Our modern world seems to run on violence. And it seems that every day the news is of more violence there and more violence here. From college campuses arguing over speech and “safe zones” and “trigger warnings” to the very real violence of terrorism all meant to disrupt and destroy. And can we even talk about what seems to be “perpetual war” in hotspots around the world where our soldiers are sent to fight? Lord, have mercy!
But the Scriptures mention another violence that is required to enter into the Kingdom of God. Yes, violence. But this violence has to do with the violence of honesty, repentance, and the spiritual struggle or “ascesis” of purposeful Christian discipline. Especially at this time of year, we desperately need some spiritual “violence” to fight the prevailing spirit of the day, if not for our own souls then the souls of those who follow us!
Look at our Gospel Lesson today in Luke 16:15-18; 17:1-4:
The Lord said to the Jews who came to him, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts; for what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God. The law and the prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and every one enters it violently. But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one dot of the law to become void. Every one who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.”
And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come; but woe to him by whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung round his neck and he were cast into the sea, than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. Take heed to yourselves; if your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him; and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”
Our Lord Jesus calls us to reality when He reminds us that “temptations to sin are sure to come.” That means the heart of “fighting” temptation is first to not be surprised by them! The truth is we live in a world where it’s easy to sin and hard to do right. We live in a world where we are constantly tempted to compromise relationships, wisdom, and truth, all in the name of “getting along.” And yet, even when we compromise, it seems those who want us to water down the Faith are never satisfied. No, we give them this, and they demand more from us, more compromise, more accommodation, more “get with the times.” Of course, we can never change enough to satisfy the demands of this modern world. They won’t be happy till we capitulate altogether!
And that leads to the next reality check of our Lord’s words to us today! The Lord says “everyone enters it (the Kingdom) violently.” To be sure, this isn’t violence against others, but violence against our own weaknesses and sin. No wonder the Lord follows these provocative words with clear examples of this “violent” path to the Kingdom. He confronts our spiritual poverty in relationships and our not being satisfied with our own sins. No, we want others to join us in our sin! This “violent” wisdom of serious commitment, honest confession, and humble obedience seems to those who only desire their own comfort to be a “violence” against “what comes naturally.” Then the Lord doubles down on His “violent” path by insisting that we take responsibility for our brothers by loving them enough to help them see the destructiveness of rebellion and then to forgive them every time they ask!
Today, are you brave enough to enter God’s Kingdom “violently?” Are you willing to accept the words of your baptism as a newly illumined member of the Lord’s Church as having been enrolled in the Kingdom of God and called to keep your baptismal garment “spotless?” If so, know this will take a “violent” embrace of wisdom, repentance, spiritual struggle, and faithfulness when all around you is tempting you to give up or give in. Entering the Kingdom of God takes someone willing to be Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. Dear Lord, I lose my temper. I get angry. I even imagine doing violence against those who I think are my enemies. All of this rage is hiding from the true object that requires my violence – my own soul. But I love being “comfortably numb.” And in my inattentiveness to the spiritual labor, I must do within myself through prayer, fasting, and generosity, I turn that violence outward towards others deepening my own slavery to my selfish ways. Forgive me Lord, and have mercy on me and direct my energies to the war I should be fighting within! Amen.