Christ is born!
It was arrogant of me, I know. I thought I knew how to communicate deep Orthodox wisdom to everyone. But, here I am in front of these folks who are very different from me. They weren’t from my country. They didn’t speak my language. They didn’t know any of the references to the Bible I was making because they had never read the Bible! And I knew I was in deep trouble when I said that Jesus came so that we would live forever and this precious, beautiful lady raised her hand and asked “Why would anyone want to live forever?”
HA! Got you there, you arrogant know-it-all! OK, she didn’t say that. But that’s exactly how I felt. I assumed the way I understood things was the way everyone understood things, and boy, was I wrong. I had to stop assuming and start getting to know the people I was reaching out to, and I had to stop pretending I was able to do this without the hard work of getting to know these precious people.
Look at our lesson today in 1 Corinthians 9:19-27:
BRETHREN, though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews; to those under the law I became as one under the law – though not being myself under the law – that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law – not being without law toward God but under the law of Christ – that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Well, I do not run aimlessly, I do not box as one beating the air; but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
St. Paul is telling the Corinthian parish about how he approaches his missionary work. And his attitude is “I have to walk a mile in their shoes.” Paul is convinced that reaching others with this universal message of Christian Faith has to be shared in a way that anyone and everyone can embrace Jesus!
Paul seems convinced that everyone was meant to be a follower of Jesus Christ. And he’s so convinced of this that he says that he has become “all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.” He communicates this as if the salvation of others is dependent on his work! Was Paul being self-centered or arrogant that he was the “only hope” of these people? Not at all.
Paul was this zealous for his missionary work because, as he says, for the sake of the gospel. He is convinced that his reaching others with this universal message (I keep saying that on purpose, hint, hint) reveals his own value of the Faith in his life. He is ready to “spend and be spent” for the gospel as he says in another place.
What drives this zeal to reach others, even others very different than he is, is the sure conviction that loving God automatically assumes loving others! And sharing with others this treasured freedom that comes from making yourself a slave to others really enables every person to make your life better!
Just look at the list of people Paul is convinced should be Christian: Jews, Those under the Law, Gentiles (those outside the Law), and even the Weak! All these folks were meant to know the Faith and live the Faith and find a home in the Faith, everyone, even you! And Paul finishes his thought by reminding us that his efforts aren’t about just “beating the air” but running the race as a disciplined athlete, to win the “prize.” In another place Paul tells us what that prize is – it’s Jesus Christ Himself. That’s the Prize we are running towards and for!
Today, do you love those around you enough to make sure they know the wisdom of our Orthodox Faith? Do they see you practice this Faith and do they know they can become Orthodox too? Being Orthodox on Purpose transforms your heart to love those around you so much you want them with you forever!
P.S. Dear Lord, help me so forgetful of myself today that I notice and love those You send to me today. Help me love them so much that I want them to be with me forever with You. Grant me the courage and the strength to reach out to them with a faithful witness of the wisdom of the Faith so that they, too, can be free from the delusion of this unfaithful age. Amen.