Christ is risen!
“Step right up Ladies and Gentlemen, see the most amazing sights you could ever imagine!” You’ve heard these words before. Carnival barkers trying to get you to spend the money to see the “amazing snake boy, half boy, half snake!” Or the “amazing Elephant Man.” Curiosity, entertainment, something “different,” something “tantalizing.”
And it works. Of course it works, they wouldn’t keep doing it if it didn’t work! We humans are drawn to spectacle, to entertainment, to amazing things and sights and words. We humans want this kind of thrill.
But why? Well, as usual, there is a healthy way to satisfy this common human desire and an unhealthy way. Just the other day, I was teaching my daughter that we reserve the word “awesome” for God alone. He is the only Person that is truly AWESOME. All other things we may say are awesome are cheap counterfeits of true awesomeness. Be drawn to Him to satisfy our human hunger for Awe and Spectacle, and we will be satisfied with intimacy with Him. But feed this natural human hunger wrongly and we will descend into mere entertainment for entertainment’s sake. We will trade the beauty of the Eucharistic life for smoke machines and the adolescent prison of sentimental “cotton candy.” We’ll ruin our appetite for Him by accepting the “empty calories” of mere entertainment to fill us up. I can hear my mother’s voice now: “No, you can’t have candy before dinner, you won’t eat right if you do!”
Look at our Gospel Lesson today in John 4:46-54:
At that time, there was an official whose son was ill. When he heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went and begged him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. Jesus therefore said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went his way. As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was living. So he asked them the hour when he began to mend, and they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live”; and he himself believed, and all his household. This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee.
While it may appear the Lord was being callous to the pain of a terrified father, this isn’t the case. The Lord, as is His custom, uses a place of focused pain and emotion to speak to all of us the truth that will set us free. It is true that moments in our lives of deep pain offer us a crystal clear ability to hear vital truths. And this moment is no exception. The Lord speaks to the crowd around Him who are all waiting for His next “trick!” They were waiting to see some marvel, some amazing thing. He knew what they were waiting for and He knew the dangers for them if they were captured more by spectacle rather than a true “metania” of repentance and relationship with God. He also knew we’d be reading this passage today and He speaks to us as well as we moderns are “entertaining ourselves to death!”
Our human obsession with entertainment always runs the risk of creating noise in our lives that drown out the still, small Voice calling us away from the precipice of immature delusion and toward the deeper and more fulfilling vision of wonder that is based on reality rather than “sleight of hand” amazement. But our blindness to that reality is cured by the wonder and beauty of the rhythm of faith preserved and perpetuated in our Orthodox Church. As Dostoyevsky said: “Beauty will save the world.” But not just “any” beauty; no, the beauty of the Uncreated God enfleshing Himself and coming among us to set us free from sin, death, and Satan, and set us on the path of Purgation, Illumination, and Union with Him.
Today, what has intoxicated your attention span and flooded your good desire for wonder with the empty calories of entertainment? How do you worship? Is your worship merely relevant, or is it always challenging you to transcendence? Are you willing to forgo the “cotton candy” of selfish titillation and embrace the deeper beauty of true wonder, or will you come to that “awful judgement seat of Christ” with no “right answer” because you’ve let true beauty escape through your fingers? Perhaps it’s time to realize just what is at stake if we aren’t Orthodox on Purpose!