I lead a Bible Study every week and the people who come like to study the Epistle and Gospel Readings for the coming Sunday. We all find this exercise to be fruitful because it helps all of us to prepare for the sermon on Sunday. In my case, it helps me tune into issues that people find interesting or important. For others, they get more out of sermons on Sunday (even if they are traveling and end up at another Church).
Recently, I have been trying to summarize our sessions as part of my preparation for Sunday and at the request of a fellow priest to help him in his own preparations. In turn, a parishioner requested that I share these summaries with a wider audience. Thus, I will endeavor to get these summaries posted here for all of those interested.
This week, the discussion focused primarily on the Epistle Reading (Galatians 5:22-26; 6:1-2):
Brethren, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us have no self-conceit, no provoking of one another, no envy of one another. Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Look to yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
Of import is the fact that this isn’t the regularly scheduled Epistle for the 10th Sunday of Luke. Rather, it is the reading for St. Savas the Sanctified who was a monastic in Palestine and who defended Orthodoxy at the council of Chalcedon. In other words, the Church is holding up St. Savas as someone who embodies living by the Spirit.
Though it is not part of Sunday’s reading, Galatians 5:16-21 helps us contrast the fruits of the Spirit with the works of the flesh:
Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Note how the ruler of the synagogue from Sunday’s Gospel Reading (Luke 13:10-17) embodies the works of the flesh. When angered by Christ’s healing of the woman crippled by a spirit of disease for eighteen years because it was the Sabbath, the ruler makes an idol out of the Law, demonstrates jealousy and strife, and causes dissension, faction and quarrels. He forgets that the primary purpose of the Law is the revelation of God — who is merciful (as demonstrated by Christ’s healing). In forgetting this, the ruler places the Law above the needs of human beings (again, running counter to God, who provides us the Law for our benefit).
For a contemporary example of works of the flesh, we meditated on the reports coming out this week about the NBA basketball star, LeBron James. It seems that LeBron is selfish to the point of being toxic. His selfishness has lead to strife within his team and the Miami Heat has had a lackluster beginning to their season, despite having one of the most talented rosters in all of basketball. Please note that LeBron James has never won an NBA championship. The best way for him to do so would be to start living by the Spirit. His selfishness may appear to be success, but it is harming everyone around him. If he were willing to sacrifice for others — especially his team — the Miami Heat would be infinitely better than it is right now.