This is a very interesting passage. It begins with God’s promise to never again destroy the earth by flood. He promises that He had destroyed the world because of it’s wicked sinfulness, but that no matter how sinful it becomes He will never do that again. And He promises the sign of this covenant, the rainbow, will ever serve as a reminder of this promise. How ironic that in our generation this symbol has been appropriated by the world to represent such pride in a sinful lifestyle. So often, the enemy seeks to find and corrupt those things which are so meaningful to the Lord. All too often, the enemy takes something such as sex, and corrupts it by turning it into perversion and fornication. He takes something that God created as a gift for His creatures such as wine, and corrupts it by turning it into drunkenness. St Maximus the Confessor teaches us that “Food is not evil, but gluttony is. Childbearing is not evil, but fornication is. Money is not evil, but avarice is. Glory is not evil, but vainglory is. Indeed, there is no evil in existing things, but only in their misuse.” (Chapters on Love, 3.4). The enemy takes those things which God has given us and corrupts them, making them evil by tempting us into misuse, and that is exactly what has happened with this sign of the covenant.
However, what’s most interesting about this passage isn’t this at all. Noah plants a vineyard and the account states that one night he imbibes a surplus amount and becomes drunk and naked in his home. Ham finds him and immediately goes out to tell his brothers what shame has befallen their father. And his brothers, Shem and Japheth, take up a garment and go in to cover their father. Thus, when Noah awakens, he blesses Japheth and Shem and their households and curses Ham and his house.
See, when we consider this passage, our first instinct is to focus on Noah, this holy man of God, who became drunk in his home. And this is in no way to absolve him of this guilt; however, all too often we are Ham in this story. When we find that someone has fallen into sin, we immediately cast judgment upon him, or turn to gossiping to others about it, rather than seeking to cover their sin with prayer. It’s so easy to judge Noah for his actions, but what about when we become Noah? What about when we slip and fall into sin? Do we turn and begin confessing those sins to every single person that we meet, or do we seek the mercy and grace of the Lord to cover our sins?
Consider this fact, all sin is against God. But, Noah sinned against himself. In giving into the fleshly temptation to drunkenness, he hurt no one but himself and his relationship with God. But Ham here had the greater sin, because his sin was against Noah. Rather than finding Noah in his sin and covering his shame, praying for the mercy of the Lord upon Noah, he instead sought to spread his shame to others, going and gossiping to his brothers about what he saw.
See, all too often, in our striving for holiness, we are much stricter and judgmental of the shortcomings of others than we are with ourselves. And then, our response to finding the flaws of another is to feed our own ego and vainglory by focusing on their flaws rather than our own. We focus on their flaws because then we are able to feel more secure in our own; we become like the Pharisee who prayed, “I thank you God that I am not like that man.” It no longer remains, “I am being made righteous,” wherein we note our own sinfulness, but rather, “I am more righteous than…” Unfortunately, to our own detriment, we create the very sense of self-righteousness so strongly warned against in the Holy Scriptures.
Let us, my brethern, look instead to Shem and Japheth, and if we see another in sin, let us cover their sin in prayer, seeking the grace and mercy of the Lord for them. Let us truly love our neighbor as ourselves and seek their forgiveness; neither in judgment nor in condemnation, but with compassionate mercy. Mother Teresa says, “If you judge someone, you have no time to love them.” And I think that is the message that will stand the test of time. Let us take the lessons of Scripture, of Tradition, of the Church Fathers, and apply them to our own lives, allowing those lessons to be a guide to lead us into righteousness; rather than distilling them down to a standard upon which we can judge others. For there is one judge of all mankind, and none of us can presume to know how He will judge any other, for we don’t know the work that He has done in their lives already, or the work that He will do.
Christ is in our midst.