I can’t help but hear whistling when I think of the title of today’s reflection. All you Monty Python fans understand!
We live in an age of affluent problems. Recently, a teenager from a very wealthy home was involved in a fatal car accident, and the accident was this young man’s fault. Another teenager had been killed in the accident and now it was time for this young man from this very wealthy home to face his day in court. The defense: DWA – Driving While Affluent. The defense argued that this young man had been sheltered his whole life from the consequences of his actions, and therefore, could not be held accountable now because the great wealth of his family meant he really didn’t understand his own behavior. He was too rich to realize what he had done.
While you may stare at this in disbelief, the truth is most of us in this society suffer from something like this almost on a regular basis. Our resources and our access to resources really do shield us and create almost an alternative reality to our lives. We are a society gripped by seminars and self-help books. Both political parties in power either reduce us all to “victims” or tell us we are “rugged individuals” meant to “pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps.” But each of these ideas are impoverished by their own fantasy. We long for “inspiration” and “positive reinforcement.” But all we end up getting is the enabling and self-serving blather of those who also don’t want to face reality. We are all, to one degree or another, suffering from our own affluence and self-sufficiency. I guess that’s why difficult times really surprise us.
And yet, tough times come to us all.
In today’s Epistle Lesson the Apostle Paul writes to the Church in Galatia and makes some powerful observations about just how a follower of Jesus Christ deals with life. In Galatians 5:22-26; 6:1-2 St. Paul talks about the fruit of the Spirit. He tells the Galatians that followers of Jesus produce this kind of character listed. And the way a follower of Jesus sees the fruit of the Spirit in his or her life is by internal AND external focus.
Internally, a follower of Jesus does something that really doesn’t make sense in this modern age; he has “crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Galatians 5:24) Yep, that’s right, “crucified.” None of the Galatians reading that passage missed St. Paul’s point. A follower of Jesus who has the fruit of the Spirit in his life actively works to tame, put away, avoid, and yes, even “kill” those passions, habits, stumbling blocks in their own behavior and desires that keep him a slave to his addictions. If we are going to be Orthodox on Purpose, we will have to first be able to identify where our passions have overtaken us and then actively fight the internal fight with ourselves (not others) to tame these desires so that they serve us rather than master us.
Externally, a follower of Jesus looks on others as objects of love and service. Listen to the Apostle describe a follower of Jesus: “Let us have no self-conceit, no provoking of one another, no envy of one another. Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Look to yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 5:26-6:2)
This internal AND external work and labor goes on in our lives all the time. We are never finished in this life. So, settle in for a marathon and not simply another (failed?) quick spiritual “fix.” Allow the fruit of the Spirit that naturally occurs in a person who is actively participating in the life of the Spirit to inform and strengthen both your internal struggle and your external love and service.
Today, all you need to live this struggle and escape the downward tug of your own self-sufficiency is here. The Holy Spirit is given to you for the express purpose of drawing you to Christ and strengthening you to do this spiritual work. All that is necessary is for you to keep a willing heart and keep on struggling against the darkness of your own temptations. You will not always win this fight, but you will always have all you need to be healed through repentance, prayer, fasting, and all the disciplines of the faith. Look around your life, do you see the fruit of the Spirit?