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  • Thursday ,22 April 2010

The Ministry(17)

Pope Shenouda III

Pope Shenouda Article


Sunday ,18 April 2010

The Ministry(17)
Encouraging the weak
We spoke much about the triumphant who overcome in their spiritual wars and in their relationship with the others, but now we shall speak about the weak and the fallen and see what encouragement we can offer them.
   Encouraging others is a great virtue, for the Scripture says, "Comfort the fainthearted; uphold the weak; be patient with all." (1 Thess 5: 14)
   The fainthearted and the weak:
   The fainthearted, being mean-spirited, feel helpless and almost fall in despair. They need encouragement, they need someone to raise them up lest they fail and be lost.    The weak likewise need to support and strengthening. If we scorn and avoid the weak or mock them as fallen, we will lose them. Without a helper they will continue in their fall and sins, whereas the Scripture says, "He who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins." (Jas 5: 20)
   You should try to save your weak brother who falls everyday, to raise him. Even if your attempts fail, do not get bored nor cast him away form you, but rather encourage him to rise. It may take a long time on his part and long-suffering on your part.
   We should not expect that a weak person in spite of convincing words by others relinquish the sins implanted within him since long and have turned into a habit or a nature. That is why the apostle does not only say, "uphold the weak," but says also, "be patient with all".
   A person who is subject to the habit of smoking may be totally convinced of its harm but cannot get rid of it! He needs prayers to support him, and needs advices, encouragement, patience and hope in his salvation. If sin has gone deep into the soul and prevailed over the emotions and will, it will be difficult to resist, especially if a person gets weaker and faces diabolic wars besides inner inclination towards sin. Such a person needs encouragement.
   Much reproach for a weak person may destroy him!
   A weak person needs God's grace rather than our reproach, for to him apply the words, "The evil I will not to do, that I practice … It is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me." (Rom 7: 19, 20) He is bound with fetters of habit, nature, and desires. Therefore, the apostle says, "Remember the prisoners as if chained with them, and those who are mistreated, since you yourselves are in the body also." (Heb 13: 3)   Try then to encourage such a person and help him get rid of his fetters, since all of us are subject to weakness. If you find him slackening concerning his own salvation, or his will is weak and he often rises and falls, never scorn his weakness, but remember the words of the Scripture:
   "Strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees." (Heb 12: 12)
   The hands that are hanging down represent the inability to work, while the feeble knees represent the inability to move. Both represent the weakness and inability of a person as a whole. These words most probable are quoted from the divine words on the mouth of Isaiah the Prophet (Isa 35: 3) Job the Righteous did experience this good mission, for Eliphaz the Temanite said to him, "Surely you have instructed many, and you have strengthened weak hands." (Job 4: 3) The Lord Himself is a prominent example for the Gospel says,
"A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench." (Mt 12: 20)
   This attribute pleased God the Father, therefore He said, "My Elect One in whom My soul delights! … A bruised reed …" (Isa 42: 1, 3) He never lets anyone to give up hope, even though such a person be a bruised reed or a smoking flax that may be kindled by a wind. You therefore should encourage everybody and not frustrate anybody, for the Scripture says, "Do not rejoice over me, my enemy; when I fall, I will arise. When I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me." (Mic 7: 8) It is then easy for a person to rise from his fall through instruction, encouragement and patience, and by the work of grace within him, as the Wise Solomon says those words that give hope and strengthen the heart: 
"A righteous man may fall seven times and rise again." (Prov 24: 16)
   If the fallen loses hope, you ought not judge him but rather remember the words, "Who are you to judge another's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand." (Rom 14: 4) Say to him, 'If you do not want to be saved, God wants to save you, and He is capable of that.' Remind him that, "He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength," (Isa 40: 29) and, "The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost." (Lk 19: 10) See how comforting to know that He has not come to save the weak or the fallen but to save that which was LOST! To such people He has come. It is His mission as revealed in the Book of Isaiah:
"The Lord has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound." (Isa 61: 1)
Not only for those, but also for those who mourn to console them, "… to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness." (Isa 61: 3)
   This is His mission as a merciful and compassionate Shepherd taking care of His flock even though they are wounded, broken or lost.
   He says, "I will feed My flock, and I will make them lie down … I will seek what was lost and bring back what was driven away, bind up the broken and strengthen what was sick." (Ezek 34: 15, 16) Use this verse to encourage those who are lost, brokenhearted or wounded by the enemy. Say to them, 'He came for the sake of those to restore and comfort them. Do not be afraid. You are not alone. God will not forsake you but will send you a special grace and visit you. He cares about the weak and searches for the fallen.'
   The fallen:
   He sat with tax collectors and sinners, and said, "I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance." 
"Those who are well do not need a physician, but those who are sick." (Lk 5: 31)
If you are among those sick, sinners, lost, driven away, broken, or wounded, be sure then that He has come for your sake. He rejoices over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance (Lk 15: 7).
   See what great work the Lord did for that sinner in Jerusalem (Ezek 16)!
   When He passed by her and saw her struggling in her blood, He did not leave her. He said to her, "I spread My wing over you and covered your nakedness … I entered into a covenant with you, and you became Mine … I washed you in water; yes, I thoroughly washed off your blood, and I anointed you with oil … I adorned you with ornaments … a beautiful crown on your head … You were exceedingly beautiful, and succeeded to royalty." (Ezek 16: 6- 14)
   This is the Lord's way: He encourages the sinners on the way of repentance, strengthens them, and gives them beautiful promises, saying: 
"I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness … I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you … I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them." (Ezek 36: 25- 27)
   Be of good courage then, for your own salvation is not your work alone, but rather more, God's work in you. That is why the apostle says, "If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself." (2 Tim 2: 13) He who chose Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had cast seven demons (Mk 16: 9) and entrusted her with announcing His resurrection to the apostles (Mt 28: 10), He also is capable of saving you as He saved her. He chose Matthew the tax collector to be one of the twelve disciples, and had compassion on Zacchaeus and stayed at his house and said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house." (Lk 19: 9) And concerning the barren fig tree He said, "Let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. And if it bears fruit, well. but if not, after that you can cut it down." (Lk 13: 8) He wanted to give it another chance. He does not only encourage, but He also stands at the door and knocks (Rev 3: 20). Besides encouraging the weak, the fallen and the sinners, He also encourages the hopeless.
   The hopeless:
   In this regard, we have the example of Moses the Prophet: When they were besieged between the Red Sea and the six hundred chariots of Pharaoh pursuing them, while death waited them, he encouraged the people, saying, "Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord … The Lord will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace." (Ex 14: 13, 14) The same applies to David the Prophet, for though he said, "Lord, how they have increased who trouble me! Many are they who rise up against me. Many are they who say of me, there is no help for him in God," soon the Spirit spoke in his heart encouraging him and he says, "You, O Lord, are a shield for me, my glory and the One who lifts up my head. I cried to the Lord with my voice, and He heard me from His holy hill." (Ps 3: 3, 4) Another beautiful Psalm says, "May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble!" (Ps 20: 1) These are encouraging words, and I published some contemplation on this Psalm that is full of hope and encouragement. Among the many encouraging Psalms is that which says, "If it had not been the Lord who was on our side …" "Our soul has escaped as a bird from the snare of the fowlers; the snare is broken, and we have escaped." (Ps 123) Even those who fell in despair because of waiting for long, the Lord gave them hope in His Second Coming though in the fourth watch of the night (Mt 14: 25) as He came to His disciples to save them.
   The fearful:
   Many were afraid when called to ministry. Yet He did not reject them due to their fear and weakness, but He encouraged them and prepared them for the ministry:
   Moses the Prophet, for instance was afraid, because, as he said, he was slow of speech and tongue.
   He was afraid to meet Pharaoh and did not know how to speak to him or to answer his questions and the people's questions, so he said to the Lord, "I am not eloquent, neither before nor since You have spoken to Your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue." (Ex 4; 10) "Behold, I am of uncircumcised lips, and how shall Pharaoh heed me?" (Ex 6: 30) So the Lord encouraged him and gave him Aaron his brother as a helper, and said to him, "You shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth. And I will be with your mouth and with his mouth, and I will teach you what you shall do. So he shall be your spokesman to the people. And he himself shall be as a mouth for you." (Ex 4: 15, 16)
   Another example is Jeremiah the Prophet. He said to the Lord, "I cannot speak, for I am a youth." (Jer 1: 6) The Lord encouraged him, saying, "Do not say, 'I am a youth,' for you shall go to all to whom I send you … Do not afraid of their faces, for I am with you to deliver you." "Behold, I have put My words in your mouth. See, I have this day set you over the nations and over the kingdoms." (Jer 1: 7- 10) Furthermore, the Lord cheered him up, saying, "I have made you this day a fortified city and an iron pillar, and bronze walls against the whole land … They will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you. For I am with you … to deliver you." (Jer 1: 18, 19)
   Joshua likewise was afraid after the decease of Moses, but the Lord encouraged him, saying, "Be strong and of good courage," "No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life; as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you nor forsake you," "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go." (Josh 1: 5- 9)
The Lord also encouraged Jacob when he was afraid of meeting Esau. The Lord strengthened him, gave him promises, appeared to him and gave him the opportunity to fight with Him and prevail! (Gen 32: 28) At the beginning of his flight the Lord appeared to him, then He gave him the vision of the ladder and the angels, and said to him, "Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land." (Gen 28: 15) God does not encourage only the weak, the captive, the sinners, the fearful, and the hopeless, but He also encourages:
   Those who have little:
   In the Litany of the Offertory we pray for, "those who have much, and those who have little, the hidden and the visible.  
   He blessed the widow who put in the treasury two mites.
   He said about her, "This poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury; for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood." (Mk 12: 43, 44) He encouraged the thief on his right hand on the cross who came to Him at the last hour of his life. He did not rebuke him for his delayed repentance or past wickedness, but said to him with love, "Today you will be with Me in Paradise." (Lk 23: 43) The holy fathers said that a cluster of grapes is a blessing even if only it contains one fruit, because the sap is in it. Isaiah the Prophet says the same, "As the new wine is found in the cluster, and one says, 'Do not destroy it, for a blessing is in it,' so will I do for My servants' sake, that I may not destroy them all." (Isa 65: 8)
   The Lord accepted the small and accepted their offerings. He accepted the praises of the children of Bethlehem, saying, "If these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out." (Lk 19: 40) He also defended the children and said, "Let the little children com to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven." (Mt 19: 14) The Lord also received from a little boy the five loaves and two fishes, and worked a great miracle out of them (Jn 6: 9- 14)
   The encouragement of the Lord appears in His compassion on the irremediable cases:
   Many are the miracles of healing incurable diseases! Examples are giving sight to the man born blind (Jn 9), healing the man who had been sick for 38 years and laid at Bethesda (Jn 5), healing the man with the withered hand (Mt 12: 10, 13), healing the women with the flow of blood (Mt 9: 20, 22), healing the leper, the blind and the paralyzed. As St. Matthew says, "They brought to Him all sick people who were afflicted with various diseases and torments, and those who were demon-possessed, epileptics, and paralytics; and He healed them." (Mt 4: 24) In addition, there are the miracles of raising the dead. He encouraged everybody, convincing them that there is no despair nor impossibility. In many hard cases He opened the door of hope for everybody, as He did when Daniel was cast in the lions' den (Da 6), and when the three young men were cast into the furnace of fire (Da 3).
   In this respect we cannot forget the divine promises:
   The Lord's promises are full of hope and encouragement, strengthen and cheer up everybody. Among these promises are His words: "Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Mt 28: 20) "See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands." (Isa 49: 16) "The very hairs of your head are all numbered." (Mt 10: 30) "Not a hair of your head shall be lost." (Lk 21: 18) "It is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you." (Mt 10: 20) We also have the numerous promises given by the Lord in the Book of Psalms. This is a lesson to us that we may encourage everybody, however their state may be, and give them hope to strengthen them, thus we can save many souls from loss.