Let’s face it; we all have to deal with unpleasant realities. You know the situations I’m talking about: those moments in life when there either a difficult confrontation that has to happen or a struggle with bureaucracy or just a difficult relationship that has to end or change. It’s just not fun. It’s scary. It’s aggravating. But, it’s going to happen!
So, how do we face such moments in life as believers? I know how people who lack faith handle these situations because there have been times in my life when faith was weak or even missing that I’ve faced moments like this in a variety of ways; from procrastination, thinking that if I just ignore it, it will go away (it won’t); to actual dishonesty; to anger and destructive reaction. All of these less-than-faithful ways of dealing with challenges all revealed spiritual illness and, to this day, invite me to repentance and humility. (hint, hint!)
Look at our Gospel Lesson today in Matthew 9:9-13:
At that time, as Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax office; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.
And as he sat at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
Frankly, I can’t think of anything more unpleasant than taxes! The seemingly senseless and bureaucratic way our government “collects” taxes is practically a byword in practically every culture and through history. Tax collectors in the Lord’s day had a horrible reputation because they were seen as collaborators with the occupying Roman government. Add to that that their income was based on how much they collected and the tax collectors of Jesus’ day were even more infamous than our own IRS! They were simply not trusted and they were considered traitors to their own people. And the Lord chooses one of these folks as His disciple! Poor St. Matthew.
But notice this tax collector, knowing what he was thought of in the community, and knowing his own heart, responds immediately to the Lord’s call to “follow” Him. A pretty good example, don’t you think?
Difficult times, difficult relationships, difficult situation, and difficult choices are all made more clear when a faithful person embraces three undeniable lessons from today’s Gospel!
First, Obedience is absolutely necessary. St. Matthew “rose and followed Him.” It is in embracing obedience to that which is right and holy that “simplifies” even the most complicated situation. In fact, it usually is in our attempts to try to “negotiate” with what is right that makes the difficult situation worse. No, simple and straightforward obedience is key!
Next, the call to Obedience invites me embrace the second lesson for the faithful: It’s the sick that need the Physician. We never have the strength to press through a difficult time without awareness of our own spiritual illness and need for God’s healing mercy and grace. This is at the heart of true Repentance! When I forget I need His healing, I try to “work out” my problems with my own strength, my own wisdom. Guess how that usually turns out?
The Finally Lesson is Mercy. Mercy for yourself. Mercy for the other. And Mercy for everyone involved. Now that doesn’t mean letting things slide or living in denial about reality, but it does mean making sure that you keep at the center of your heart and mind the reality that we are all spiritually “sick” and in need of grace. Even that one who has hurt you, who has let you down, and who you sometimes have to say goodbye to, yes, that one, is in need of mercy and grace and humility and repentance just like you!
Today, are you putting off doing what you should? I know it’s scary and you wonder what will happen, but if you have the courage and the humility to embrace Obedience, Repentance, and Mercy, you will have the strength to do and to be what you must! You will be on the path to being Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. As the holidays approach, avoid the temptation to forget your charity toward your home parish. Parishes all over the country dread this time of year because it usually means that their faithful will be tempted to forget the parish goes on even during the holidays. Remember your spiritual home while you’re shopping!