Not Many Fathers!Fr. Barnabas Powell
So, why is it so easy to take advice from a stranger, but not your own family? Alright, I’ll confess to being a bit frustrated. Here’s the story: I had a dear family member bend my ear for several hours about a problem. At the end of this marathon, I gave what I thought was some wise counsel. This precious one listened and thanked me and then promptly ignored my advice for the directions of a complete stranger!
I wasn’t nearly as merciful and patient as I should have been when they came back to me after things became worse, seeking my help again. I had to fight the urge to say “I told you so!” By God’s grace, I was able to beat down my own wounded ego and help out! But why didn’t they listen to me in the first place?
Look at our lesson today in 1st Corinthians 4:9-16:
BRETHREN, God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are ill-clad and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become, and are now, as the refuse of the world, the off-scouring of all things. I do not write this to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me.
St. Paul here is trying to get the unruly Corinthian Church to listen to the wise counsel of their “father” in Christ. And he uses what some may call a bit of a passive aggressive model to get through to these “stubborn” spiritual children of his. He tells them he knows he isn’t the most reputable to those who are looking for someone who is popular or accepted by the regular society. He’s a “fool” for Christ’s sake but then he adds speaking to the Corinthians “You are wise.” Paul really wants to drive home that he recognizes his choices have made him less than popular with the wider society, but those choices are based on his love for Christ and his devotion to Christ. And his devotion as the “father” of the Corinthians is motivating him to speak plainly to his “spiritual” children.
Look at the wisdom of the Faith here to protect us and our spiritual fidelity to the faith!
First, the Church is primarily a family, not a club, or a religious “organization,” but a family! That’s why our clergy are referred to as “father.” That’s why we are called “brothers and sisters.” And this has huge implications. This means we conduct our lives as family. And that means our lives together reflect our devotion to Christ and one another as a family, not just “members” of a club.
Second, this family orientation means we love one another more than ourselves. So, when “father” has to speak to us in a way that might be difficult or even unpleasant, we receive it as from a father who loves us, not a CEO who is only looking out for the shareholders of the corporation.
Finally, look at what St. Paul tells his spiritual children: “For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers.” Let’s face it, we all struggle with the influences on our children that we have no control over! But, when it comes to our eternal lives, why do those voices all around us who don’t love us or have the responsibility for us as our fathers get more influence on our lives than our priests.
Today, do you have a spiritual father? Are you regularly making confession to a spiritual father who loves you and guides you towards Christ? Why not? Maybe you’ve been hurt. Maybe your experience with a “father” both physical and spiritual has been negative. I understand that. But this shouldn’t make you abandon the wisdom of spiritual fatherhood, because this is the healthiest way to be consistently Christian. Keep asking God to help you find a “father” that will be a true father to you in the faith and watch as your life becomes Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. I am so grateful for those who call me “father.” I confess, I have a ways to go before that isn’t as much a hope as a reality. But keep praying for me, please. In fact, join many of your devotional friends who are banding together during this time before Thanksgiving to pray for this outreach work! Just send me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know you’re a part of the team! Thanks!