Yellow lilies

Lilies, Birds, and Dads

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!

Fatherly Sacrifice

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!



Father Alexander Webster, Dean of Holy Trinity Orthodox SeminaryThe 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.