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Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost 2020 — The Wicked Tenants

What an appropriate reminder to us, here at the end of our Church Year, that we too are the tenants, not the owners, of this world that we live in. The Christian narrative tells us that the created world was made by God specifically for us as a “garden” that we were meant to tend, to care for and to bring forth its fruits. Both the Transfiguration and the Dormition Feasts that conclude the Church year touch upon this idea. On the Feast of the Transfiguration its people traditionally bring to church the first fruits of the year’s harvest for blessing. Mary Theotokos, at her Dormition, is herself recognized as an offering, the first fruit of a redeemed humanity.

Coincidentally, this Sunday’s parable about the “wicked tenants” takes place at the time of harvest. The lesson it suggests to us is a very relevant one. A certain degree of self honesty compels me to admit that I have actually been such a wicked tenant myself. I remember very clearly, when my family was living in a rented apartment, how I gradually forgot my gratitude in finding a place we could afford. Over time, instead, I formed a grudging dislike of my landlord who was “unfairly profiting” from our poverty. I never got so far as beating him up or murder (the laws in this country do not encourage such behavior) but the foundational emotions were all there.

The problem with me and the other “wicked tenants” is the powerful influence that our fallen self-love and self-interest has upon our human moral judgement. It is really quite relentless. This is what our spiritual teachers refer to as a Passion: a spiritual force in our inner world that drives us to do evil things.

Many of the Desert Fathers and Mothers regarded such Passions as natural, God given, powers of the soul that had been harmed through our alienation from God. They need to be healed and then utilized in the right way, rather than destroyed. Some, it is true, speak more violently, of “killing” the passions as something evil and foreign to the soul. We might, for example, hear references of the “Old Man” being “killed” when, in fact, both the old man and the new man are really the same person — us. Similarly we sometimes hear Orthodox people talking about killing the ego but our problem is not that we exist (ego: I am) but, rather, that, because of our separation from God, we tend towards individualistic ego-centrism. Our cure is to add something to the equation — a restored relationship with God.

The first thing the serpent did to Adam and Eve was to separate them from God (in their hearts) telling them that God was selfishly keeping them from becoming “like Him.” This is the Father of Lies. Jesus shows us the truth of God’s willingness to rebuild our broken relationship, to forgive and offer us a way of return, first as servants and then as sons. If we can respond to His willingness with our own willingness, our lives will begin to get better. Day by day, our bent and broken passions will begin to straighten out and be repaired. These healed passions, enlivened by the Holy Spirit, then empower us to be vessels of blessing to other people, to the creatures and the Creation itself. Little by little we will return to the Garden.

Fr. Philip

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