Sunday, April 3, 2011

Sunday of St. John of Sinai


Luke 13:22-30

He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. And someone said to him, "Lord, will those who are saved be few?"

And he said to them, "Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, 'Lord, open to us,' then he will answer you, 'I do not know where you come from.' Then you will begin to say, 'We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, 'I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!'

In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last."

Genesis 15:29-30

Then Laban said to Jacob, "Because you are my kinsman, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?"

Now Laban had two daughters. The name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful in form and appearance. Jacob loved Rachel. And he said, "I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel."

Laban said, "It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to any other man; stay with me."

So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her. Then Jacob said to Laban, "Give me my wife that I may go in to her, for my time is completed." So Laban gathered together all the people of the place and made a feast. But in the evening he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob, and he went in to her. (Laban gave his female servant Zilpah to his daughter Leah to be her servant.) And in the morning, behold, it was Leah!

And Jacob said to Laban, "What is this you have done to me? Did I not serve with you for Rachel? Why then have you deceived me?"

Laban said, "It is not so done in our country, to give the younger before the firstborn. Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other also in return for serving me another seven years."

Jacob did so, and completed her week. Then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel to be his wife. (Laban gave his female servant Bilhah to his daughter Rachel to be her servant.) So Jacob went in to Rachel also, and he loved Rachel more than Leah, and served Laban for another seven years.


John of Sinai, Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 15

The place of temptation is the place where we find ourselves having to put up a bitter fight against the enemy, and wherever we are not involved in a struggle is surely the place where the enemy is posing as a friend.


St. John of Sinai’s Ladder of Divine Ascent is a mystical-ascetical guide to ascending to God. It lays out step-by-step the means for overcoming vice and acquiring virtue. It is a struggle to transcend and, in transcending, to actualize our humanity as God intended it to be. It is this struggle for good, and thus for God, that has historically been the theme of this Sunday.

Jesus’ warning about the narrow door as given in Luke is significantly more ominous in tone than the corresponding teaching in Matthew 7. In Matthew, the teaching has a more distant, didactic tone, but in Luke Jesus paints for us a vivid picture. It is a narrative of those who struggle to do what they believe is right and nevertheless fail. They are left outside confused and isolated, not understanding why they have been excluded.

Yet it is clear that Jesus’ purpose is not to invite doubt but to inspire action. His story begins with the clear exhortation that we are to strive to enter the narrow gate. In Matthew, the passage comes at the end of the greatest arrangement of moral teaching in the Gospels. We are exhorted to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. When we think about the narrow gate, we are not invited to despair but to renew our vigor. We must maintain a vigilant struggle because, as John so aptly notes, peace is often complacency in disguise.

The constant struggle, however, need not be a burden to us. Elsewhere, John will write, “Lucky the man who loves and longs for God as a smitten lover does for his beloved.” In this, we may take a lesson from Jacob, whose seven years of labor seemed to him like only a week because of his deep love for Rachel. Even when he was duped, he gladly endured another seven years of servitude once Rachel had been given to him. Let us be so ready to undertake the difficult task of striving for our salvation, and—like Jacob, when he received Rachel—be even more ready to struggle to preserve what has been given to us.


The things, good Lord, that we pray for, give us the grace to labour for.
--Thomas More

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