It’s a paradox. A paradox is a concept that we humans, especially we humans shaped and formed by post-Enlightenment secularism, have a hard time grasping. Paradox makes us uncomfortable. It feels like a “problem” to be “solved.” That’s why we humans stumble over paradox. You know what I mean, don’t you? It’s like what Jesus said when He taught that to save your life, you must lose it, and to be a leader, you must be a slave. Paradox.
And I am convinced we struggle with this situation partly because of our own fear and our desire for “certainty.” We really don’t want the hard work of pressing out wisdom in our everyday lives. We just want the “rule book” so we don’t have to think about this stuff! It makes sense. I gravitate towards this myself. But, in reality, this isn’t the way life works, is it?
This may work when assembling an “assembly required” new bicycle. It may work when following the meticulous procedures of surgery, but it most certainly doesn’t work in relationships. Here we need constant attention to the other person. We need the humility to “give and take” in the everyday work of relationships, and that takes becoming comfortable with paradox. In fact, I’m convinced the Creator instilled the concept of paradox in His creation precisely to overcome our prideful tendencies to reduce everything to mere rule keeping. And He begins this challenge to our pride with our relationship with Him!
Look at our Gospel Lesson this morning in Mark 11:1-11:
At that time, as Jesus drew near to Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, and said to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately as you enter it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat; untie it and bring it. If any one says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.’” And they went away, and found a colt tied at the door out in the open street; and they untied it. And those who stood there said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” And they told them what Jesus had said; and they let them go. And they brought the colt to Jesus, and threw their garments on it; and he sat upon it. And many spread their garments on the road, and others spread leafy branches which they had cut from the fields. And those who went before and those who followed cried out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is coming! Hosanna in the highest!” And he entered Jerusalem, and went into the temple; and when he had looked round at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.
We all know this story well. And it isn’t a mistake that the Church brings it before us today as we move toward the annual spiritual pilgrimage of Great Lent. So, the Church telegraphs to us the vision of the end of our journey right before we begin it so we will fully appreciate the motivations behind our spiritual work together. Here, the Lord displays the paradox of trusting Him when all around you the world is headed the other direction away from Him. He sends His disciples to town to begin preparation for His Last Supper with them. And also to prepare for His Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. The Lord needs a colt, so He sends His disciples to get one that is tied up in town. Now picture the scene, two strangers you don’t know are untying your animal and beginning to lead it away! Don’t forget, in our “Wild West” days we shot horse thieves! And they tell you when you rightly stop them and ask “what are you doing?”, “The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.” And you let them go!
First, notice how this scene confronts us in our everyday lives. What trust and confidence must these disciples display as they obey Christ! And what faith and trust is displayed by the owners of the colt! No fear. No doubt. All trust. All peace. The Lord has need of it. This is the paradoxical trust of those who “know” God. They can rest knowing He knows them and what they need more than even they know themselves. Next, what confidence the Lord displayed in both sets of people. The Lord sees what you are capable of and even though you don’t (or won’t) see it, He does. He knows the kind of person you could be and His work in your life is all about bringing that true person out! Finally, this paradox of trust and confidence isn’t baseless. We have the centuries of God’s goodness and His love on display for us every moment of every day. All we have to do is stay awake to it!
Today, are you living in the paradox of trust even though the world around you is gripped by suspicion and doubt? Are you able to live confidently in God’s purpose for your life, knowing His work is to make you who you really are? All the disciplines of the Orthodox Faith are here waiting for you to dare to trust God enough to actually engage in an active practice of this wonderful way of life; this way of paradoxical faith. We are moments from the focused and disciplined path of Great Lent. Wake up to your annual chance to be Orthodox on Purpose!