NOVEMBER 2, 2014
What is a saint? The Apostle Paul often speaks of hagioi –– a word that means "holy ones," but is usually translated "saints" in our English-language Bibles. Paul writes "To all God's beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints" (Romans 1:7). It is clear from Paul's usage that he intends
hagioi –– "holy ones" –– "saints"–– to mean the people of God.
In Hebrews 10:10 he refers to saints as people who have been "sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ". We don't use that word, sanctified, very often, but it comes from the word hagios. Sanctified means "made holy." When the author of Hebrews says that we have been "sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ," he simply means that Jesus Christ has made us holy. That doesn't mean that Jesus has made us perfect. It does mean that Christ has made us holy –– set us apart to a Godly purpose –– called us to live holy lives.
As saints, we are linked to each other by our faith in Christ. The New Testament speaks of Christians as brothers and sisters, so we are one family in Christ. We are relatives of Godly people from other races and nations. We are relatives of Godly people who lived long ago –– and of those who will come after us.
THE WORD FROM THE NEW TESTAMENT
Today, on a Sunday set aside to remember and lift up the saints in our lives, both living and those who have gone before us, the lectionary presents us with a religious polemic by the author of Matthew. He cloaks it in the words of Jesus who is criticizing certain scribes and Pharisees of his day who had become a little too full of themselves and their stature in the community.
But this writer is also sending a message to the Christian teachers of his own time, after the disastrous war with Rome between 66 and 73 CE and the fall of Jerusalem; a message that hasn’t lost its poignancy and meaning for those of us today who place a Reverend or Pastor before our names. It’s a message for all of us, lay and clergy alike, who minister in the name of Christ.
As I read it I thought about the saints in our lives. Jesus minces no words about what would not pass muster. On the other hand, what attributes would you need to possess to be a saint in Jesus eyes?
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, ‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honor at
banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with
respect in the market-places, and to have people call them rabbi. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be
THE MESSAGE “Saints in our midst”
When you think of modern day saints, who comes to mind?
(MLK, Mother Theresa, …)
When you refer to someone as a saint, what attributes does that person possess, that makes you think of them as a saint?
(courage, deep faith, love of God, love of others, compassionate, humility, life-giver, servant, moral, integrity, caring, generous, one willing to make sacrifices, seeing others as children of God,
Sounds a lot like Jesus. Hard example to live up to.
In this scripture passage, Jesus, for all practical purposes, is accusing the scribes and Pharisees of being hypocrites, a term used to describe
Christians today by many who have left organized religion. Jesus is
referring to those few in his society who have been well educated in the scriptures and the laws, but are failing to walk the talk. If you teach it, if you proclaim it, you’re supposed to live it.
Richard Swanson puts it well: “If you want to know what a person believes, watch his feet, not his mouth.”
Those scribes and Pharisees cared deeply about the law and believed in following it. So did Jesus - well, most of the time. He broke it when showing that love and compassion at times trumps the law. He tells his followers, yes, follow the law, but do it for the right reasons - not to win a Nobel Peace Prize, or Volunteer of the Year Award in your community.
To be a saint requires humility. “The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble
themselves will be exalted.” or, as Eugene Peterson paraphrases it in The Message, “Do you want to stand out? Then step down. Be a servant.”
In the October 21, 2008 issue of The Christian Century, Carter Heyward
reflects on humility in a way that describes saintly individuals over the
centuries: “Genuine humility is a gift from God which has nothing to do with downcast eyes, a misty voice and noble stories of sacrifice.
Humility is, rather, living courageously in a spirit of radical connectedness with others, which enables us to see ourselves as God sees us: sisters and brothers, each as deeply valued and worthy of respect as every other."
Jesus modeled his vision of radical connectedness, genuine humility and deep compassion throughout the Gospel of Matthew.
When I was a child I had a little book of the lives of the saints. Thinking back, it was sort of a scary book. Many of those saints gave up their lives for their beliefs, and died in rather gruesome ways. They were willing to risk it all for their faith. Today we equate that more with suicide bombers -
hardly what we would call a saint.
It’s upset me recently that a group of people who have risked their lives doing work that I’m sure Jesus would applaud, are now being treated more like modern day lepers than saints. I speak of doctors, nurses and other health care workers coming back after treating patients with Ebola in West Africa. Fear seems to trump common sense, compassion and appreciation of what these saints in our midst are doing.
Patrick sent me a link to a video last week, of people working at ground zero of the Ebola epidemic. I was so moved by what I saw and heard. It made me think: These are the saints walking the earth today, those unsung heroes who bring healing and hope to those who have no hope. Their actions speak more of sainthood than I ever could in words.
There is so much pain and suffering in the world right now. Maybe it’s
always been there, but it seems so much closer to us due to modern
technology which brings it into our living rooms on a daily basis. Stories of workers like these give me hope and confirmation that through all the pain and suffering God is walking and working among us. As Teresa of Avila said in the 1500’s:
Christ has no body but yours.
Yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on this world.
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.
Yours are the hands with which he blesses all the world.
Let us take a moment of silence to think about those people, living and dead, those you have known personally, and others you’ve seen and heard from a distance, who have inspired you to live your faith. Who are the saints in your life? (silence)