Christ is risen!
I have some acquaintances that are academic lay theologians and they never cease to amaze me with their regular “insights” that “Well, we know this has been believed a long time, but did you know about these exceptions that really mean that what we’ve always believed is not quite right.” It’s almost comical how regular this desperate need to be “creative” and find the “grey” especially in the moral teaching =s of the Faith. It’s almost like they are desperate to make a wrong right!
But, the word “exhort” or “exhortation” occurs 36 times in the New Testament, and comes from two Latin words that mean “thoroughly encourage.” An “exhortation” is not a suggestion, but a speech meant to move people to act immediately. It usually entails an unpopular truth that, nevertheless, has to be declared regardless of its popularity. Most of the time an “exhortation” is meant to make us uncomfortable so we will act! And that can only come from a humble, courageous, and willing person who loves the audience more than they love being popular. “The bus is headed toward you! Move! Now!” That’s an exhortation!
Look at our lesson today in Acts 13:13-24:
IN THOSE DAYS, Paul and his company set sail from Paphos, and came to Perga in Pamphylia. And John left them and returned to Jerusalem; but they passed on from Perga and came to Antioch of Pisidia. And on the sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. After the reading of the law and the prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent to them, saying, “Brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say it.” So Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand said: “Men of Israel, and you that fear God, listen. The God of this people Israel chose our fathers and made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt, and with uplifted arm he led them out of it. And for about forty years he bore with them in the wilderness. And when he had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land as an inheritance, for about four hundred and fifty years. And after that he gave them judges until Samuel the prophet. Then they asked for a king; and God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years. And when he had removed him, he raised up David to be their king; of whom he testified and said, ‘I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart, who will do all my will.’ Of this man’s posterity God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised. Before his coming John had preached a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel.”
St. Paul here is invited, as was the custom of the day, to address the synagogue after the reading of the Scriptures. By the way, this is why a normal Orthodox Divine Liturgy has the homily right after the Gospel Lesson. That is the traditional place for the homily, not at the end of the Liturgy as has become custom in many places today.
And what does Paul tell these Jews? He rehearses in their hearing the history of their people and ends with the unequivocal declaration that Jesus is the promised Messiah the Jews had been waiting for. He doesn’t couch it in politically correct terms. He doesn’t attempt to “soften the blow” of this news. And he doesn’t flinch. He exhorts these people to embrace this universe-changing declaration with the full expectation that they will now abandon any other notion or belief and embrace the Christian message of Christ. Period. Full stop. End of discussion. This wasn’t an invitation to debate or discuss. This was an exhortation to be faced, believed, and then followed. Exhortations are normal for the Orthodox Christian Faith.
But how can Paul do this? He can because there are some truths that simply aren’t open to debate. And, when it comes to Jesus Christ, His very Person is Truth. As the Lord said in the Gospel, you will either fall on this rock and be broken or this rock will fall on you and you will be ground to powder (see Matthew 21:44)!
On this 5th Wednesday of the Season of Pascha, we are midway to the great feast of Pentecost. Already over half of the Paschal season has come and gone. Already we have greeted each other regularly with “Christ is risen!” And we are confronted daily during this time of year with the universe-altering message of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. While some would much rather talk about the Resurrection as some pious myth or some metaphorical lesson, we Orthodox continue to insist even to this day that the Resurrection of Jesus is both a historical and actual miracle where the body crucified on Friday came out of the grave Sunday with a real beating heart and breathing lungs! We insist that the physical Jesus, born of Mary, Crucified, and Buried, is, in fact, and in truth, still alive! Really! Actually! Alive. This Message that is Normal Orthodoxy is disturbing to those who would prefer that Christianity be just another religious philosophical system among many, and we “educated” and “modern” people simply can’t be expected to believe in a real physical resurrection. After all, that means our slavish adherence to our “modern” science has an exception to it! And that might mean that what Jesus taught is not just a “nice” philosophy, but an actual wisdom meant to be embraced by everyone! As we head to Pentecost, let’s not try to make the message of the Faith palatable to those who actually need to be confronted by their too-small understanding of God’s universe.
Today, are you able to hear an exhortation, or does the very notion of the priest declaring truths strike you as scary or disgusting, or even inappropriate? Make no mistake, dearest, there are some times when the Truth is meant to be declared and believed, whether you like it or not. That’s how you become Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. Mid-way in the feast, refresh my thirsty soul with the flowing waters of piety. For You cried out to all, O Savior, “Let him who thirsts come to me and drink.” You, O Christ our God, are the Fountain of Life, glory to You.
Thanks for Supporting Faith Encouraged