I was reading a seventh-grade public school exam from many decades ago and was struck with the level of language, grammar, and difficulty of the exam. It was very sophisticated and I struggled to “pass!”
No one can look at the current culture and not witness the coarsening of the language of our day. Between the mainstreaming of pornography to popular music, our children are being exposed to a kind of communication that simply cannot create dignity and respect in their lives. And to think, I remember as a police officer as late as the mid-1980’s giving a citation to someone using foul language in public within earshot of women and children. The times, they are a-changin’.
But sometimes plain language (not necessarily coarse or foul) is called for, especially if your audience has gone deaf to subtler forms of communication. Amazingly, the audience that usually gets to this spot of needing a shake of the shoulders are those who have become entrenched in leadership positions. Unfortunately, what has elevated them to these leadership positions is rarely talent or motivation as much as it is mere longevity and sheer availability. That kind of leadership usually is a symptom of an atrophying community. It isn’t a good symptom!
Such is the case of our Lord’s confrontation with the leaders of His day. For the last several days we have been reading the “woes” the Lord pronounced against the religious leaders He seemed to always rub the wrong way! And today is no different, except the Lord uses language that I find, frankly, difficult to hear.
Look at Matthew 23:29-39:
The Lord said to the Jews who had come to him, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ Thus you witness against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of innocent Abel to the blood of Zacharias the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly, I say to you, all this will come upon this generation.
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is forsaken and desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
“You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell.” (23:33) The sheer amount of deafness that our loving Lord observed in these leaders required an equally stark confrontation in His loving outreach to these men to lead them to repentance. How sad that a person can become so hard and inaccessible to God’s grace that our loving Jesus knew these words were their only hope!
Today, once again, God has given us a new day. The holy scriptures declare that “Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23) Today, God once again extends all His love, all His mercy, all His strength to you, fresh, never used up, always available. Perhaps you’ve drifted from His side. Perhaps you’ve grown increasingly distant from His loving voice that He will have to “speak” louder and more starkly to break through that distance you’ve created. He will because He loves you so very much. Don’t let the hardness of life mean that you’ll be forced to say “Blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord.” Join us in the constant prayers of the Church, in the life of the Orthodox faith and stay tender and able to “hear” His loving offer each morning.