The Dispute Is Always About ChristFr. Barnabas Powell
“It’s not a “what.” It’s a “Who.” And with that caveat, my initial lesson in becoming Orthodox began.
You see, I always thought that the Christian Faith was about giving mental assent to certain doctrinal precepts and saying the “proper” words. I thought that I could argue and use “apologetics” to convince others that my version of Christianity, or even morality, was the “right” one. I was wrong.
Oh, to be sure, we must use our intellect to formulate coherent arguments, and the intellect is certainly a gift we need to develop and discipline. But, in the end, all the fussing and disagreements and moral positions we take are ultimately about Who Jesus Christ really is. AND who I am in being created in the image of God.
I have some acquaintances who are academics and it seems they pride themselves (I use that word purposefully today) on finding this or that nuance in the Church’s timeless message of faith and morality. In their academic world, discovering some “new” insight is the mark of a “real” scholar. But that short-sighted and, frankly, obvious weakness only leads to an abandoning of the Faith, never its strengthening. These “scholars’ are absolutely “sure” the consistent moral teachings of the Church need to be “nuanced” so we can better “fit in” with the prevailing mindset of their academic “ivory tower.”
But, what this is really about is Jesus Christ. In fact, I’ll go even further and insist that, ultimately, all issues and questions, from big to small, are really about Jesus Christ. He is the defining Human for all of us, even those who hate Him.
Look at our lesson today in Acts 25:13-19:
IN THOSE DAYS, Agrippa the king and Bernice arrived at Caesarea to welcome Festus. And as they stayed there many days, Festus laid Paul’s case before the king, saying, “There is a man left prisoner by Felix; and when I was at Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews gave information about him, asking for sentence against him. I answered them that it was not the custom of the Romans to give up any one before the accused met the accusers face to face, and had opportunity to make his defense concerning the charge laid against him. When therefore they came together here, I made no delay, but on the next day took my seat on the tribunal and ordered the man to be brought in. When the accusers stood up, they brought no charge in his case of such evils as I supposed; but they had certain points of dispute with him about their own superstition and about one Jesus, who was dead, but whom Paul asserted to be alive.”
St. Paul is under arrest. Since he is a Roman citizen, the leaders in Jerusalem can’t treat him like they treated non-citizens. Paul has certain rights when it comes to the courts as a Roman citizen and he presses that advantage, not to save his own life, but to gain an audience with the Roman Emperor so that he can share the Gospel with him and the whole Roman capital.
Here we read of how the legal proceedings against Paul were progressing. Festus, the Roman representative, brings Paul’s case before the puppet king of Israel, Agrippa. And it is fascinating to see how this Roman leader perceives the whole matter. Festus can’t see what all the fuss is about. It seems to him that the whole matter centers around Paul’s claim that Jesus was alive, and the insistence by the religious leaders in Jerusalem that He was dead. OK, smart guys, if He’s dead, produce the Body!
And Festus gets this part exactly right. This really is a dispute about Jesus Christ. Make no mistake, dear one, most disputes in culture and morality, and even philosophy all center in one way or another on Jesus Christ. Even the enemies of the Church spend most of their time trying to deal with this Man Jesus. Because no other Man in history has shaped and formed and molded human history like Jesus Christ. Even those who wish to return to some “pagan” worship or even the elevation of politics to religion or the madness of immorality as “really moral” proclamations all come into confrontation with Jesus Christ. Everything that happened before Christ came was to bring us to Christ and everything that happens after Christ came is because of Christ.
So it makes perfect sense when society wants to indulge its self-destructive ways by insisting that people have the “right” to destroy themselves, they have a “right” to destroy life, even their own children’s lives through abortion or even the modern fad of mass hysteria over gender identities and such, they have a “right” to engage in all kinds of self-destructive lifestyles that are strangers to peace and sobriety, all the while claiming that all this foolishness is wisdom and “freedom.” Of course, the timeless wisdom of the Faith is going to enrage them, and claims of “bigot” “homophobe” or “anti-woman” or any other manner of slander meant to either silence these timeless words of wisdom or, better yet, destroy the voices of those who preach this wisdom.
And yet, the timeless wisdom is never overcome. The only decision we believers need to make is are we willing to embrace the hatred of the world so that we can value the love of God more than our own comfort? These “too small” idols will always fall. The elevation of “pride” as some virtue to “empower” those who have been “marginalized will show itself for the shallow narcissism it is. And the casualties of this madness will be mourned by those who tried to warn the world.
Just to show you this focused wisdom is not anti-intellectual, as our fearmonger interlocutors will inevitably claim, today we remember a great saint named Justin the Philosopher. St. Justin was a disciple of Plato and came to the Christian Faith as an older man. St. Justin never took off his distinct philosopher’s garb and even made such a defense of the Christian Faith before the pagan Roman Emperor Antonius Pius (reigned from 138 AD – 161 AD) that the Emperor ordered the halt on the persecution of Christians for a time. Because of envy, a certain pagan philosopher hated St. Justin and pushed for his imprisonment. St. Justin was beheaded by the pagan philosopher Emperor Marcus Aurelius in 167 AD.
Today, the world, gripped by darkness” is always going to hate the Light. The present age will insist that “pride” is a good thing, and they will call good bad. But we have been blessed with God’s Holy Spirit to give us words and courage as we live every day as Normal Orthodox Christians who will pay the price to hold to the timeless faith.
P.S. You emptied the cup of the wisdom of the Greeks, and you did thirst yet again, till you came unto the well where you found water springing to eternal life. And having drunk deeply thereof, you also drank the cup that Christ gave to His disciples. Wherefore, O Justin, we praise you as a philosopher and Martyr of Christ.