She looked at me after I’d shared my own struggles as a priest and a leader and she said “Well, father, you chose this life. So, there’s no use in complaining about it!” Ouch! That’ll teach me to be honest and vulnerable to those who haven’t proven themselves able to bear it!
But, as much as her words stung, they were also true. I did exercise my will, my freedom to choose, in entering this life of the priesthood. And I was, and am, responsible for that choice, and I do have the obligation (not a very popular word nowadays) to bear the challenges of this life. In fact, we all have the same obligation to live with the consequences of our choices.
But how? How are we to do this hard work? As usual, it all has to do with Jesus Christ!
Look at our lesson today in 2 Timothy 2:1-10:
Timothy, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier on service gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to satisfy the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hardworking farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will grant you understanding in everything.
Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descended from David, as preached in my gospel, the gospel for which I am suffering and wearing fetters like a criminal. But the word of God is not fettered. Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain salvation in Christ Jesus with its eternal glory.
Timothy was the spiritual son of St. Paul and he became the leader of a community that was started by St. Paul. St. Timothy would become the first bishop of Ephesus. St. Paul is helping his spiritual son with several principles meant to have Timothy take responsibility for his choices and fulfill his ministry.
Notice how Paul speaks to Timothy. He tells him to be “strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” Paul often puts “Christ” in front of “Jesus” to reinforce the unique anointing (The meaning of the word “Christ”) of Jesus as the expected Messiah. Being strong in the grace of Jesus means staying confident and dependent on the strength and ministry of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Savior. Jesus is the conqueror of death, Jesus is the Risen Lord, Jesus is the Son sitting at the right hand of the Father in heaven. The grace of Jesus Christ is the power the Lord uses to empower those whom He gives His grace to transform them; to make them able to live up to their created potential.
The next wisdom to be able to live with the consequences of our choices is to square our shoulders in the face of suffering. But Paul tells Timothy that this suffering is “as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” Avoiding suffering might make sense but the reality is we do suffer in life. If our suffering is meaningful then it is endurable. If we value our comfort over our responsibility then we will do anything to avoid suffering. But if I am going to be truly free in Christ Jesus then I am going to face suffering with the sure truth that Christ will carry me through the suffering!
Finally, Paul tells Timothy that dealing with the consequences of my choices is like an athlete and a farmer, which means I am willing to train and work hard and then be patient as I wait for the results of my faithfulness to bear fruit. This analogy of athlete and farmer is such a useful word picture to teach me the freedom of a follower of Jesus rests in my willingness to be trained, to practice, to be disciplined, and to run my race well. I am also called to work the soil of my heart so that the Word of God finds my heart a welcoming place to be planted deeply and then bear fruit as I tend the garden of my heart as a faithful “farmer!”
Today, your life as a faithful follower of Jesus Christ means you don’t hide from reality. You are mature enough to see the word of God active and free in your life to transform and continue to form your life every day to be “like Christ.” Being Orthodox on Purpose is all about living in the reality of Jesus Christ!
P.S. O Lord, You are Free. Your gift to us is the freedom to be continually set free by Your transforming wisdom and life. By living in the freedom from the slavery of delusion You make us like Yourself and our free life in You then becomes a witness to everyone else around us who are yearning to be free themselves. Grant us, O God, the grace and the strength to live every day as followers of You and lovers of Your Son, our Savior, the Lord Jesus. Amen.