“Hey, I know that boy. I’ve known him my whole life. Who does he think he is?” I confess, it hurt a bit. You see, I was preaching one of my first “sermons” and some “friend” of the family who had, actually, known me and my parents since I was a baby, was a bit put out at my sermon topic. I don’t even remember what it was now, but I do remember his easy dismissal of my thoughts simply based on him watching me grow up.
There was another time, after I converted to Orthodoxy, that a man I respected, and still respect, stood in front of my old home church where I was visiting for the first time since my conversion, and said that “Of course you converted to Orthodoxy. That was the most unorthodox thing you could do, and you’ve always been a bit of a rebel.” I smiled, but it still stung.
So, where does this come from? Well, there is the old saying that “familiarity breeds contempt” and I think that it is true. But the reason it is true is because we humans are uncomfortable around events and persons that challenge our sense of “normalcy” or “equilibrium.” When we encounter that, our first desire is to try to restore our sense of the normal. Now, this isn’t all bad. There are times when the darkness of our world wants to reset our “normal” to the baser desires of our passions. So, this reaction is a good thing AS LONG AS it stays healthy!
Just look at our Gospel Lesson this morning in Luke 4:22-30:
At that time, the crowd spoke of him, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth; and they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself; what we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here also in your own country.'” And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his own country. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when there came a great famine over all the land; and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha; and none of them was cleansed but only Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and put him out of the city, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw him down headlong. But passing through the midst of them he went away.
This mental barrier of watching the Lord grow up in their village, and the familiarity these folks had with the Lord’s extended family, became an easy excuse to ignore the powerful message the Lord proclaimed. They were so disturbed by His words that they actually tried to kill Him.
And what was His message? The Lord proclaimed to His home town what He had been proclaiming in every place: “The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent!” But they were so blinded by their “familiarity” that they refused to accept His words. This is the subtle danger of familiarity: it blinds you the profound depth of eternal truths. The Lord warned these folks about this danger by revealing the truth that throughout the history of the faith it was the barrier of mere familiarity that kept the very people who had been given this spiritual treasure FIRST from holding this treasure forever. Their very familiarity with the Faith became a detriment to their ability to experience the joy of the faith.
But it turns out what they called “familiarity” was actually just a shallow lip service to the treasure of their faith. They were so convinced they knew the Faith, they missed it!
Today, where is shallow familiarity holding you back? Do you really know the Faith or are you just so comfortable with the trappings of the Faith that you have become numb to the message of the Faith? You may be confronted by this spiritual poverty in a way that disturbs you, but don’t hate that moment. If you have the humility and courage to embrace this momentary discomfort, you may discover a depth of the treasure of your Faith you never really knew existed. And what is merely familiar may become brand new all over again. You just may become Orthodox on Purpose!