I laughed out loud when a comedian started talking about words that seem to contradict each other. Phrases like “Jumbo Shrimp” and “Military Intelligence” and “Government Efficiency.” They just seem to cancel each other out!
On a more serious note, St. Anthony the Great, the desert dweller, once said: “A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him, saying, ‘You are mad; you are not like us.'” Even our Lord said things that simply seem to contradict each other. He commanded that if we are to lead, we must be servants; if we are to live, we must die, if we are to be rich, we must give everything away!
This Orthodox Christian Way seems to simply be opposite of everything this modern world tells us. It seems to be set against all the accepted ways of getting ahead and achieving “happiness.”
And, it’s really hard to do! Plus, if you do try to live the Orthodox Way, you will constantly be misunderstood, seen as a threat, dismissed as a crank or a fanatic, and treated like an outsider.
All in all, frankly, why would anyone subject himself to such a spiritual journey?
For life! That’s why.
Because true life looks crazy to a world gripped by the power of death, the fear of death, and the darkness of futility. In a world where everything’s inside out, those who cooperate with the Spirit to turn it right side out again, look insane.
Jesus faced this in His ministry. In today’s Gospel Lesson our Lord looks out over the crowd following Him and “had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.'” Matthew 9:36-38; 10:1-8
There are two ways to approach this challenging life of the Orthodox Way: First, you can follow it simply out of stubborn commitment to the “rules” or out of a sense of duty, or even, worse yet, mere nostalgia. But that attitude won’t produce in your heart what the Lord’s heart felt for the crowd in our passage. In fact, that attitude about the serious commitment to the Faith will only produce “prelest” or spiritual pride and a sense of entitlement to heaven since you “did what you were told.”
The second approach is much harder, much more thankless, and eternally more rewarding! It is the serious commitment to the Faith that sees this regular practice of the Faith as the ONLY remedy for your own spiritual sickness and hunger! This approach creates compassion in your heart for those around you still gripped by the spirit of the age that enslaves them to the fear of death. This makes you hunger and motivates you to desire their freedom and their liberty in Christ. This approach calls within you to pray that the Lord will send laborers into the “plentiful harvest” of those who seek true life.
This second approach also sets you free to simply not notice when those around you think you are crazy for following this very difficult path. Since you see the glories of this path, that reality outshines all the temporary comforts of time-bound ease.
I confess to you that I am tempted by the first approach, but truly desire to live out the second approach to this Orthodox Way.
And I’ve discovered that the best way for me to discern my current spiritual condition is to check my heart about whether I am simply going through the motions (“I’m doing everything You told me to do, God! Why am I still not getting my reward? Why is life still so hard?”) or am I truly and deeply moved with compassion even for those who have wronged me. Am I able by grace to do what doesn’t make sense: love my enemies.
Today, in this moment, I am invited by the Lord to examine my own heart. As I do this, I honestly see places in my heart where I really am gripped by the first approach to the Faith, and I also see places in my life where there is real hope that I am following the second approach. If I discourage the former and encourage the latter, I will be able to hear the Lord’s final words to His disciples in today’s Gospel Lesson: “You received without paying, give without pay.”
Today, an honest diagnosis of your own soul always (I mean “always”) precedes true spiritual healing and spiritual growth. Today, make an appointment for confession. Today, sit quietly before your prayer corner and examine you own heart, not dwelling on this or that external matter. Today, come to realize what you’ve been given, and then determine in your heart to do what, in the eyes of this world, doesn’t make sense: GIVE IT AWAY!