Passages: Isaiah 65:8-25; Philippians 3:1-4:9; Luke 17:20-18:14
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit Amen!
Art imitates life. “Life imitates art” – Oscar Wilde “All the world’s a stage and we are merely actors” – William Shakespeare “I never paint dreams or nightmares. I paint my own reality” – Frida Kahlo. These quotes and many more like them speak of how art, such as paintings, plays, stories, music, art express life, display reality, teach a life’s lesson. Using all these forms of art tell us a story, capture our minds, personify a feeling to teach us, to guide us towards an understanding of a deeper question. Questions we are not asking or questions we do not care much for the answer for. One of my professors once told me, the answer is worth nothing, if no one is asking the question.
And we see this evident not just in the classical works of Kahlo, Shakespeare, Wilde, Hughes etc. But this practice of teaching and of drawing out questions is also found in scripture. In this beautiful season of Lent, where our focus should be on fasting, prayer, charity, mercy, love – we see these lessons through the parables that Christ teaches. What is a parable? An earthly story with a heavenly meaning. It is a work of art, a lesson to be learned and applied to our life not merely for our physical benefit but also our spiritual. A few weeks ago we learned from the parable of the Prodigal Son – a man who turned back to God, his Father, where forgiveness and blessing are abundantly waiting.
Last week, we read of the unjust steward – a man who wasted what His master had trusted him with and thus was dishonoring himself and his master. And today is the Sunday of the Unjust judge. A man who did not fear God, did not fear man because he ruled with no mercy. Until a widow, a woman who in first century Palestine had no voice, no right, no hope – came to him and asked over and over again for justice. You see today, if a crime is committed and it needs to go to court, our lawyers set things up with officials and due process. However, back in first century Palestine, you had to find your own judge. And if no judge was willing to hear your case, than you had nothing – no matter how wronged you were. And this woman had no one and nothing. But she pestered the judge until he got so fed up that he listened to her just to be free from her.
However, today’s scripture reading, much like every Sunday in Lent, neither starts here nor does it end here. In fact, the parable of the judge is merely 8 verses compared to the entire text presented to us today. Today we also read of the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax collector. Two men, praying to God for forgiveness in two very different ways. One arrogantly, the other humbly – one raising himself up above others, the other asking God to raise him up. Well now I have a question, where do we see ourselves in these parables? Where do we see God?
Our Church is adorned in icons, paintings, stained glass windows, crosses, the Altar, the architectural design of the Church. All of these are icons. Like the parables, they serve as tools to teach. Tools to draw our senses towards God. They are not historical pictures, they are not decorations. In the Orthodox icon of the Last Supper and in the icon of Pentecost, we see Sts. Peter and Paul next to Christ – but Paul and Peter were not there together. In fact, Paul doesn’t show up for quite a while later and when he does he is persecuting Christians. In the icons of creation, we see Christ standing in the Garden of Eden, yet, we didn’t know Christ until thousands of years later. The icon of the Holy Martyr’s of the Armenian Genocide – they bear no names, no identity except for their faith. Because these icons, these artworks, the Divine Liturgy itself, they are tools for us to reflect in. They are mirrors for us to reflect what? What lesson do we learn from these tools, these parables, where do we see ourselves? Where do we see God?
Some are easier to understand than others. God, is the Father who accept us, the Prodigal child. God is the our creator and Lord who has made us the Steward’s over creation and to whom we will answer to. What about today? Perhaps God is the judge who will only listen to our plea, our prayers if we bug him enough? My dear brothers and sisters, today we do not see God in the parables – no rather today Christ invites us to especially focus on us. To focus on our attitudes, our behavior, our actions and our preconceived worldly understanding of our faith. Each of us believe that we are a child of God. We are each created equally, with free will, in the image of God. And each of us are called to recognize that we are the Prodigal Son’s and daughters, we are the unjust Stewards, we are both the judge and woman pleading her case and we are the Pharisee and the tax collector.
We are humans with faults and disagreements. We are artworks in motion. And Christ is teaching us to become tools of faith, Christ is teaching us to become icons. When we look into an icon, yes we see beautiful works of art, but if we do not see Christ then we have fallen short of reading and of fully understanding the lesson we are learning. The tools we are given in Church, Holy Scripture, Badarak etc. are for us to strengthen our faith. They are mirrors for us to look into and see Christ in us. For us purpose? In order for us to equally become tools, icons, works of art in the world around us.
When you look into a mirror and see something that needs to be changed, what do we do? We change. Our clothes, our make up, our hair, etc. we want to look presentable. When we look into scripture, when we come to Church and stand in front of this Altar, who do we see reflecting back at us? If it is not Christ – then we must change. Change our actions, our attitudes. So that when we do step out into this world, a world full of hatred and anger, so that when people look at us and know we are Christian – we become presentable, we become mirrors for other to see Christ. This is what fasting and Great Lent are for. A period of time for us to reflect and look deep within ourselves and with the guidance of the tools we have been given in order to change and reflect God.
And this change is not in a moment, in a flash. No! Rather, change is throughout our lives. St. Paul teaches, it is Christ that takes us from glory to glory. From change to change. It is Christ our Lord and Savior, who came down and took on our pain, our sickness and our toil, lifted up on the Cross and died for us to give us life. And we are called to be imitators of Him. If life imitates art, who does our life imitate? If someone one day paints us as icons in Church, what would we see? Do we have mercy on the weak, do we love those who we do not agree with, do we repay hate with hate – or are we forgiving, are we humble, are we loving – ultimately are we Christian? Because that is what Christian means. To be sons and daughters of Christ. To be anointed, to be prince’s and princesses in the Kingdom of God.
By realizing this, by understanding that we reflect Christ to the world, we also understand, that it is Christ who we must see in others. Christ Jesus teaches, “if you do to the least of these, you do onto me.” If we do not see Christ in the beggars, in oppressed, in the broken, in those who we do not like, in the refugees, etc. – then we will never see Christ in Church, in the Cup – we will never see Christ in us. My dear brothers and sisters, who do we imitate, who do we see, who do people see in us as Christian’s and sons and daughters of God? May the rest of our Lenten journey be a purpose driven journey, not to fast from chocolate or meat or whatever we have chosen. No, but may it be a purpose driven journey to reflect Christ, to be light in this dark world, to change our ways and allow that change to happen through the grace of the Holy Spirit and through the love of God for mankind.