for anyone to live by.
The concept of debt is something we grow up with from a very young age. Almost instinctively, we have the understanding, when someone does something to us, for us, with us, we owe him or her – we are in his or her debt. As we grow older debt becomes something more tangible Financial debt, student loans, credit cards, mortgages. Borrowed money from a loved one. Growing up I swore I would never get a credit card but society is not built this way. As an Armenian I am indebted to my ancestors. As a son, I am indebted to my parents There are certain cultures that the concept of life debt is a sacred bond. Where one swears a lifetime of servitude to another for having saved their own lives. What about our debt to God?
If there is anyone in the world that has done the greatest act of sacrifice for us, it is God. He created the world, gave us life, gave us His Only-Begotten Son, Christ Jesus to die for our sins. What about our debt to God? When humanity was created the plurality of God’s blessings was evident in the Garden of Eden. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’ And God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.’” (Gen. 1:27-31) God gave to Adam and Eve, God blessed Adam and Eve and with only had one rule, don’t eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. It’s strange to think that today some people are turned off of religion because of the plethora of rules. Yet, back then it was 1 rule and they broke it. Because we all know the rest of the story; Adam and Eve ate of the fruit and sin entered the world. They were expelled from the Garden. That is why today is Expulsion Sunday. They broke their agreement.
Moses and the Israelite’s, were promised to be led to the land of Milk and Honey, if only Exodus 12 states, “(You shall) observe this rite as an ordinance for you and for your sons for ever.” (v. 24) What rite? Loyalty and obedience to God. However, because the Israelite’s did not remain loyal, did not keep their promise, for 40 years they continued in Exile. God gave an agreement, and humanity agreed, then failed to live up to their end of the deal. Humanity did not fulfill their debt to God. So how do we pay our debt to God? What transaction is required or what amount is needed to pay God back?
As Christian’s we believe that our debt has been paid through the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. We have been bought as St. Paul teaches; we have been atoned for. So what debt am I speaking of? Last week during the Gospel reading, Christ is speaking in the sermon on the Mount and as he is preaching about faith, he speaks about prayer. Instructing us on how we are to pray. And he teaches us what we all know today as the Lord’s Prayer – Hayr Mer. And the Lord’s Prayer states “Forgive us our trespassers as we forgive those who trespass again us.” What trespassing’s are we talking about? In Armenian it the text being closer to the Ancient Greek states “Եւ թող մեզ զպարտիս մեր որպէս եւ մեք թողունք մերոց պարտապանաց” yev togh mez zpartees mer, vorpes yev mek toghoonk merots partapanats. “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive those to who we are in debt to us.” So again we see here that Christ is emphasizing our debt to God. Unfortunately, this prayer is not speaking of credit card debt forgiveness. If it was I am sure many more would pray this prayer far more often. No what debt is to be understood in the Lords Prayer?
My dear brothers and sisters, when we are indebted to someone, what does this mean? It means that someone has trustingly taken a risk upon us, and either given us money, time, etc. and it is in our hands as to what we do with what we have been trusted with. They have sacrificed something for our benefit. When a friend out of the kindness and love of their heart, helps us through a difficult time or when a soldier goes to battle selflessly ready to sacrifice their lives, they are giving of themselves trusting that you would also do the same if the roles were reversed. “God so loved the world He gave to us His only son to die for us in order for us to live.” To be indebted to someone means to be in their trust, in their love, in their selfless hope. And Christ in today’s Gospel is ultimately teaching us to honor that debt, how?
Through love, humility, selflessness, hope. Christ tells us to love our enemies, to pray for them. Do good to those who cannot and might not do any good to us. Ultimately do good without expectations. It is easy to be nice, to love, to sacrifice something for someone who we know will pay us back. Credit card companies give us credit based on our record of how trustworthy we are. But Christ is saying be better than that. Our righteousness must surpass that of the pharisees and scribes.
We see this in the words of St. Paul to the Romans, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another…”(Rom. 13:8) I gave the example of banks giving credit out. They only do so, if they trust you will pay them back and with interest. Yet, as Christian’s, as children of our Father in Heaven, we are being called to do not by trusting the person in front of us but ultimately trusting God. Do we want to pay back God for all that He has done? Love one another as He loved us. Do we want to fulfill our Christian obligation as we state in the Lord’s prayer to be forgiven of our debt as we forgive? Love one another as He loved us. Do we want to accept God’s mercy, God sacrifice of Christ Jesus, God’s Promise to us and show that we truly and only trust God? Love on another as He loved us.
Christ ends the Gospel reading today simply with the words, “You, therefore, must be perfect, as you heavenly Father is perfect.” We, therefore must love, as our Heavenly Father has loved. We must give our love without expectation. For those who are parents, you give for your child knowing fully that they could never pay you back. God gave without expecting a payback. And as children, we pray, that we each grow up with a sense of how in debt to our parents we really are, a debt we could never pay back. How much more are all of us in debt to God our Father.
As the words of Polonius in Hamlet suggests, neither a lendor nor borrower be. Don’t lend your love out, meaning don’t love and expect the same in return. No rather love selflessly. Love hopefully. Love unconditionally. And through that love, trust God ultimately. And we will reenter into the Garden of Eden, we will enter into Paradise. Because Paradise is God’s presence. In God’s presence there is only love.
It was Gods love that trampled death. It was Gods love that saved this world from sin. It was God love that paid the ultimate price. Because God is love and to love is to be with God and to be as God to which we are all called to like. What our world needs today more than ever is that love. Not superficial love. Divine love, which works to build, rebuild, strengthen and fortify. Politics are in shambles. Families are broken. Sexim, bigotry, racism, depression, isolation, darkness is growing. Hatred for our own brothers and sisters is evident in how we look and talk to each other here in this Church, our workplaces and in our homes. But if we claim to be a good and faithful believe, if we truly believe that we are Christian’s, saved by the blood of Christ Jesus then, as St. Paul teaches, “let love be genuine, hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good…practice hospitality, bless those who persecute you…do not repay evil with evil…live peaceably with all…overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:9-21)
Therefore, I pray that this Lenten season, as we go through each of these Sunday’s together, may it be an opportunity to love and place our trust in God. Love each other, love your friends, families, co-workers, beggars in the street, enemies. Love those who you don’t agree with. Love those who have hurt you. And this isn’t merely done in words. But picking up the phone and calling them, reaching out to each other. And only then will God “forgive our debts as we have forgiven our debtors.” May the Grace of the Holy Spirit fill us all, may we love as we have been loved, for God is good yesterday, today and for all eternity, Amen!!