“Pursue some path, however narrow and crooked, in which you can walk with love and reverence.” This quote by Henry David Thoreau is beautiful. But I have a problem with it since it seems to suggest that any path will do as long as it’s your own path.
To be sure, we are each free, unique, and unrepeatable persons who uniquely incarnate our common human nature in a way that defies duplication. But, still, is the great poet and author suggesting that we are complete within ourselves as stand alone entities? I know of only One Who is complete within Himself. So, are there some paths that are actually wrong paths? Yes there are, and discerning which path is right and which path is wrong is the fruit of wisdom.
Look at our lesson today in Proverbs 10:31-11:12:
The mouth of the righteous brings forth wisdom, but the perverse tongue will be cut off. The lips of the righteous know what is acceptable, but the mouth of the wicked, what is perverse. A false balance is an abomination to the LORD, but a just weight is his delight. When pride comes, then comes disgrace; but with the humble is wisdom. The integrity of the upright guides them, but the crookedness of the treacherous destroys them. Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death. The righteousness of the blameless keeps his way straight, but the wicked falls by his own wickedness. The righteousness of the upright delivers them, but the treacherous are taken captive by their lust. When the wicked dies, his hope perishes, and the expectation of the godless comes to nought. The righteous is delivered from trouble, and the wicked gets into it instead. With his mouth the godless man would destroy his neighbor, but by knowledge the righteous are delivered. When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices; and when the wicked perish there are shouts of gladness. By the blessing of the upright a city is exalted, but it is overthrown by the mouth of the wicked. He who belittles his neighbor lacks sense, but a man of understanding remains silent.
The back and forth of Proverbs is meant to engage us in the hard work of critical thinking that teaches us to discern the right path from the wrong path. Comparing and contrasting righteous and wicked gives us insights into knowing which is which.
Just look at how righteousness and wickedness show their two very different paths:
In speech – The words of the righteous reveal goodness and wisdom, but the words from the wicked are perverse. Just listen to someone talk long enough and you’ll be able to “hear” their inner self. Better yet, listen to yourself talk and you’ll be able to discern which path you’re on!
In character – The path of righteousness is seen in integrity; you know, the way you act when no one is looking. But the wicked path is seen in schemes and intrigues. It never ceases to amaze me in the difference of the two paths. The righteous are simple and without pretense while the path of the wicked are littered with plans and twists and turns all mean to confuse and get the upper hand. Discerning this mindset instructs you on which path you’re on.
In behavior – The two paths reveal a very different way of living on a daily basis. All too often I’ve heard folks dismiss the path of faith because they foolishly don’t think it has anything to do with daily living. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. And all you need to know to see this is the daily results of the behaviors of each path. The righteous path delivers from stumbles but the wicked path sends lives into the ditch of selfish mistakes.
And in destiny – Paths always lead to a destination. That’s what paths do. And these two paths have definite destinies. But you have to have faith to see them. And the Faith teaches us that the wicked path leads to destruction, but the path of the righteous leads to life.
Today, if we are honest, we will be able to discern that there are parts of our lives that are on the right path and parts of our lives that aren’t. The value of a purposeful Orthodox life is the hard work of repentance that integrates my life into a wholeness that leads to wholesomeness. And it’s in doing this hard work of repentance that pulls my life together!
P.S. Prayers please. As we grow this outreach ministry, we are constantly offered opportunities and choices and we want to make the right choices even if sometimes that means saying “no” to opportunities. Wisdom insists we focus our energies on the right path and your prayers help. Thanks.