In the Scriptural reading of Cheesefare Sunday, taken from the Gospel according to St. Mathew, the 'measure' with which Christ will evaluate or, in other words, judge the overall life of each of us, is crystal clear.
And this measure is, curiously, not given from above, i.e. directly from the will of God, but from below, i.e. from the human will, which God accepts from the outset. It is thereby apparent that the basic 'initiative' now belongs to the human person, rather than to God. The relevant passage from the Gospel is as follows:
"For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly father
will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others,
neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."
The first thing we notice in this passage is that it is undoubtedly a 'different language' to the Ten Commandments of the Mosaic law.
Here Mathew is stating that the 'moral code' of the people of God has been modified, not so much according to its content, but certainly according to the 'process'.
In the Ten Commandments we had the somewhat 'primitive' instruction about what not to do, in a vocabulary which reminded us of the one-word answers given to young children, who did not in any case require explanations that they would not have understood. By contrast, the language of the New Testament allows each person to freely assume the responsibility of moral behaviour, which determines one's position in the life to come.
The second comment we could make about the passage from Mathew's Gospel is that it vividly reminds us of other passages in the New Testament which convey to us a similar teaching in slightly different words. In the Gospel according to St. Luke, for example, Christ states: "And just as you want others to do to you, you also do likewise" (Luke 6:31).
Furthermore, the admiration of Christ for the Canaanite woman who sought mercy for her daughter is not far removed from the teaching of the abovementioned passages: "O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire" (Mat. 15:28).
Seeing that in all these Scriptural verses - even including Mathew's - the will of fallen man, rather than the holy will of God, is the measure of moral judgement, one can only wonder about this apparently inconceivable 'anthropocentric' language, which we would not have expected from Christ. For, as we know, anthropocentric thought was characteristic of the Sophist philosophers of antiquity, who taught that there is no criterion above or beyond the human being: 'man is the measure of all things'.
We could then justifiably ask ourselves: Could it be that the passage from St. Mathew which we took as the basis for 'another language' expressing the gap between the New Testament in general and the Mosaic Decalogue, is - despite what we have said - closer in fact to the spirit of the Old Testament, which is more or less situated in the still human limitations and mindset of the law of equal repayment, as expressed in the famous verse "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" (Deut. 19:21)?
In other words, how are we to comprehend - or rather justify - such a reversal of priorities, in commencing from the human person and not with God? What then becomes of that fundamental measure of religiosity, almost universally acknowledged among all nations, which states that 'God should be the starting point in all that we do'?
No matter how justified our questions and spiritual unrest may appear to be at first glance, if we try and analyze things a little more deeply - in accordance with the pre-existing history of relations between God and humanity - we shall see with deep appreciation and admiration that the mentioned 'reversal' of priorities could have been brought about only through the boundless love of God incarnate for humankind.
We shall see that the passage of Mathew's Gospel becomes, so to speak, a 'banner' indicating the spirit of the New Testament, not only on account of what is said, but also because of the moment in time in which it is spoken and recorded. If we read verses 9 to 14 which immediately precede the passage, we observe that it is not just any context. We could say that it is the most sacred portion of the entire New Testament, containing as it does the exemplary form of Prayer entrusted to us by God incarnate, so that we may maintain correct proportions and priorities in our petitions to God.
These petitions in the Lord's Prayer, only six in number, and in an order of priority given to us by Christ Himself, are so organically connected with Mathew's passage, that we could justly call the latter the 'crowning moral' of the former.
Following all the above, the conclusion clearly arises that, for the God-Man Christ to have reached this point - namely, of placing 'self-love' as the normative measure of human conduct - we therefore have something totally extraordinary, a previously unknown pedagogy. And the extraordinary and unprecedented feature of this new pedagogy is the truly incredible love of Christ, in 'utilizing' even the deeper weakness of the human person as a 'means' and 'possibility' by which it can be transformed into a power of rebirth and salvation. Therefore, out of the 'love of our own self', we have almost miraculously a 'love of others' which is not rhetorical. It has instead an entirely specific, tangible and infallible measure: our very own selves!
of Orthodoxy, v. 26(2), March 2004
the official publication of theGreek Orthodox Archbiocese of Australia