Listen to this from St. John Chrysostom: “Upon leaving the house one should without fail say, ‘I renounce you, Satan, your pomp and service, and I enter into Your service, O Christ.'” It’s so radical in its insistence that we actually take seriously the reality of the spiritual warfare and the power in a focused devotion and dependence on Christ with every step of my day.
But say something like this in a group of average Americans and you will come across as a religious fanatic. To be honest, we live in a society that makes fun of such notions of spiritual devotion, of an active fight against the evil one, and of a secular society that has witnessed the common culture try to dismiss and trivialize any serious religious devotion. They make fun of it so they can lessen their guilt in rejecting such focused living.
The path of a follower of Jesus Christ is different. Someone serious about embracing the wisdom and the love of Christ is constantly learning and growing toward a more peaceful, loving, and sober life. And that kind of focused devotion is an absolute terror to the darkness and extremely uncomfortable to those making a more self-centered choice.
Look at our Lesson today in Mark 6:1-7:
At that time, Jesus came to his own country; and his disciples followed him. And on the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue; and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get all this? What is the wisdom given to him? What mighty works are wrought by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house.” And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands upon a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief. And he went about among the villages teaching. And he called to him the twelve, and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.
When these hometown folks heard the Lord teach, they were astonished that this boy they watched grow was now a powerful teacher of the faith. And it wasn’t in a good way. The excellence of the Lord’s words revealed the hearts of those there and they immediately took refuge in saying “Isn’t this Mary’s boy? I knew Him when…” And it was their way of blunting the words, the wisdom they were hearing from Christ. No wonder Jesus, seeing their unbelief, had these two reactions: Insight and Wonder.
His insight was that “A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house.” (Mark 6:4) The Lord recognized that it was this “easy excuse” of having watched Him grow up that locked these folks inside the slavery of their own darkness. Their “offense” at His wisdom flowed from their own mediocrity and their silent shame that if one from their hometown could be this devoted, this wise, then they could too if only they would. But they weren’t and their shame and their desire to maintain their spiritual mediocrity caused them to defend their slackness with offense!
His marvelling is another reaction. Amazing that their disbelief was so pronounced and debilitating that it even astonished God! Christ marveled at their disbelief because it was so unnecessary. It was so pointless. And it was so costly. The passage goes on to say that their disbelief was why He did not do many miracles there. The sick, with a few exceptions, stayed sick. The blind stayed blind. And the tormented stayed tormented. And I’m not just talking about the physical illnesses. Their disbelief robbed THEM. But that’s what disbelief always does. It never troubles or harms God when we don’t trust Him. It always harms us.
Today, a life of spiritual excellence and devotion will run counter to the vast culture around us. It always has. So, what are your excuses for lukewarm love? What are your “offenses” at serious and loving devotion to God? You don’t want to be thought of as a fanatic? You don’t want to appear different than those around you? Well, to be sure, we do not purposefully flaunt our devotion. But we fast on Wednesdays and Fridays. So, when we are out to lunch with our friends those days, we order the salad. When asked why, we speak the truth in love: “I desire to remember God in every aspect of my life” and be Orthodox on Purpose!