“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!
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. 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 knew 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! The truth is most people “know” what they should do. Most people know what they shouldn’t do. And yet our weakened will hobbles us from ever becoming what we know we should be. It is precisely this weakened 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:
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.”
Jesus is confronting an ever-growing crowd of people who are following Him and listening to Him and being physically healed by Him. It looks like the Lord misunderstood good public relations because He confronts the growing crowds and 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.
Today, the path out of this prison of knowing what I should be and then embracing true repentance because of the distance between what I should be and what I am begins with coming clean about reality. I wonder if it was this going through Jonah’s mind as he sat in the whale’s belly? 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. Not 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 keeps my will weak! It’s this lack of awakeness, this being numbed by daily life, that keeps me a slave to my weak will. Only by honest confession will I ever begin the journey to be Orthodox on Purpose.