Monday, December 24, 2018

Fr Touma (Bitar): The Mustard Seed and the Nativity

Arabic original here.

The Mustard Seed and the Nativity

Brothers, the Lord Jesus poses a single issue and there is no other besides it. The issue is the kingdom of heaven. "Seek first the kingdom of God and its righteousness and everything else will be added to you." In the kingdom of heaven, there is no king and citizens subject to him. In the kingdom of heaven, all are kings, priests and prophets. Everyone without exception possess these three privileges. As for the Lord God, whom we call the King of Kings, He has truly proven to be a king of another sort. After He emptied Himself and took on the form of a servant, He connected kingship and service in every sense of the word. God is love and His kingdom is a kingdom of love. So the entire concept of kingship is changed in the kingdom of heaven.

"The kingdom of heaven resembles a mustard seed." A mustard seed almost isn't noticed by a person, just as humankind did not notice the child in the cave. Thus, in this world people do not notice the kingdom of heaven. Moreover, people have no regard for the kingdom of heaven and assign it no value. They regard it as nothing. Therefore the kingdom of heaven is hidden from the eyes of most. It is not that God is the one who denies people the kingdom, because He desires that all be saved. But people's standards and concepts put them in a state where they ignore everything that has something to do with the kingdom of heaven. So the kingdom of heaven resembles a mustard seed. If those who do not believe and those who do not carefully and faithfully seek the truth are unaware of the kingdom, then we must be careful in our lives to pay attention to the small things before the big ones. We must pay attention to the details. Love in truth-- and the kingdom of heaven is a kingdom of love-- is manifested first and foremost in the details. Therefore, O brothers, every day of our life we pay attention to what is little, inconsiderable, what most people don't care about. Someone who pays attention to the details is someone who cares about the truth and who grows in spirit and in truth. The mustard seed is liable to grow. A person takes it and plants it in his garden. This person is each one of us. He must accept the mustard seed. He must accept the word, the word of God, because the entire kingdom is saved, is stored away, in this seed, in this word. Therefore the Lord Jesus said, "The words that I speak are spirit and life." One who gives no value to the word of God cannot give any value to the kingdom. Therefore each one of us must be careful to take up the word that the Lord God spreads within us. He must take it up. He must maintain it, plant it in his garden and care for it like the faithful, energetic farmer cares for his crop.

"It grew and became a great tree and the birds of heaven took shelter in its branches." The kingdom always starts tiny, a murmur, a word. And after that, it becomes a great tree, a symphony, a divine epic battle. You know that for the ancients, a tree is a sign of fertility. To speak of a great tree is to speak of the most perfect fertility, which a person acquires if he takes the word of God, plants it in his garden, in his heart, and maintains it until it gradually grows, without him knowing how, and becomes a great tree. Then the birds of heaven take shelter in its branches. The birds of heaven might be angels and they might also be humans. In reality, we are looking for the holy man in this world. The answer is the holy man and we have no other answer. By man, of course, what is meant is man and woman, a human being. This is the one who truly allows us to take shelter in his branches so that we may not burn, because the rays of the sun bear down upon us. The devil's rays bear down upon us. We are liable to burn in this age. Of course, without branches we can neither absorb God's kindness nor benefit from God's rays, from the sun of glory. Then everything turns to ruin, to dryness, to devastation, to death. Therefore we must take our candle, the candle of the true word, zealous of what belongs to God, and search for the holy man, so that we may take shelter with God in him. God comes to us with people and through them. A human being is saved by a human being. In any case, God is capable of coming to us directly, without the intermediary of a human being. But He Himself became a human. Therefore He commanded, "Bear one another's burdens and thus fulfill the law of Christ." This is the new law. So the kingdom of heaven is a mustard seed. If a person is absorbed with the cares of this world, he can't notice it.

The kingdom of heaven also resembles leaven. Leaven works in secret, in the sense that it works in the heart. It works in very being. It works by grace. God doesn't come with commotion. He doesn't come announced. God comes in silence. We must learn to be silent if we want to stand before God in spirit and in truth. "Speak, Lord. Your servant listens." A person cannot hear so long as he loves to talk. Someone who always seeks to talk cannot hear because if he hears, he hears in order to talk. We must be silent in the sense that we must stand before God as ones not knowing, and ones who seek not only to know with the mind, but also to know with the heart. Knowledge with the heart is love. So we seek to enter into the sphere of divine love. Silence is tied to love. For this reason, the kingdom of heaven resembles leaven which works in secret, in silence, but with force. Simple leaven leavens much flour and a great dough. The woman took the leaven and hid it in three measures of flour. One who seeks to fulfill the will of God must always pay heed so that he is not like the hen who fills the world with crowing when she lays an egg, because the rat will not hesitate to come and snatch the egg. So we must work in secret. We must work as through we are hiding. The ascetics of Egypt believed that any virtue a person has that appears openly becomes a vice.

And so "she hid it in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened." Things have their timing. God's schedule is always different from people's schedules. He always comes when people don't expect him to come. When a person isn't sensitive to the kingdom, he treats things with a lot of confusion. Each one of us needs to submit himself completely to God and to God's work. The Lord gives us what He wants today, tomorrow or the next day. This is His affair and it is not our affair. It is enough for us to know that we stand before God and seek God. What He gives us or does not give us is His affair.

"Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as He made his way to Jerusalem." You know that the Lord Jesus spent most of His time in Galilee. Of course, He went several times to Jerusalem. But Jerusalem was always the place where the Lord Jesus had to go in order to die there. "As He made His way to Jerusalem." Each one of us is making his way to Jerusalem. Making his way, in practice, to complete death to the self before he dies in the body and is cast into the grave. One who has learned to die to himself every day is one who even if he dies, shall live. "And one said to Him: Lord, are there few who are saved?" A question of the mentality of the children of this world. "Are there few who are saved?" We are always concerned with gathering information and regarding this as knowledge. This knowledge has no value for God. The knowledge that God values is for a person to seek salvation, not for him to know whether or not those who are saved are few. What was the Lord Jesus' reply? He said, "Strive to enter by the narrow gate." One asked Him, but He replied to everyone. The question, in practice, is about each person's eternity. "Seek to enter by the narrow gate." Salvation requires one to strive. There is effort. There is toil. We must toil every day. We must strive to enter by the narrow gate. Of course, people always like to enter by the wide gate. Why do people enter by the narrow gate? They make an account of the hardship to which they will be subjected. But if they set their eyes upon what awaits them inside, when they enter by the narrow gate, they will be greatly consoled, since at that point they are ready to endure the hardship and difficulty. So we must always set our sights on seeking God. "Your face, O Lord, I seek." Let none of us get lost in the details. We are going to the heavenly city. Our destination is God's heart. We wish to settle in God's bosom, in His love. He whose heart is moved by love is ready to endure every hardship. We not only endure the hardship that comes to us from outside. We are all the more so hard on ourselves until we are accustomed to entering behind the veil, within the temple, within the kingdom.

The Lord Jesus continues and says, "Many will seek to enter and will not be able." Many will seek. So He is talking about a time to come. There is a time when the kingdom is available to all. And there is a time when it is no longer possible for one to enter the kingdom, even if he seeks with tears. Therefore we do not wait until tomorrow to repent. We must take the initiative to repent today. Why are they unable, as He says? They will seek to enter and they will not be able. Does this mean that the Lord will shut the gates in front of them? This is true. But it is also true that if a person practices estrangement from God for a long time, he will no longer be able to respond to God's word. Something in him dies. So let none of us surrender to his sin. We always commit sin out of ignorance, out of stupidity, out of weakness, out of obstinacy, out of self-affirmation. But if we let go and surrender to sin, then a time comes when sensitivity to sin dies. And then, sensitivity to divine things dies within us. A person is no longer able to respond. The most terrible loss that can afflict humankind today is for humankind to no longer be capable of seeking God. When the will dies within us, we die! So long as the will is alive within us, then it is always possible for us to return from our error. But when the will dies within us, then who do you think will bring us back? God has supplied us with a compass that shows us the way. He has given us His Word to be a guide so that we may know north from south and east from west. He has given us everything we need. After that, we cannot blame Him for anything. So we must beware of God's will dying within us, of the will for good dying, the will for salvation. And so the prophet said, "He has blinded their eyes so that they may not see with their eyes and return and be healed." When a person reaches the point of lifelessness with regard to his will for God, then God completely deprives him of a chance for salvation.

"When once the Master of the house has risen up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open for us,’ and He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know you, where you are from.'" One who does not want to know the word of God says, without knowing from where, that he does not want to know God. "Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets.'" All of this is of no use. This trite familiarity is worthless for God. He was among us and we did not believe in Him. Can we easily benefit from His word? Impossible! "But He will say, ‘I tell you I do not know you, where you are from.'" A stranger to God is a stranger to His commandment. "Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity." Workers of iniquity have no share with God. There is weeping and gnashing of teeth when a person is cast out, by his own will, by his own desire. Because he wanted that, because he insisted on that, because he was unshakeable in that, he is cast out of the divine sphere. One who is not of God's clay cannot be with God. There is weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, while you are cast outside. We have one concern so long as we are in this life here: to enter within through the narrow gate. The important thing is for our names to be written in the Book of Life. This is the only concern. Man has no other concern. Everything in this world is given and added to us, so long as we need it, if we walk in faith with God.

"They will come from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and sit down in the kingdom of God." Here the Lord Jesus reaches out to us until the last day. It is as though He is responding indirectly to the question the person asked: "Are there few who are saved?" "They will come from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and sit down in the kingdom of God." God has many witnesses in this world. He knows them. One cannot know them or count them. One is only called to enter by the narrow gate and to work for his salvation through love of God and of others. After that, it is not fitting for him, if he is a child of the kingdom, to be concerned about something that is not useful. And that which is not of the kingdom is of no use! It is born dead.

Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)
Abbot of the Monastery of Saint Silouan the Athonite-- Douma, Lebanon
December 23, 2018

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