I was a nervous wreck! A 15-year-old teenager with his best buddies was sneaking into a movie theater without paying! I can hear the voice of my mother in my head “Young man, you carry your family name. That should make you think twice about doing things you know you shouldn’t!”
We didn’t get caught. We loved the movie. We laughed, and we congratulated ourselves for our stealth and our “courage.”
And I felt miserable!
All of us can point to some youthful indiscretion or immature mistake with regret, but I felt this particular youthful act deeply. I’ve been told that I need to loosen up a bit when it comes to “following the rules” but that beautiful and stubborn voice of my dear mother keeps ringing in my ears!
We all have the temptation to take shortcuts in life. Frankly, most of the time I hear myself saying “work smarter, not harder” I’m actually saying “Find a shortcut so I don’t have to do all this hard work!” And that’s not always a bad thing. Avoiding unnecessary effort to achieve goals and be productive is a fine attitude to achieve excellence and move forward.
But sometimes, when we try to avoid the process that has been proven by the test of time, we short-circuit a development process that is integral to our own growth and improvement.
This is exactly the situation the Lord is warning us about in today’s Gospel Lesson. In John 10:1-9 the Lord is once again attempting to move the people of His day to see clearly the path He is providing them to achieve the goal of their creation – Union with God.
The Lord said to the Jews who had come to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber; but he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens; the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” This figure Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers; but the sheep did not heed them. I am the door; if any one enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.”
Trying to achieve this union with God, which is the absolute purpose of the existence of every person in the world, through shortcuts or other “paths” becomes problematic because there is a Path that always works. Ignoring this Path or attempting to “do it yourself” creates problems and even delusions. The reasons for this truth isn’t because God is trying to be difficult or hard to find, but because the enemy of our souls is good at diverting our attention from the true goal of our existence. By the way, most of the time, the enemy of my soul turns out to be me!
This is also the main reason we Orthodox can’t say that “other paths” lead to this place of spiritual health and spiritual healing. It isn’t some triumphalist “we’re better than everybody else” but a humble confession that we don’t know where these other paths lead. We DO KNOW where the timeless path of Orthodoxy leads so we steer as many people as possible toward that sure path!
Today, are you willing to “enter the sheepfold” by the Door? Or do you find yourself all too often saying by your actions and your choices “Hey, I got this. I’ll do it my way.” God isn’t trying to be “exclusive” or “hard to reach.” He is calling us to a time-tested Path that reveals the Path is as much part of the wisdom and part of my own transformation as anything else! My willingness to embrace the Path is actually part of the Path! God wants to be found, dear one. He wants you to achieve and become by “grace what Christ is by nature.” And He knows that this journey has a multitude of places where wrong turns can be made and distractions can divert. So, He lovingly calls you to embrace the wisdom of obedience and humility by refusing the shortcuts of the shallow lies that try to pull us off the Path to spiritual maturity. Enter by the Door. Don’t try to sneak in another way!