A Soldier, An Athlete, and A FarmerFr. Barnabas Powell
It almost sounds like the beginning of a joke: “A Soldier, an Athlete, and a Farmer…” But what it really is is a prescription for living a wise life.
All too often we fall into the trap of reducing life to being “right” or “wrong.” We want to be correct. We want to be strong. We want to be right. And we want others to recognize our “rightness,” our “correctness,” and our strength. But what if life isn’t about being right, or correct, or strong? What if life is about being wise? Our modern world seems to be directly opposed to wisdom in its never ending struggle for rights or the delusion of “fairness” or even “justice.” All the while missing the point that these worthy realities aren’t goals at all as much as they are byproducts of wisdom and love. But because we moderns have confused the results with the purpose, we keep getting bogged down in fruitless pursuits. And wisdom suffers.
Look at today’s Lesson from St. Paul to his spiritual son, St. Timothy in Second 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.
St. Paul gives his spiritual son three key insights from real life to help St. Timothy as he does his work at a parish priest. But these same insights will also assist us in overcoming the temptation to confuse the results of wisdom with the purpose!
First, a Soldier doesn’t forget his purpose. What is your greatest enemy to living a wise and consistent life? Entanglements with other priorities. A diffused energy always produces less. A divided mind always confuses life. And a divided heart is always paralyzed. But a soldier understands that, if he is going to survive the battle; if he is going to achieve his objectives, he has to stay focused and disciplined in his choices. There will be voices that tempt him away from his purpose, his goal, but his discipline protects him from going off and missing his purpose. So it is with the disciplines of the Faith. They aren’t meant simply to make your life hard, but to counteract the soul dividing and conquering temptations that will confuse your life and distract your heart. This kind of discipline leads to wisdom.
Next, an Athlete doesn’t dismiss the labor to win the race. Any athlete knows if he is going to win, he has to put in the practice time, the training time, and the singular focus necessary to finish the race. Everybody cheers the winner, but very few of us take the time to appreciate the years of training, sacrifice, and discipline the athlete accomplished to win the crown. So, too, with a wise life. It takes the dedication of an athlete to run the race of life well. Not settling for almost, or “that’s good enough.” But the dedication and strength of character necessary to gain wisdom wins the race of a well-lived life!
Finally, the Farmer doesn’t ignore the harvest. A farmer doesn’t just focus on the work of the day, but appreciates that his ability to do the work well means he has to keep his mind on the end result – the Harvest. And he knows that this harvest isn’t just going to put food on his table but also serve all around him as well. It’s his consistent remembering the reason for the work that protects him from both despondency and fatigue. So, it is with the wise follower of Christ. Never forgetting the reason for the spiritual labor steels the disciple for the hard work to produce the harvest of wisdom in his life!
Today, are you more interested in being right or being wise? If you’re wise, rightness takes care of itself. But you won’t be able to get to that place of wisdom without the consistent work of the Soldier, the Athlete, and the Farmer. Only then will you understand why it’s worth being Orthodox on Purpose.