“It is the sweet, simple things of life which are the real ones, after all.” So says the author of Little House on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls Wilder. But life is so very often not simple. It’s complicated and difficult and filled with so many motivations all mixed together and hard to tease out the good from the bad.
I was having a recent discussion with my daughter and we were talking about some ethical issues. She made a forceful statement that she was adamant was true. I responded by saying “OK, how do you know it’s true? Give me your reasoning. What’s your foundation for that insistence?” She saw where I was going and then we had a very important talk about first principles.
So, how do we live in this complicated world with the truth that simple things are the best things? Well, first we have to be wise enough and humble enough to discern what those simple things are. And you’re not going to do that by yourself. You’re going to need the humility to learn wisdom from those who came before you, and then you’re going to have to do the disciplines of that wisdom to be able to tell the simple from the deceptively complicated. If you do this, you’ll be free from the delusions that complicate your life.
Look at our lesson today in Galatians 5:11-21:
BRETHREN, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? In that case the stumbling block of the cross has been removed. I wish those who unsettle you would mutilate themselves! For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another take heed that you are not consumed by one another. But I say, walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you would. But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
St. Paul continues to correct these Galatians by warning them not to complicate the Truth!
And then he tells them about the “whole law,” and by that he means the whole Jewish Law that the Jews had had since Moses gave them the 10 Commandments and all the laws they had developed around the Torah to make sure the people kept the Law, that whole law can be summed up in one, simple phrase: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” If we kept this simple (but not easy) command, we would fulfill every part of God’s wisdom for us, humans. Of course, now we have to struggle with the fullest definitions of two words: “love” and “neighbor.”
“Love” is simple, but not easy. Because the love St. Paul means is God’s love; not the notion of love we all too often see displayed in our world. This Love is a love that isn’t diminished by anything or any action. This love doesn’t depend on being loved in return or getting something from the object of our love. This love is a love that loves regardless of the reactions of the one loved. This love is a choice and never expects anything in return. Yeah, that’s the love St. Paul means.
“Neighbor” isn’t just reduced to the person or family that lives next door to me, but everyone who shares my common human nature. All of humanity is my neighbor, whether they like me or not; whether I like them or not. My “neighbor” is that one right in front of me at any given moment, and that neighbor is to be the object of my love BECAUSE that’s exactly how God has loved me.
In 278 A.D. during the very short reign of Roman Emperor Probus, three great heroes of the Church left their witness for us to see! Saints Trophimos and Sabbatios traveled to the fabled city of Antioch and witnessed the pagan celebration of the feast of Apollo at Daphne. They were so struck by the spiritual blindness that this festival displayed that they went to Atticus, the governor of the area, and presented themselves as Christians in hopes of persuading the governor of the Faith. Both were arrested and tortured. St. Sabbatios died from the torture, but Trophimos survived the torture and was imprisoned after being forced to walk to his prison in lead boots with spikes in them. Dorymedon was a pagan counselor of the area and he went to the prison to minister to Trophimos. While he tended to the saint, a great pagan feast was happening and Dorymedon was asked why he didn’t offer sacrifices to the gods during the feast. Dorymedon admitted that he had become a Christian under the influence of Trophimos. So, Dorymedon suffered torture and eventually, they beheaded both men for their Faith in Christ. These men embraced the simple message of new life in Jesus and faced the not-easy consequences of this simple faith!
Today, do you want your life to be less complicated? Don’t we all long for “the simple things?” If that’s what you desire, then the path to that place is through developing this sacrificial love that makes you like Jesus Christ, the only true Lover of Mankind and the Author of the Normal Orthodox Life.
P.S. As a mighty river full of the divine gifts of the Holy Spirit’s grace, O valiant athletes of the Lord, you richly water all of the world with the beneficent floods of your miracles. Pray to God for us!