Normal Orthodoxy Invites Us to RepentanceFr. Barnabas Powell
If you had to choose between self-esteem and self-awareness what would you choose? By the way, it’s a trick question!
I remember when there was this emphasis on self-esteem becoming so very central to our educational process for children. And I remember when there were even public service announcements during Saturday morning cartoons like “The More you Know” and even special movies all about building and promoting our self-esteem. We started getting participation trophies just for showing up, all in an effort to build our self-esteem. And I remember thinking, “How nice. This is helpful.” Everything was well-intentioned. They really did mean well. And then the Law of Unintended Consequences kicked in and now we are dealing with the perpetual adolescence of generations of “not quite” adults and their expectations that are both childish and unrealistic. Our good intentions have borne bad fruit!
How do we rescue society from this immaturity? Well, it won’t be with an “equal and opposite” fury of anger or political “payback.” The answer is an old one. We have to show our generations how to repent. And I’m talking about real repentance, not the “sorry I got caught” foolishness that only produces shame and guilt. Real repentance is the “medicine” that will heal us.
Look at our Gospel Lesson in Matthew 17:10-18:
At that time, the disciples asked Jesus, “Then why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” He replied, “Elijah does come and he is to restore all things; but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not know him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of man will suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist. And when they came to the crowd, a man came up to him and kneeling before him said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly; for often he falls into the fire, and often into the water. And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him.” And Jesus answered, “O faithless and perverse generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me.” And Jesus rebuked him, and the demon came out of him, and the boy was cured instantly.
The poor man with the sick son had already tried to get the disciples of the Lord to heal his son, but they couldn’t. Isn’t it fascinating that the disciples had been given the power to heal the sick, raise the dead, and cast out demons, it seems that power ebbed and flowed at times in the disciples? There were some problems they couldn’t fix. I wonder why? Was it that they were like me when my faith is weak? Perhaps they were like me in that I am distracted by the worries of life and God’s grace is not my priority at times. Or perhaps their “power” waned as their pride began to rise. Losing humility always means a stumble. Regardless, the disciples couldn’t help this father and son.
The Lord seemed willing to call our attention to this tendency toward inconsistency in our spiritual lives when He reacts as He does to this moment. He declares that this generation is a “faithless and perverse generation” and He makes it pretty clear that this lukewarm habit won’t be tolerated forever! Of course, He does make the boy well! And this tells us everything we need to know about God and how He relates to us so very inconsistent humans. Our unfaithfulness can’t stop God’s mercy, but it does often prevent us from running to Christ for help! And the key to keeping this from happening is the very spiritual discipline that we are called to practice constancy – Repentance. Repentance requires two important characteristics – Humility and honesty. Humility means I am self-aware enough to know I need to change the way I think and act, and honesty protects me from both self-righteousness and shame. True, Normal Orthodox, repentance means I know and love God enough to want to be close to Him AND I know myself well enough to name the places in my life that are keeping me away from Him. That is real repentance, not merely mumbling “I’m sorry” under my breath in church when I feel bad.
Today, where is your lack of consistency in your faith making you “faithless and perverse?” Do you realize that you are so blessed to be living in the moment “BEFORE” the “awesome judgment seat of Christ” and there is still time for you to learn to repent and reorient your life to greater faithfulness and wholeness? What a blessing! Perhaps it’s time, today, to abandon the “automatic pilot” mentality of your faith and actually embrace this wonderful moment when you can be Orthodox on Purpose.
P.S. O Lord of Mercy, You have made repentance as the way of salvation because it is this very discipline that will keep me from both arrogance and despondency. Help me to keep learning to repent and never allow my soul to go to sleep to my need for repentance as a way of life, not just some momentary relief from feelings of guilt. Help me, Lord. Amen