— The Lord’s Day —

Week 5: Sunday

Pondering Jesus’ victorious Word

εὐαγγελίζω (euaggelizo)
“to announce the Good News of victory in battle”

“It is not that I have already taken hold of it
or have already attained perfect maturity,
but I continue my pursuit in hope that I may possess it,
since I have indeed been taken possession of by Christ Jesus.
Brothers and sisters, I for my part
do not consider myself to have taken possession.
Just one thing: forgetting what lies behind
but straining forward (ἐπεκτεινόμενος, epekteinomenos)
to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal,
the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.”

θεωρέω (theoreo)
(“to perceive, discover, ponder a deeper meaning”)

Saint Paul had a special place in his heart for the Christians at Philippi. He could count on them for assistance in any endeavor throughout his missionary travel and ministry. In the Letter to the Philippians he encourages them to live humbly with lives focused always on the Person Jesus (2:6-11). Such living is balanced between extremes of legalism (beginning section of chapter 3) and hedonism (last part of chapter 3) with Jesus Himself the goal in the center. In this Sunday’s proclamation, we listen to the middle section of chapter 3 in which Saint Paul views his own life as a response to what Jesus has already done. Jesus has taken hold of Paul and for Paul, the only response is one of continuous growth (straining forward) in the life of Jesus Christ.

Centuries after Saint Paul, a saintly bishop in the province of Cappadocia (located in modern day Turkey), Gregory of Nyssa, penned a number of works concerning the virtuous life (what we would call today spiritual living). Among his more famous works is The Life of Moses wherein Gregory grounded his entire theology in Saint Paul’s “staining forward” (epektasis) and presented Moses as a type or analogy of the entire spiritual life. Consider the following from The Life of Moses:

“The perfection of everything which can be measured by the senses is marked off by certain definite boundaries. Quantity, for example, admits both continuity and limitation. The person who looks at the number ten knows that its perfection consists in the fact that it has both a beginning and an end. But in the case of virtue we have learned from the Apostle that its one limit of perfection is the fact that it has no limit. For that divine Apostle, great and lofty in understanding, ever running the course of virtue, never ceased straining toward those things that are still to come. Coming to a stop in the race was not safe for him. Why? Because no Good has a limit in its own nature but is limited by the presence of its opposite, as life is limited by death and light by darkness. And every good thing generally ends with all those things which are perceived to be contrary to the good (I, 5).”

Later in the same work Gregory writes, “If nothing comes from above to hinder its upward thrust (for the nature of the Good attracts to itself those who look to it), the soul rises ever higher and will always make its flight yet higher – by its desire of the heavenly things straining ahead for what is still to come, as the Apostle says. Made to desire and not abandon the transcendent height by the things already attained, it makes its way upward without ceasing, ever through its prior accomplishments renewing its intensity for the flight. Activity directed toward virtue causes its capacity to grow through exertion; this kind of activity alone does not slacken its intensity by the effort, but increases it (II, 225, 226).”

These excerpts from Gregory’s work, with their emphasis on eternal progress, properly form an approach to living life with Jesus. His life is not grasped or taken. His life is given as gift and thereby received and done so graciously. The reception of Jesus is never a goal in-and-of-itself. It is not the conquering of bad habits and vices leading to personal, triumphant celebration. Rather as Saint Paul so keenly knew and Saint Gregory elaborated, the life of Jesus is a continuous response to His call, a ‘call up’ that is ever growing, deepening, and maturing.