“Well, you should have known better!” Oh how I hated hearing that from my mom. It was the tone in her voice as well as the words. You know the one. The tone that communicated disappointment, disapproval, AND frustration all at the same time! Oh, I HATED it! But what made things worse was she was right! I SHOULD HAVE known better. In fact, I did know better and yet, there I go again. Amazing. And here I was a “grown man” making the mistakes of a teenager! ARRGH! (By the way, that’s a very technical term I learned from Charlie Brown.)
There is all too often a disconnect between what I know and what I do. In spite of having good examples AND bad examples in my past, I catch myself making the same mistakes over and over again in spite of the clear wisdom I know I know. Why? And I suspect you may know exactly what I’m talking about, and maybe you’ve had the same experiences in your life to one degree or the other. St. Paul know what I meant. Listen to his cry of frustration in his letter to the Romans “For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do.” (Romans 7:15)
The truth is this disconnect goes to the heart of the Orthodox understanding of our human need for salvation. We have a broken will. And that broken will keeps us both aware of what we should be AND at the same time unable to become what we should be. What a horrible prison! In fact, most counselors I know and even the classes I took for pastoral counseling in seminary all point out that most people “know” what they should do. Most people know what they shouldn’t do. And yet our weakened will hobbles us from ever moving from what we know we should be to what we are. It is precisely this enfeebled will in humanity that makes us both our own worst enemy AND completely responsible for our actions. So, how do we escape this prison?
Let’s look at our Gospel Lesson today in Luke 11:29-33. Jesus is confronting an ever growing crowd of people who are following Him and listening to Him and being healed by Him. I don’t think the Lord understood good public relations because He confronts the growing crowds, His growing popularity with a bit of a downer opening line of His sermon: “This generation is an evil generation…” Well, at least He got their attention.
Here’s the whole pericope: At that time, when the crowds were increasing, he began to say, “This generation is an evil generation; it seeks a sign, but no sign shall be given to it except the sign of Jonah. For as Jonah became a sign to the men of Nineveh, so will the Son of man be to this generation. The queen of the South will arise at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them; for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. The men of Nineveh will arise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar or under a bushel, but on a stand, that those who enter may see the light.”
The path out of this prison of knowing what I should be and then turning around and doing the exact opposite is clear. First, consistent honesty is necessary. I have to admit I have a problem. But isn’t that always the case? No wonder the Church has this primary prayer that we always pray: “Lord, have mercy.” This isn’t a cry to try to get God to be kind to us. No at all. God is ALWAYS kind and merciful. No this prayer we Orthodox always pray is a constant reminder to be honest about my moment by moment NEED for His mercy and grace. It is my struggle with honesty and all the roadblocks to honesty in my heart that keep my will weak!
Second, consistent understanding that I CANNOT do this alone. I have to constantly remember that I am not going to break out of this self-imposed prison by myself. Jesus calls the whole generation “evil.” As far as this salvation thing goes, we are in this together. We need each other to constantly be reminded of our true purpose and potential. No wonder the Lord established the Church, the “ekklesia.” It is our mutual dependence and commitment to authentic communion in community that serves to strengthen my personal will in the midst of a loving group of people committed to struggling together!
Finally, consistent witness (martyrdom) is both necessary and natural. We don’t hide! We don’t hide our struggles or our victories. We don’t hide the truth of the remedy for all mankind. We don’t hide. Period. And it is this willingness to risk exposure, to risk being authentically known by another that strengthens my will and heals the woundedness of my divided heart! Hiding is for folks who are ashamed. Hiding is for folks who are unsure or insecure. But we set our “light” on a stand so that everyone can see. Nothing like the courage to be open to make your heart strong!
Today, are you tired of being your own worst enemy? Are you ashamed of the fact that you know what you should be and you are clearly not? It’s time to embrace and be embraced by the timeless wisdom of the “faith, once for all, delivered to the saints” and watch as a purposeful practice of the Faith that insists on honesty, community, and witness strengthens your will to, by grace, become like Jesus Christ – free and truly alive!
P.S. I’m very excited about this coming Sunday’s Faith Encouraged LIVE. We are going to be discussing Grief with my special guest Fr. James Ellison. We are going to talk about not just the obvious grief of the loss of a loved one in physical death, but all the ways we “grieve” loss in our lives. It is amazing what joy even in the face of real grief the Orthodox Christian faith offers us! That’s this Sunday night at 8 PM Eastern on AncientFaith,com. Please share this with someone you know!