Someone was commenting earlier today that it seems even the PG-13 movies are more violent and suggestive than a few decades ago. It seems our culture, for all it’s development and all the seemingly “liberal” notions in ascendency nowadays, the culture has gotten more violent and more coarse.
What can we attribute this apparent cultural “slide” to? Well, for me, it seems to be a loss of the ability to actually value life beyond some arbitrary notion of “fairness” or “justice.” The loss of an intrinsic understanding of our culture of the true value of humanity seems to have unleashed a secular tsunami of disregard for dignity, beauty, and honor. It seems the coarser the language, the more outrageous the display, the more popular the person.
But this violence is another shadow of the real struggle each of us is called to in our journey toward becoming like Christ.
In today’s Gospel Lesson, our Lord confronts, as He often does, the religious leaders of His day with their gross missing of the true point of the faith. Jesus rarely corrects their actions except their hypocrisy, because they were doing all the right things for all the wrong reasons. No, The Lord regularly corrects not their behavior but their motives. Because it is why I do something that really reveals the value in what I do. So, The Lord confronts these men again in today’s lesson. He says “The Lord said to the Jews who came to him, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts; for what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God. The law and the prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and every one enters it violently. But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one dot of the law to become void. Every one who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.”
And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come; but woe to him by whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung round his neck and he were cast into the sea, than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. Take heed to yourselves; if your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him; and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” Luke 16:15-18; 17:1-4
I want you to pay particular attention to the Lord’s statement about entering the Kingdom of God. He says “The law and the prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and every one enters it violently.” What does He mean “everyone enters it violently?” He certainly isn’t talking about the putrid violence we discussed earlier. No, Jesus is here revealing a fundamental truth about the authentic and purposeful spiritual life that if we miss it we will miss the very thing that transforms our motives and heals our souls.
Being Orthodox on Purpose will do violence to the shallow pseudo- devotion that all too often passes itself off as faithfulness to the Christian message. It is why our Lord regularly corrected with His strongest language the religious leaders of His day. They had all the tools. They had all the words of the Prophets. They had the faithful liturgy of the Temple. And, with all those advantages, they still missed the point. Their motives were left untouched by the love of God. They actions were merely correct and not life-changing. Their preaching and teaching were technically right and their motives were sick and self-centered. They had a form of godliness but denied the power that that godliness was meant to produce in their lives.
They lacked the unfiltered focus on jay what it would really mean to truly become a companion of the Uncreated God. And because of that lack, they were left unchanged in their hearts.
But a true focus on the regular and daily spiritual struggle to constantly cooperate with the Grace of God in my everyday life means a brutal focus, not on the sins of others, but on my own journey of perfection in Christ. My very thoughts are now called to account. I willingly go to war, and this is not hyperbole or mere preacher talk, no, I mean I enter into real and violent warfare with my own motives and attitudes and bring even my thought life into the stark and us changing Light of God’s mercy and grace. I forgive others over and over again, no matter how many times they wrong me. I love others with a selfless love that frees me to actually correct them in love and when they repent, I forgive them. I walk in such a way in the earth that I am NEVER the cause of another’s stumble in life. I am humbly given to love God and my neighbor even more than I love myself.
Face it, my dearest, no one can set his foot on the path of a purposeful faith and not come to see this journey as a fight from start to finish.
And yet, even in the middle of this spiritual war, I have no human enemies. Why I am not even an enemy myself. God sees me as His own creation and loves me with an everlasting love that makes this very real spiritual struggle worth every minute in light of the Person I can become by grace. It truly is “joy unspeakable and full of glory.”
Today, my dearest, we begin the Winter Lent. Today, we fast, we do violence to our desires, and even our “freedom” to purposefully say “no” to good things for a short time so that we can learn to say “yes” to eternal things all the time. We enter into spiritual struggle, we take the Kingdom by force. But not in fighting others. No, we struggle against deeper and more difficult “enemies.” We struggle against ourselves to teach even our stomachs that the Kingdom of God is more valuable that any convenience or comfort.
Today, we abandon the shallow violence of a culture lost in the madness of secularism, and we willingly enter the “battlefield” of a more significant fight. We step onto the field of struggle in our own hearts and we allow the grace of God to strengthen us to fight against sick motives, selfish attitudes, and deluded images of ourselves. We fight! He wins! Every time!
Good strength, my dearest, as we join each other in this struggle together.