In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Glory to Jesus Christ! [Glory to him forever.]
As human beings, we are created by God with both soul and body, and neither soul nor body can fully and appropriately exist and live without the other. Our life does not consist of one or the other. If we say, “I am a Christian,” we are not a Christian only spiritually speaking, but rather we are a Christian in our whole life: everything about our life. As a person we have a body and we have a soul. While, as a Christian and in the Church, we many, many times deal with and hear teachings about our spiritual life, we would not serve much of a profound God if he did not also address our physical life, because they are all intertwined together. We cannot live without this body. We simply cannot, and we cannot live without living within this body, because God will raise it to eternal life.
Therefore, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus speaks of both. We heard in the third antiphon, from the Sermon on the Mount, those very familiar words to us: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Blessed are the merciful.” These are spiritual qualities. But later, in the same sermon, in the same talk, he says, “No one can serve two masters. Do not worry about your life. Do not be anxious.” Those, my dear brothers and sisters, are about our physical existence.
He begins the gospel reading by giving this distinction. He says, “The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.” We are creatures who have an eye gate. Even though we have a mind which makes us human—it gives us the higher faculties—we don’t simply move from thing to thing instinctively like an animal. We have a mind, a rational mind that is able to think through problems, but we also have an eye. That eye sees things, and when we see things, it can lead to the sin of envy.
In other words, the eye can lead us to envy. It can lead us to covetousness. “Oh, I wish I had that—” and fill in the blank, right? That job, that car. Ladies, that purse. Men, that whatever—lawnmower. The eye is given to us to see the reality of life as God has presented to us, and that’s precisely why, in the Church, as it has been from the beginning, we surround ourselves with images because the Lord Jesus Christ is the image of God. When we see him, we see God. Therefore, we have the image, the icon, of him. We have the icon of his mother, we have the icon of the saints, and we see the reality of life the way it is supposed to be.
You’ll hear in some churches, when they pray, they say, “Every eye is closed.” Guess what? For Orthodox Christians, we don’t necessarily close our eyes when we pray, because we’ve seen the true light, we’ve seen Christ, we see the image of God, we see the image of God in each other. He has become incarnate. He’s taken on human flesh, and he’s taken this body and this material world, and he’s trying to restore it to what it was always meant to be, which was to have communion with God. Every material thing in this world is given to us to have communion with God.
If we use our eye to see the material things to feed our own ego, to feed our own desires, to long for things that we don’t need for our salvation, to long for things that don’t belong to us, that we don’t need to exist… and you know what? I mean, let’s say it the way it is: In America, we’re pretty much fat and happy, because we just heap on ourselves more and more and more. When we hear a commercial—this is an old one, but the older people will remember—“You deserve a break today,” right? “Oh, I deserve a break today! I’m going to go to McDonald’s, because I deserve a break today!” Right? It’s all about me. And the more I have, the more I feel good about myself, and the fact of the matter is: the more I have, the more I want and really the less I feel good about myself. That’s the irony of it all.
We have to ask ourselves, “When is ‘enough’ enough?” So that’s why he begins this gospel reading with the eye, because the eye leads us to envy. And then the Lord Jesus Christ just lays it out. “No one can serve two masters. You cannot serve God and mammon—money.” Because you will spend all of your time serving one or the other, but not both. Not both. You will be blinded by the desire for wealth, and even though the Scriptures are very clear, they do not say that the rich will go to hell. What it says is, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” In other words, it can be done, but it’s really tough. You really have to stay focused on God.
The desire for things will destroy us if we don’t get control of it. That’s why Jesus says these words that are very difficult for some of us, me included, because he just says it like there’s a switch that we just “turn it off.” Those of you that don’t struggle with this particular sickness, you don’t understand how difficult this is. He says, “Therefore I say to you: Do not worry. Don’t be anxious.” It’s really hard. What you find out is, when you’re a worrier and when you’re anxious about things, it’s because you want to control everything and you can’t control everything. What’s going to happen is going to happen.
Specifically in this gospel reading, he says, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, about your body, what you will put on. Is your life not more than food and the body not more than clothing?” This is not our life. Our life should not be focused on what we put on or what we put in our mouth, but about our life in the way that we relate to God and in the way that we relate to other people. Nobody every said of someone else, “You know, they’re such a good person. They’re so nice; they’re so kind. But, man, they’re a lousy dresser.” Nobody says that. But people do say, “They’re not a very good person. They’re not a very kind person.” That’s what people want, and that’s what God wants from us.
I had a very difficult conversation with another man this week. I can’t go into the details, but it’s a man [who] is giving up his livelihood, his job, for the sake of Christ and the sake of the Orthodox faith. He has been on a journey for many years, weighing the evidence, and he has come to the conclusion that he can no longer do what he does, because to do what he does, he cannot be an Orthodox Christian, and he wants to be an Orthodox Christian. He is giving up everything for the sake of Christ and his Church. Everything. That’s the commitment that the Lord Jesus Christ says to us at the end. “Do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ for after all these things the Gentiles seek.
Your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things—but seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” In other words, we are made up of a body and a soul, and we are not called to live as though we don’t have a body, because that body is good and it is created by God. The physical life that we live in this world is real. The needs that we have will be provided for by God, because his promises are trustworthy, if we seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. He says it. If you do that, all these things will be added to you: what you need, not what you want. What you need.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, our eye can lead us to covet. It can lead us to envy. We can be blinded by the desire for money, even to the point that we do stupid things and we lie and we steal so that we can have money. Do not envy. The eye is the lamp of the body. If the light in us is good, if we see good things in this life, our body will be full of light, but if we see our own desires, if we see only what’s in it for me, only filthy lucre, mammon, gain, then our body and our life is full of darkness. And the Lord Jesus Christ says here: How great is that darkness! Like the dead of night.
We do have a choice in this matter. Our life as Orthodox Christians is not just a spiritual matter. It is our life. We are body and soul. Let us make good choices. Let us want the things that are needed for our life. Let us not be led by envy. Let us be led by love and by mercy.
To him who is our life, with the Father and the Spirit, be glory, honor, and majesty, always, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen. Glory to Jesus Christ! [Glory to him forever.]