“By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” (1 John 3:16)
Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate – The Church of Alexandria

St. Mary & St. Athanasius Coptic Orthodox Church
Reaching out to Somerset and Hunterdon Counties in NJ

Weekly Gospel Contemplations

4th Sunday of Hathor

Weekly Gospel Readings
The 4th Sunday of Hathor
The Lord & The Rich Young Man

On this Sunday (12/04/22), the fourth Sunday of the blessed month of Hathor, the Church reads the conversation between a rich young man and our Lord Jesus Christ, found in Mark 10:17-31. The rich young man approaches Jesus seeking how to inherit eternal life. He supports his case by saying that he follows all the commandments and is surprised by Jesus’ assertion that following the commandments of the Old Testament is not enough. Instead, Jesus tells him to “go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Mark 10:21). Rather than being encouraged by this message, the young man walks away sorrowful as he was too tied to his riches.

The message of this passage connects directly to the theme of the year at St. Mary St. Athanasius; “do not love the world nor the things of the world” (1John 2:15). The rich young man was focused on his temporary satisfaction rather than the promise of treasures in heaven. As St. John Chrysostom explains*, “It was well to say to him, ‘You will have treasure in heaven’, and not ‘eternal life’, as He is speaking about the issue of forsaking wealth, to confirm to him, that he would enjoy something far greater than what he sells, as much as heaven is greater than earth.” The young man was so attached to his material possessions that he passed up the opportunity for something of much more value— eternal life in God’s presence.

Another important distinction can be seen in the New King James translation of the Bible between verses twenty-three and twenty-four. In Mark 10:23, Christ exclaims saying, “how hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!” However, in V 24, Christ clarifies by saying, “how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God!” By making this subtle clarification, Christ is explaining how the problem is not merely having material possessions; rather, the root of the issue is when we trust in riches for comfort and satisfaction.

St. John Saba*, of the Syriac Orthodox Church, explains how “those who tasted the greatness of His sweetness, have become haters of all luxuries.” Let the love for God in us eliminate any desire to be attached to our worldly possessions. Let us all say with St. Peter the Apostle, “See, we have left everything and followed you” (Mark 10:28)

References:
* FR. Tadros Yacoub Malaty; The Gospel According to St. Mark
Bible, English Standard Version
Bible, New King James Version

Sunday, November 27th 2022

This Sunday (11/27/2022) is the 3rd Sunday of Hathor and the Church Gospel reading is from Luke 14: 25-35. In this passage, great multitudes were following Christ and He turned to them and began to preach. Our Lord uses several parables to describe how His followers (Christians) should act. He begins by saying, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26-27). He then goes on to say in Luke 14:28, “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?” Moreover in Luke 14:31, He continues and says, “Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand?”. Christ then concludes this sermon in Luke 14:35 by saying, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear”.

Christ uses these parables to emphasize the importance of having zeal, conviction, and determination in our lives with God. First, we must always put God first and not love anyone, including ourselves, more than God. We must not be distracted with the affairs of this life nor with any tribulations that may come our way by “carrying our cross”. In Luke 14:28 He says, “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?”.  According to St. Cyril of Alexandria, Christ uses the parable of the builder to instill great zeal in us. How will one be able to reach a goal, in this case building a tower, if he does not have great zeal? The builder needs to plan and think deeply about what he is doing to be successful. According to St. Gregory of Nyssa, we must learn to bring every aspiration to a conclusion. When we are completing the work of God, we need to do it through His commandments. St. Gregory of Nyssa continues to say, “One stone does not make a complete tower, nor does one commandment bring the perfection of the soul to its desired measure”. This means that we cannot only follow one of God’s comandments, but we must follow all; in order to have a good foundation, we must lay our soul “on a foundation of gold and precious stones”. These stones are God’s commandments.

As Christians, we are called to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength” and to not place anyone or anything ahead of Him. With this comes zeal, conviction, and determination in loving Him and following Him, no matter what, while we bring it to fruition in eternal life. We build our eternal life by first laying down a strong foundation which comes from following God’s commandments. After having this strong foundation in our soul, we need to keep building on it throughout our lives.

Sources:
https://thedivinelamp.wordpress.com/2013/09/01/st-cyril-of-alexandrias-homiletic-commentary-on-luke-1425-35/
https://catenabible.com/com/5735dfb2ec4bd7c9723ba0d0
https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+14%3A+25-35&version=ESV

Sunday, November 20th 2022

Today (11/20/2022) is the Second Sunday of the Blessed month of Hathor, and today’s Gospel reading is from Matthew 13:1-9, which is the Parable of the Sower. In this Parable, Jesus tells us about a sower who while seeding his field, the seeds fell on four different types of grounds: a walking path (Verse 4), a rocky ground

(V. 5), thorns (V. 7), or good soil (V. 8). Only the seeds that were planted on the good soil produced grain.

It is worth noticing that last week (the first Sunday of Hathor), we heard the same parable but from the Gospel of St. Luke (Luke 8:4-15). So why then is the same parable repeated in two consecutive weeks? In reading Matthew 13 we will find it contains a series of seven parables, all of which focus on the kingdom of God theme, but the church fathers wanted to emphasize that this parable is at the center of Jesus’ message of the optimism of the kingdom and of our being as Christians. Even Christ addresses the importance of this parable where He says, “He who has ears, let him hear” (Matthew 13:9), and further explains the meaning behind this parable in Matthew 13:18-23.

It is important to understand the sower in this parable, he is just freely throwing seeds. He knows that seeds that grow where there is rocky soil, the wayside, and where there are thorns do not grow well. Yet, he planted them there. The Lord is not careless but generously spreading His word to all types of inner hearts soil, knowing that even in good soil the harvest differs, “Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” (Matthew 13:8). As St. John Chrysostom says, “For as the sower makes no distinction in the land submitted to him, but simply and indifferently casts his seed; so, He too makes no distinction of rich and poor, of wise and unwise, of slothful or diligent, of brave or cowardly; but He discourses unto all” (Homily 44 on Matthew).

Let us remember that His message is open to not only those who believe Him but also those who do not. He invites everyone to be one with Him. How it affects people is a matter of what is the landscapes in the human heart. As Christians, may we always be the good soil to produce thirtyfold, sixtyfold, and or even a hundredfold and live the word of God.

Sources:
Matthew 13:1-9 ESV – The Parable of the Sower – That same – Bible Gateway
CHURCH FATHERS: Homily 44 on Matthew (Chrysostom) (newadvent.org)
https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matt+13%3A+1-9&version=ESV
https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matt+13%3A5&version=ESV
https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matt+13%3A7&version=ESV
https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matt+13%3A8&version=ESV
https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+8%3A4-15&version=ESV
https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+13%3A18-23&version=ESV
https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+13%3A8&version=ESV

Sunday, November 13th 2022

On this Sunday (11/13/22), the first Sunday of the blessed month of Hathor, the Church reads the Parable of the Sower, found in Luke 8:4-15. In this parable, Christ describes a story of a sower (Farmer) who went out to plant seeds on his farm, and as he was scattering the seeds they fell on four different types of land: the wayside, rocky ground, ground with thorns, and fertile land. When the seed fell by the wayside, birds quickly devoured it. When the seed fell on the rocky ground, it found no moisture or soil to grow so it withered. When the seed fell on the thorns, the thorns choked it. However, when the seed fell on fertile ground, it “grew and yielded a hundredfold.” (Luke 8:8).

As St. Cyril of Alexandria explains, Christ gave us parables because it “beautifully shapes out the subtlety of intellectual things by means of the things of sense and palpable to the touch.” (Sermon XLI), and as the Psalmist said, “I will open my mouth in a parable” (Psalm 78:2).    From this simple and practical story, readers can easily recognize that the sower in the parable is Jesus, and the seed is the word of God, and He reminds His followers and the disciples how there are different responses to the sayings of the Lord, “As He said these things, He called out, ‘he who has ears to hear, let him hear.’” (Luke 8:8), not all will listen to the Word.

The good soil represents those who have strong faith and remain dedicated to a Christian lifestyle, even when things are difficult. As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience” (Luke 8:15). As we can see the importance of having a strong foundation rooted in faith, especially in times of trouble. While faith may seem like a rather abstract concept, Christ uses a parable to give us a clear image of how our faith must have strong roots to be fruitful. In St. Paul’s epistle to Timothy, he urges the Christians saying, “But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith (1 Timothy 6:11-12).

Our journey through life is not going to be without struggle, so let us always remember to be strongly rooted in our faith. Without faith, we will be thrown by the wayside or devoured by worldly temptations.

Sources:
Bible, English Standard Version (ESV)
Sermons of St. Cyril:
https://www.tertullian.org/fathers/cyril_on_luke_04_sermons_39_46.htm
https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+8%3A4-15&version=ESV
https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+8%3A8&version=ESV
https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+78%3A2&version=ESV
https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+8%3A15&version=ESV
https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Timothy+6%3A11-12&version=ESV

Sunday, November 6th 2022

This Sunday (11/06/2022), the 4th Sunday of the blessed month of Paope, the Church Gospel reading is from Luke 7: 11-17. In this passage, our Lord is met at the gates of the town by a funeral procession. The grief of the widowed mother of the young man who had died arouses His compassion and tells her “ Do not weep” (Luke 7:13). Jesus then went and touched the open coffin and said “Young man, I say to you, arise” (Luke 7:14). When He touched the coffin, His power immediately dispelled the presence of death. The dead man sat up and began to speak and all those who were witnessing this glorified God.

In all previous miracles, the Lord was invited, but in this incident, no one summoned Him to restore the dead man to life, He just happened to be in the procession’s path. Was it a coincidence? Obviously, the Lord purposely made this miracle to remind us of the authority of the Son of God and His powerful and miraculous words & touch. “Then He came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, ‘Young man, I say to you, arise.’” (Luke 7:14).

This makes us question why His was word not enough to raise the dead man. St. Cyril of Alexandria reminds us that these actions were intended for us to understand that the Holy body of Christ is essential for the salvation of man. “What is more powerful than the Word of God? Why then did He not affect the miracle by a word only, but also touched the bier? It was, my beloved, that thou mightiest learn that the holy body of Christ is effectual for the salvation of man. For the flesh of the Almighty Word is the body of life and was clothed with His might. The flesh of Christ also has to power of giving life and annihilates the influence of death and corruption because it is the flesh of the Word, who gives life to all.”  SERMON XXXVI-135

Let us always seek victories over spiritual corruption and death with the holy Eucharist.  The Eucharist, as St. Gregory of Nazianzus, says “is the ultimate combination agent. It unites us with Christ, who is a God-made man. In so doing it restores the order between body and soul leading to eternal life, instead of death. It also binds fellow partakers into one mystical Body of Christ.”

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+7%3A11-17&version=ESV
https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+7%3A13&version=ESV
https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+7%3A14&version=ESV
https://sites.google.com/site/aquinasstudybible/home/luke-commentary/cyril-on-luke-7
https://catholicexchange.com/st-gregory-nyssas-amazing-explanation-eucharist/

Sunday, October 30th 2022

This Sunday (10/30/2022) is the 3rd Sunday of Paope, and the Holy Gospel for this week is from Matthew 12:22-28. During this reading, Jesus healed a blind and mute man. After seeing this miracle, the Pharisees accused Jesus of doing so under the name of Beelzebub, under the name of Satan. But Jesus responded by saying “If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?” (Matthew 12:26). He then says “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matthew 12:28).

What is interesting about this interaction between Jesus and the Pharisees is Jesus’ response to these accusations. The Pharisees accused Jesus of being the devil, which is a rather offensive comment to make. However, His response was one based on logic. He did not use Scriptures in this instance but rather gave a relatable analogy of a divided kingdom. Furthermore, Jesus has emotions. For example, in response to Lazarus’ death, St. John the Evangelist writes “Jesus wept,” (John 11:35) thus showing He does have emotions. Yet in this instance, He did not let His emotions get the best of Him. He remained cool, calm, and collected even amid these disparaging accusations.  Additionally, in response to Jesus’ response, St. John Chrysostom writes “Yet for all that, not even so did Christ despise them, but defends Himself with the forbearance proper to Him, teaching us to be meek to our enemies” (Homily 41 On Matthew). Through this interaction with the Pharisees, Jesus shows how it is important to be gentle with people, even those that do not speak well about you.

May God grant us the strength to follow Jesus’ example of how Christians should react when we struggle with false and derogatory accusations. It is important to be gentle, to respond with logic, and to not let emotions get in the way.

Sources:
https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+12%3A22-28&version=ESV
https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+12%3A26&version=ESV
https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+12%3A28&version=ESV
https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+11%3A35&version=ESV
https://www.newadvent.org/fathers/200141.htm

Sunday, October 23rd 2022

On the 2nd Sunday of the blessed month of Paope, the Church reads Luke 5:1-11. In this passage, Christ sits in Simon’s boat and teaches a multitude of people on the land. After his sermon is over, Christ tells Simon to cast his net into the sea to catch fish. Simon explains to the Lord that they had fished all night and caught nothing; nevertheless, he still casts his net into the sea. When they did this, they caught an innumerable amount of fish, to the point where the net was breaking.

Through Simon Peter’s actions in this story, we can learn three fundamentals of Christian life: obedience, humility, and a life of service.

Although Simon had a frustrating night of fishing with no success, he still listened to Christ when he asked him to recast his net. Instead of being frustrated with Christ, Simon was obedient and gained a reward because of his obedience. Obedience is one of the most overlooked aspects of living a Christian life. In Exodus, God tells Moses, “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession” (Exodus 19:5).  Even in times where it seems unreasonable to be obedient, we should acknowledge that obedience reaps rewards.

After seeing the multitude of fish, Simon Peter’s immediate reaction was one of humility. It is written that “he fell down, at Jesus’ knees, saying ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!’” (Luke 5:8). Simon Peter could have reacted with excitement about the enormous financial profit he would gain from the vast amount of fish; instead, he focused on humbling himself before the Lord. Even in times of success, we should focus on being humble and realizing that everything comes from the Lord.

Finally, at the end of the passage, Simon Peter commits himself to a life of service. Christ tells Simon, James, and John, “Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men” (Luke 5:10). As soon as Christ said this, they “forsook all and followed him” (Luke 5:11). A true Christian’s life revolves around serving others and bringing them towards Christ.

Let us always strive to act as Simon Peter did in this story— obedient, humble, and dedicated to serving others.

Sources:

  • Coptic Reader
  • Bible, English Standard Version

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+5%3A1-11&version=ESV
https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Exodus+19%3A5&version=ESV
https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+5%3A10&version=ESV
https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+5%3A11&version=ESV

Sunday, October 16th 2022

On the 1st. Sunday of the blessed month of Paope the Church reads from the Gospel of Mark 2:1-12, in these verses we read the story of Christ healing the paralyzed man in Capernaum.

When the Lord had entered Capernaum and settled in a house and started preaching the word, many people gathered in and around the house until no one can even enter it. St. Mark records that when these men could not get their paralyzed friend through the crowd into Jesus’ presence, they opened a hole in the roof and lowered their friend down before Christ.

The aggressive, persistent effort of the paralyzed’s friends was visible evidence of their faith in Christ to heal. In Mark 2:5 we read that when Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Seeing the paralyzed man’s faith, as well as the faith and determination of his friends, Jesus remedied the paralyzed’s greatest need, that of spiritual healing.

However, the people were then confused since they believed that only God could forgive sins. Jesus replied and told them “Why do you question these things in your hearts?  Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’?  But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” he said to the paralytic “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.”  Mark 2:8-10.

Here we see that Jesus’ power to heal the paralyzed man proved the truth of the Son of Man’s claim and power to forgive sins. As John Chrysostom said in one of his homilies: The scribes asserted that only God could forgive sins, yet Jesus not only forgave sins but showed that he had also another power that belongs to God alone: the power to disclose the secrets of the heart. 

Let us remember that no matter how poor our physical condition is, our spiritual well-being must take priority. Our unforgiven sins are more determinantal than unhealed limbs.

Sources
The Holy Bible – ESV
Patristic Bible Commentary
https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=%28Mark2%3A1-12%29&version=ESV
https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Mark+2%3A5&version=ESV
https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Mark+2%3A8-10&version=ESV

Sunday, October 9th 2022

On the 4th. Sunday of the blessed month of Thoute the Church reads from the Gospel of Luke 7:36-50. This passage talks about The Lord accepting the invitation from the Pharisees to eat in his house when a sinful woman came to Jesus and washed His feet with her tears and anointed them with fragrant oil. This act of repentance made the Pharisees wonder: 1) If Jesus were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman was anointing his feet; (2) if he knew what kind of a woman she was, he would not let her do it; and (3) since he does let her anoint his feet, he is no prophet and should not be acknowledged as such. The Lord knowing what the Pharisee thinks explains the difference between the woman’s act of repentance compared to the Pharisee’s self-righteousness. After this, Jesus declares to the woman that her sins have been forgiven, not only because of her act of love (Luke 7:47 ESV) but also because of her faith “Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (Luke 7:50 ESV).

This Gospel gives an example of repentance. This woman, who we do not know, and should not be mistakenly thought of as Mary Magdalene (Luke 8:2), has committed sins, and it weighed on her so heavily to the point she went and washed Jesus’ feet with her crying tears. She has acknowledged she has sinned with her tears, and she went to Jesus with complete faith in His acceptance. Likewise, whenever one sins, he or she ought to go away from the wrongdoing and come back to Jesus Christ.

The great St. Cyril of Alexandria said, “But Christ arose for us, not to subject our state to the curses that are by the law, but to redeem those subject to sin by a mercy superior to the law”. Jesus is our Merciful Redeemer. The reason He became man is to save us and to redeem us, His creation.

May we always continue to be faithful to Him and repentant so we may become one with Him.

Sources:

  • ESV Bible
  • St. Cyril of Alexandria’s Commentary on Luke Sermon 40 Link

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=luke+7%3A47&version=ESV
https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=luke+7%3A50&version=ESV
https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=luke+8%3A2&version=ESV

Sunday, October 2nd 2022

In Luke 19:1-10, we read the story of a chief tax collector named Zacchaeus seeking our Lord Jesus Christ. As Christ passed through Jericho, Zacchaeus sought to see Christ but could not because of his short stature. So, he climbed a sycamore tree to see Christ. As soon as he did this Christ looked up, saw Zacchaeus, and told him “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.”

While this passage may seem negligible at first glance, the context behind the story of Zacchaeus allows us to understand the important message: when we make a true effort to seek God, he will accept us with open arms.

As St. Cyril explains, Zacchaeus was “a man entirely abandoned to covetousness, whose sole object was the increase of his gains [money].” Zacchaeus was not considered a man of God; rather, he was a man whose life revolved around worldly possessions. Yet, despite this, Zacchaeus had a desire to see Christ and made a determined effort to do so.

St. Cyril compares the sycamore tree that Zacchaeus climbed to our own personal crosses in our lives. It was not a simple task for Zacchaeus to climb the tree; not only was it physically difficult, but by doing so Zacchaeus had to make a conscious decision to deny the world of materialism that he was engulfed in. Zacchaeus was determined to see Christ, put aside his pride, and was rewarded because of his determination.

In a similar manner, Christ tells us “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24 ESV). In life, we will face many distractions that lead us away from Christ. Yet, no matter how far we may seem from God, if we make a conscious decision to deny the world and seek Christ, we will be accepted with open arms.  As Zacchaeus put aside his pride and persisted to see Christ, we must do the same in our personal lives in order to gain eternal salvation.

Sources:
Bible, English Standard Version (ESV)
https://sites.google.com/site/aquinasstudybible/home/luke-commentary/cyril-on-luke-19