Homily for the 3rd Sunday After Pentecost
Archpriest Alexander Webster
(June 4/17, 2018)
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit!
Do you remember when you were a little child and you’d fall asleep in the back seat of your parents’ car heading home from a summer vacation or a visit to family friends? The next morning you’d awaken in your own bed! What a miracle that was! Until you got a little older and discovered that the “miracle” was known as “dad”! He was the one who carried you from the car to your own bed, undisturbed, tucked you in, kissed your little forehead, and blessed you for a good night’s rest.
That’s what good dads do!
It’s no mere coincidence or accident of nature that we, each of us, have two parents instead of one. At least, it takes both a father and a mother to conceive a child. What happens after that depends on the personal moral and spiritual character of each parent.
But the Lord God, Creator of the universe, has decreed and deemed it fitting — and standard practice — that a male father and a female mother, joined together in Holy Matrimony, raise their offspring together. According to the Holy Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, fathers are supposed to be the primary leaders, the heads of their households, the protector of their families, the primary — if not sole — breadwinner.
The Scriptural Role of Fathers
Fathers on television may no longer know best. They may, alas, appear routinely in TV commercials today as bumbling idiots whose wives — and even children — are always wiser and need to rescue them from their ignorance or stupidity. But fathers in America today are still expected, by most of us in the real world, to give it the old college try!
Most importantly, however, fathers are divinely ordained and commanded to love their wives and their children. As every one of us knows who has ever attended an Orthodox Christian wedding (especially our own!), the Apostle Paul, in the fifth chapter of his Epistle to the Ephesians, enjoins husbands to love their wives even as Christ loves the Church, His bride.1 And St. Paul warns fathers not to provoke their children to anger!2 That’s a tall order, indeed, that I must confess to having failed to meet in my own experience. But, of course, the Apostle knew best.
In the Gospel of Luke, our Lord Jesus Christ Himself explains paternal care and love this way:
If a son asks for [a] bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him.”3
The Divine Father as Model for Earthly Fathers
But it is in the Gospel reading appointed for today, the third Sunday after Pentecost, that we see the true depths of biblical, and therefore, divine fatherhood. Contrary to the claims of many contemporary feminists and other detractors of male human beings, men don’t fashion God the Father after their paternal image. It’s the other way around! Human fatherhood is modeled after the divine prototype.
In today’s reading from the Sermon on the Mount, 4 our Lord Jesus Christ illustrates that truth with elegance and power. If our heavenly Father so cares for the lilies of the field, each one arrayed more splendidly than King Solomon was in his royal raiment in ancient Israel, and if God the Father cares for every one of the sparrows in the air, then surely He will take care of us, His sons and daughters, the crown of all creation. We need not worry about food or shelter or other material things, if we seek His Kingdom above all else!
In his ancient homily for today’s Gospel reading, St John Chrysostom explained why we can trust our Lord’s assurance. St John perceived the profound significance of our Lord’s use of the personal pronoun “you” (that is, ὑμᾶς, the second person accusative plural in the original Greek):
So then he [our Lord] adds, “Will he not much more clothe you?” The force of the emphasis is on “you” to indicate covertly how great is the value set upon your personal existence and the concern God shows for you in particular. It is as though he were saying, “You, to whom he gave a soul, for whom he fashioned a body, for whose sake he made everything in creation, for whose sake he sent prophets, and gave the law, and wrought those innumerable good works, and for whose sake he gave up his only begotten Son.”5
What a magnificent portrayal of God as Father-provider, Father-caregiver, Father-nurturer, Father-protector, and Father who forgives!
Little Johnny was always late for the family dinner. (You can tell this is an old story dating back to a time when families normally ate their dinner together every day!) Finally, one summer evening little Johnny’s father warned him that the next time he was late for dinner he would be greeted with an empty plate and an empty glass. Sure enough, the very next evening Johnny was, as usual, late for dinner. When he sat at the dinner table, the meal was already in progress. Lo and behold, his plate and glass were empty! Johnny was shocked! But before he could begin to cry, Johnny’s father, slowly and without saying a word, exchanged his own full plate for Johnny’s empty plate and the father’s full glass for Johnny’s empty glass.
That’s the kind of forgiveness, self-sacrifice, and love that good fathers have for their children. That’s what good fathers do, because that’s what God the Father has already done, and continues to do, for all of us!
The V. Rev. Archpriest Alexander F.C. Webster is Dean of Holy Trinity Orthodox Seminary and Professor of Moral Theology. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburgh. A retired military chaplain, he has authored numerous books and articles on Christianity and the morality of war.