Neither This Nor That!

Neither This Nor That!

For the past several years our society has been struggling with the chaos of “identity politics.” Our whole society has been gripped by the challenges of “microaggressions,” gender dysphoria, and the “cancel culture” of being a heretic of the current faddish madness trying to pass itself off as “progress” and “fairness” and “compassion.”

Of course, it isn’t any of these virtues.

But the truth is identity issues aren’t anything new. Prejudice and tribalism are as old as humanity itself. In fact, Jesus Christ was born into a world where particular identities were so toxic that they would get you ostracized from “polite society.” St. Paul would tell the Galatians in our lesson today of a radical new way of looking at humanity that was meant to heal us from the toxic tribalism that plagued the Roman Empire then, and still plagues us today!

Look at our lesson today in Galatians 3:23-29; 4:1-5:

Brethren, before faith came, we were confined under the law, kept under restraint until faith should be revealed. So that the law was our custodian until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian; for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no better than a slave, though he is the owner of all the estate; but he is under guardians and trustees until the date set by the father. So with us; when we were children, we were slaves to the elemental spirits of the universe. But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

So, St. Paul is trying to get these Galatians, most of whom were not raised in Jewish homes, to not buy into the heresy that they had to be Jewish before they could be Christian. It’s kind of like the false notion that you have to be Greek, or Russian, or Serbian, or Romanian, or (fill in the blank of your favorite ethnicity) before you can become Orthodox. That notion is, has always been, and will forever be, false.

And yet…

St. Paul refuses to call the Jewish practices of the Law that had actually become second nature to the Jews, bad. In fact, St. Paul insists that the Law, the ritual rules, and regulations, were our “custodians” until Christ came.

This means that the “rules and regulations” serve a vital purpose in our maturity and development, and always will. There is a great benefit in the humble honesty of realizing you need boundaries to not just keep you safe (that’s too small a motivation to produce anything else but slavery) but to train your inner self to recognize the dangers in life when they come. Most of the biggest mistakes in my life have come when I was asleep to the “cliffs” of my own intoxicated actions devoid of the wisdom of maturity. I bet you can see that in your life as well.

So, the purpose of the “rules and regs” is to train you, form you, and teach you to recognize when your passions are out of control. They serve as the “custodian” until we grow up enough to value our relationship with Jesus ABOVE our own immediate desires! And that “grown-up” place isn’t some “magic moment” when “poof” “I’m saved” as much as it is a day-by-day choosing, from my freedom, to realize the treasure the Faith gives me in giving me, Jesus! That treasure is nothing less than actually “putting on” Christ at my baptism, becoming “Abraham’s offspring,” and “heirs” of the promise of new life in Christ. The Treasure is when rules become wisdom and my motivation to follow them flows from that stronger motivation of love rather than my ego’s desire to be “correct.”

That’s why St. Paul also said there was no more “slave nor free” and even “neither male nor female.” Not because those identities were disappearing, but because the limitations of these categories are all transcended by us being “one in Christ Jesus.” The categories matter, but only because they invite us to cherish our distinctive that we learn from them how to do the hard work of being together. It’s the “Being together” that is the true purpose of all our differences.

St. Barbara the Great Martyr was born in Phonecia during the time when Maximian was the Roman Emperor. She was the daughter of a pagan Roman citizen named Dioscorus. He was a wealthy man and prominent in society. St. Barbara was a brilliant young woman, and she heard the message of Christ and the powerful mystery of the Holy Trinity, and she became convinced in her heart that Christ was the Savior of the world. Her father built a bathhouse for the local people but was called away on business before it was completed. Her father had had two windows placed in the building, but Barbara added a third window and inscribed the sign of the cross in the marble with her finger. It cut the sign so deeply into the marble that it looked as if it had been chiseled into the stone. When her father returned, he asked her about the third window, and she confessed her faith in the Holy Trinity. Her father was furious with his daughter and demanded she renounce the Faith. When she refused, he tortured her severely and then beheaded his own child with his own hands. When the church was built over the spot, the marble with the sign of the cross ion was preserved, and many miracles were done in that place.

Today, don’t despise or dismiss the wisdom of the rules and regulations.” You do so at your own peril. Embrace them as the valuable tools they are to show you the dangers of undisciplined desires. Then, don’t stop! Keep growing up until you realize the unspeakable joy of a Normal Orthodoxy that leads you to have a Normal Orthodox Life!

P.S. O noble Champion, following God who is reverently praised in Trinity, you abandoned the temples of idols. Struggling amid suffering, O Barbara, you were not overwhelmed by the threats of the tyrants, O brave One, even singing aloud, “I worship the Trinity, the one Godhead.”

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