“The Eyes of the Righteous”

It is now the time of the Nativity Fast, also known as Advent.  It is also known as the “Winter Fast,” or “Lesser Lent.”  Like Lent, Advent is a penitential season.  It is thus, a season of spiritual preparation.  During Advent we prepare to perceive and receive Christ anew into our hearts and lives.

There are some similarities to Lent.  The last Sunday before Lent is known as the “Sunday of the Last Judgment.”  The Gospel reading for the day comes from St. Matthew 25: 31 – 46.  In this reading we hear Jesus’ words:  “…As you did it to the least of my brethren, you did it to me.”  Who?  The hungry, sick, naked, and imprisoned.  As one reads along in the text, there is an element of surprise — even astonishment — in the query of the righteous.

The righteous have a mindset:  as Christ served, so the righteous serve.  This service in Christ is not a “one-and-done” and you have your spiritual merit badge.  The righteous have the mind and the eye of Christ.  They look beyond what is seen by the eye, beyond rank, class, and outward appearances.

In contrast to the righteous, we have the account of the Rich Man (known as Dives by tradition) and Lazarus in St. Luke 16: 19 – 31.  Here, the Rich Man ignores, he will not see, the poor, suffering Lazarus.  Dogs “minister” to Lazarus while the Rich Man turns away in indifference — to his own damnation.  The Rich Man saw only a disgusting, poor man.  Though wealthy, he had an impoverished eye.

St. Onesimus

St. Onesimus

St-Paul

St. Paul

In the person of St. Paul, we learn that the Apostle had the eye of the righteous by his correspondence with his friend Philemon.  In the short epistle of Philemon, St. Paul writes of the fugitive slave Onesimus:  “I appeal to you concerning my child, whom I begot in chains, Onesimus.”  We don’t know why Onesimus fled the house of Philemon, but the slave’s flight was guided by the Holy Spirit into St. Paul’s presence and ministry.  Though Onesimus was useless to Philemon, he became very useful to St. Paul.  Onesimus was seen by Paul with the eyes of Christ.  The slave was converted to the faith and was baptized.  The least and the useless was re-created in Christ.

Onesimus returned to Philemon, and was obviously forgiven and freed.  As a man given a new life in Christ, a new life was waiting for him.  He was consecrated bishop of Ephesus.  He is mentioned by St. Ignatius of Antioch in the saint’s own letter to Ephesus as he journeyed to Rome for his awaiting execution.  Tradition also states that Bishop Onesimus compiled the letters of St. Paul — the Apostle who viewed St. Onesimus as one who was to be far more than a slave.

St. Paul wrote about fasting, but let the fast of Advent really be about receiving eyes that are able to see and minister to the Onesimus in our own lives.  We should pray for the gift of righteous eyes this season as we prepare for Christmas.

Our father among the saints, Onesimus, bishop of Ephesus, pray for us!

In Christ,
Fr. Irenaeus



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