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Diocese of Charleston Bible Study + July 20, 2016

Romans 15:17-29
Matthew 12:46-13:3

Romans 15:17-29 (NKJV)
Therefore I have reason to glory in Christ Jesus in the things which pertain to God. For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ has not accomplished through me, in word and deed, to make the Gentiles obedient— in mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God, so that from Jerusalem and round about to Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ. And so I have made it my aim to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build on another man's foundation, but as it is written: "To whom He was not announced, they shall see; and those who have not heard shall understand." For this reason I also have been much hindered from coming to you. But now no longer having a place in these parts, and having a great desire these many years to come to you, whenever I journey to Spain, I shall come to you. For I hope to see you on my journey, and to be helped on my way there by you, if first I may enjoy your company for a while. But now I am going to Jerusalem to minister to the saints. For it pleased those from Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor among the saints who are in Jerusalem. It pleased them indeed, and they are their debtors. For if the Gentiles have been partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister to them in material things. Therefore, when I have performed this and have sealed to them this fruit, I shall go by way of you to Spain. But I know that when I come to you, I shall come in the fullness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ.

Matthew 12:46-13:3 (NKJV)
While He was still talking to the multitudes, behold, His mother and brothers stood outside, seeking to speak with Him. Then one said to Him, "Look, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, seeking to speak with You." But He answered and said to the one who told Him, "Who is My mother and who are My brothers?" And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, "Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother." On the same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the sea. And great multitudes were gathered together to Him, so that He got into a boat and sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore. Then He spoke many things to them in parables, saying: "Behold, a sower went out to sow.

Commentary 

In today's Gospel reading, our Lord's mother and His brothers arrive to see Him, and when He is told that they are there, He responds by telling those around Him that they are His mother and His brothers and sisters if they do the will of His Father. This passage is sometimes misinterpreted as being a statement which is in some way demeaning to Christ's mother and His siblings. At the very least, it is often quoted and used to suggest that the Theotokos is not special, or worthy of no special honor, nor are, for example, St. James the Lord's brother and His other family members. This use of the passage, however, does not stand up to scrutiny. If you look closely at what the Lord says here, He actually says nothing about His family members, positive or negative. What He does, rather, is to take the opportunity afforded by the arrival of His family to let His disciples and followers know that they are, in fact, a family. Far from stating that His family members are not special, Jesus here gives the criteria by which they are given special honor within the Church. The Theotokos and St. James the Just, or any other saint, is honored by the Church not because of some familial relationship with the Lord or with other saints. Indeed, there are many Old Testament figures within the genealogies of Jesus as laid out by Ss. Matthew and Luke in their Gospels who were morally reprehensible. The Theotokos and all other saints are honored by the Church because they are those who have heard the will of God and done it.

This beautiful statement is twofold in its meaning for us as followers of Christ. In the first place, our Lord is telling us that we are His brothers and sisters. This means, as St. Paul will later say, that we have all been adopted into the family of God. "If children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together" (Rom. 8:17). Our Lord Jesus Christ is the only-begotten Son of the Father, but through the grace of God, every one of us who follows Him in doing the will of God is also a child of the Father, and an heir to His Kingdom. Though in this life, as did Christ, we suffer and face sorrow and ultimately die, on the other side of death we also find vindication, resurrection, and glory, as did our Lord as well.

This same promise also means that we are all brothers and sisters of one another. While we as fallen human beings tend sinfully toward selfishness, toward regarding ourselves as more important than others, our own as more important than outsiders, those like us as more important than those unlike us, the truth expressed by Christ here in St. Matthew's Gospel is rather that just as we are all descended from our first parents in our shared fallen humanity, so also in Christ are we all united in salvation. We are not saved as isolated individuals, but as a part of a family. Doing God's will is therefore identical to showing love to all of our brothers and sisters, regardless of their relationship to us or lack thereof, and regardless of whether they are like or unlike us. The reality of our adoption into God's family is manifest when we love one another, and live as one, united family. "Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity" (Ps. 133:1).

In this way, love for God and for our neighbor is inseparable. We cannot claim to have God as our Father while hating His other children. We cannot love God and hate our neighbor. The reality of one of these, when lived out in our lives, is identical to the reality of the other. For this reason, St. Paul in today's epistle can mention the collection of gifts which he made as he travelled from place to place proclaiming the Gospel. Though Jerusalem had no particular claim on the residents of other cities in the Roman world, it was not superior to them, nor were its poor and needy more worthy than the poor and needy of any other city. But living the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and following Him in doing God's will, made the believers of Corinth and Thessalonica and Rome brothers and sisters, members of the same family, with the believers in Jerusalem. Just as they would not let their mother or father or sister or brother go hungry or thirsty or live in the streets, so they would not see their brothers and sisters in Christ reduced to the same circumstances.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, if we are followers of Christ, and are pursuing the promised inheritance of God, the resurrection of the dead and eternal life in His Kingdom, we must love one another. We cannot stand by and watch any of our brothers and sisters, no matter who they are, suffer while we do nothing. We should feel the same shame when we see anyone in poverty or humiliation that we would feel if that were our own parent or sibling if we do nothing to come to their aid. Being God's child and heir means being a part of His whole family, and living together in this world, and the next, as one united family.

Questions to Ponder

  1. In today's epistle reading, St. Paul talks about the fact that rather than building on another's foundation, rather than travelling to places where the Church of Christ was already established, he chose instead to go where the Church had not yet gone and the gospel had not yet been preached. Though in our day and age we tend to think that everyone has heard about and understands Christianity, this is still not the case. Our communities are surrounded by people who either do not know Christ, have not heard the gospel explained, or have some extremely skewed view of what Christianity is and teaches. When you encounter people who don't have faith or understanding of Christ, do you talk about your own faith with them? Do you explain what it is you believe and the importance that you have in your life? Do people see the way you live your life and ask you about your faith?
  2. In today's Gospel reading, Jesus tells us that we, His followers, are a family. Do you share a relationship as family with the members of your parish community? When you have issues and disputes with your fellow parishioners, do you resolve them the way you would with your siblings? Do you show the same love and concern for your fellow Christians that you show for your family members?
  3. St. Paul mentions in his Epistle to the Romans the collection which he took as he travelled for the poor of the church in Jerusalem. As their mother church, those who heard the gospel from St. Paul and became members of the Church of Jesus Christ were grateful and gave back to those in need out of love. Does what you give to the Church and to those in need reflect the love of God and your gratitude for the blessings you have received from Him? Are you thankful, and looking for opportunities to give back to your community, or do your Church and your community receive from you leftovers and spare change?

Questions or Comments? FrStephen@stgeorgecharleston.org

Note from the Author – No rights reserved. If you find anything good, or helpful, or worthwhile in these Bible studies from week to week, feel free to take and use it as you see fit. I do not need credit.


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