“Pursue some path, however narrow and crooked, in which you can walk with love and reverence.” This quote by Henry David Thoreau is beautiful. But I have a problem with it since it seems to suggest that any path will do as long as it’s your own path. In fact, it seems our own day has fallen into the false notion that “all paths lead to God.” Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. But we are so very terrified of being “offensive” or “exclusive” we’ve abandoned the time-tested wisdom discovered and preserved through the centuries that actually there are really only TWO PATHS – One is Good and leads to God and one is bad and leads to destruction and darkness. Period!
To be sure, we are each free, unique, and unrepeatable persons who uniquely incarnate our common human nature in a way that defies duplication. But, still, is the great poet and author suggesting that we are complete within ourselves as stand-alone entities? I know of only One Who is complete within Himself. So, are there some paths that are actually wrong paths? Yes, there are, and discerning which path is right and which path is wrong is the fruit of wisdom.
Look at our lesson today in Proverbs 10:31-11:12:
The mouth of the righteous brings forth wisdom, but the perverse tongue will be cut off. The lips of the righteous know what is acceptable, but the mouth of the wicked, what is perverse. A false balance is an abomination to the LORD, but a just weight is his delight. When pride comes, then comes disgrace; but with the humble is wisdom. The integrity of the upright guides them, but the crookedness of the treacherous destroys them. Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death. The righteousness of the blameless keeps his way straight, but the wicked falls by his own wickedness. The righteousness of the upright delivers them, but the treacherous are taken captive by their lust. When the wicked dies, his hope perishes, and the expectation of the godless comes to nought. The righteous is delivered from trouble, and the wicked gets into it instead. With his mouth the godless man would destroy his neighbor, but by knowledge the righteous are delivered. When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices; and when the wicked perish there are shouts of gladness. By the blessing of the upright a city is exalted, but it is overthrown by the mouth of the wicked. He who belittles his neighbor lacks sense, but a man of understanding remains silent.
The back and forth of Proverbs is meant to engage us in the hard work of critical thinking that teaches us to discern the right path from the wrong path. Comparing and contrasting righteous and wicked gives us insights into knowing which is which.
Just look at how righteousness and wickedness show their two very different paths:
In speech – The words of the righteous reveal goodness and wisdom, but the words from the wicked are perverse. Just listen to someone talk long enough and you’ll be able to “hear” their inner self. Better yet, listen to yourself talk and you’ll be able to discern which path you’re on!
In character – The path of righteousness is seen in integrity; you know, the way you act when no one is looking. But the wicked path is seen in schemes and intrigues. It never ceases to amaze me the difference between the two paths. The righteous are simple and without pretense, while the path of the wicked is littered with plans and twists and turns all mean to confuse and get the upper hand. Discerning this mindset instructs you on which path you’re on. If all is nuance and exception, trust that that path leads nowhere! There really are some unmovable truths.
In behavior – The two paths reveal a very different way of living on a daily basis. All too often I’ve heard folks dismiss the path of faith because they foolishly don’t think it has anything to do with daily living. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. And all you need to know to see this is the daily results of the behaviors of each path. The righteous path delivers from stumbles but the wicked path sends lives into the ditch of selfish mistakes. The righteous path leads to true freedom of the soul while the wicked path always seems to be making excuses as to why this sin or that sin “isn’t so bad.” Pay attention when one path is all about excuse-making to give permission for selfish choices.
And in destiny – Paths always lead to a destination. That’s what paths do. And these two paths have definite destinies. But you have to have faith to see them. And the Faith teaches us that the wicked path leads to destruction, but the path of the righteous leads to life. Where is your path taking you? Have you even examined your life to see where it’s headed?
We celebrate not just St. Patrick today but also this is the name day for my bishop and father-in-God Metropolitan Alexios. His saint, St. Alexis, the Man of God is remembered today, and here is a short bit of his story. Saint Alexis was born in old Rome of illustrious parents named Euphemianus and Aglais, and at their request was joined to a young woman in marriage. However, he did not remain with her even for one day but fled to Edessa, where he lived for eighteen years. He returned to Rome in the guise of a beggar and sat at the gates of his father’s house, unknown to all and mocked by his own servants. His identity was revealed only after his death by a paper that he had on his person, which he himself had written a little before his repose. The pious Emperor Honorius honored him with a solemn burial. The title “Man of God” was given to him from heaven in a vision to the Bishop of Rome on the day of the Saint’s repose. St. Alexis insisted on one path for his life and it ended with him being known as “The Man of God.” What a treasure.
Today, if we are honest, we will be able to discern that there are parts of our lives that are on the right path and parts of our lives that aren’t. The value of a purposeful Normal Orthodox life is the hard work of repentance that integrates my life into a wholeness that leads to wholesomeness. And it’s in doing this hard work of repentance that pulls my life together!
P.S. Though you did bud forth from a renowned and notable root, and though you did blossom from a city famed for her great imperial dignity, yet did you scorn all things as corruptible and fleeting, striving to be joined to Christ thy Master forever. Entreat Him, O Alexis most wise, fervently for our souls. Amen