St. Mary Orthodox Church

Cambridge, MA

Nothing Else, Nothing Else

 

Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (15:21-28)

There is a beautiful poem by Rumi that encapsulates the meaning of the story of the Syro-Phoenician Woman. I cannot resist reading a portion of it. Here we go.

"The grief you cry out from
draws you toward union.

Your pure sadness
that wants help
is the secret cup.

Listen to the moan of a dog for its master.
That whining is the connection.

There are love dogs
no one knows the names of.

Give your life
to be one of them.”

It is unmistakable. The suffering of the Syro-Phoenician Woman drew her to Jesus and the Lord’s compassion drew him to her.  The only one thing greater than the suffering of a mother for her children  is the compassion of God for his creation. It is compassion that brought him to earth and our suffering that draws us towards the kingdom.  Two sides of a coin.

Suffering is universal. It connects us to one another. “Weep with those who weep,” Jesus teaches, “And laugh with those who laugh.” And Schopenhauer calls the rise of compassion we feel when we see even a stranger in pain a “metaphysical breakthrough” in which the boundaries between I and the other disappear.  The truth is that the boundaries we believe in are the ones we have created.  When the mind is still, boundaries no longer exist.  There is no “other.”  Pope Francis said, “God makes no distinctions between those who suffer.”

Christ demonstrates this truth today as we see boundaries between cultures, societies, religions and gender collapse. He himself, not only his actions, is the “metaphysical breakthrough” the world is waiting for. This Syro-Phoenician person was not male, nor was she a Jew culturally, ethnically or religiously. And yet Jesus looked upon her with the same eyes of compassion as he did Zaccheus. In her he saw only suffering humanity, faith and selflessness.  She opened herself to ridicule and humiliation, not sparing herself or her feelings to beg the Master to heal her daughter.  With what great humility she refers to herself as a dog looking for crumbs under its master’s table!  She would not receive crumbs from him. In her suffering and selflessness she becomes a type of Christ himself.  She mirrors his immaculate humility which is the progenitor of the supreme virtue of Compassion.  Are we not all called to be mirrors in which the face of Christ can be clearly seen?

Paradoxically, it is the search for our own happiness that is the cause of much suffering.  It causes us to flee from our internal suffering, to reject, deny and ignore it. Thomas a Kempis is so insightful on this.

“…As long as suffering seems so grievous that you desire to flee it, so long will you be ill at ease and the desire to escape tribulation will follow you everywhere.”

As long as we refuse to face and embrace our own suffering happiness is impossible and peace cannot be found for we run like frightened children  continually afraid of the hurts and disappointments life brings.

Faith knows that the great gift of joy and happiness already resides in us by God’s grace. Happiness comes from a vibrant and ongoing connection with the kingdom of heaven within. God has placed it there for he has placed himself at our core. Nothing can affect this gift or take it away.  No suffering in any form has the power to extinguish the flame of God’s Spirit that lives in us. If we find it and connect with it consciously and continuously, we will find that God has already “endowed us with his kingdom which is to come.”  We must allow this inward-dwelling kingdom to lead our way through life.

Selflessness is the key. Compassion is the door. Faith is the light on the path.

The Dalai Lama said beautifully, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”   How wonderfully this little statement encapsulates the Christian way of life.  So, we must give our lives to Christ who is the Lord of Compassion and become in thought, word and deed, creatures of love.  This is our common vocation.

I will end with two famous quotes, the first by the psychologist Jack Kornfield and the last by the holy nun, Mother Gavrilia.

Jack writes: “In the end, just three things matter:

How well we have lived
How well we have loved
How well we have learned to let go” 

And finally, Mother Gavrilia posed a rhetorical question:

"What does God want me to do?...The answer was: God is not interested in where you are or what you do...He is interested only in the quality and quantity of the love you give.  Nothing else. Nothing else."