The Kingdom Suffers ViolenceFr. Barnabas Powell
Our modern world seems to run on violence. And it seems that every day the news is of more violence there and more violence here. From college campuses arguing over speech and “safe zones” and “trigger warnings” to the very real violence of terrorism all meant to disrupt and destroy. And can we even talk about what seems to be “perpetual war” in hotspots around the world where our soldiers are sent to fight? Lord, have mercy!
Violence is the symptom of something deeper. It signifies the fight for or against something. The problem comes when a goal or desire is not worthy of the violence necessary to achieve it. When our hierarchy of what is good is warped by selfishness and blinded by evil, we fight for things, ideas and goals that are not worthy of such violence. When we do that, we perpetuate the cycle of violence that feeds revenge and destructive hatred.
But the Scriptures mention another violence that is required to enter into the Kingdom of God. Yes, violence. But this violence has to do with the violence of honesty, repentance, and the spiritual struggle or “ascesis” of purposeful Christian discipline. This violence recognizes the struggle for the highest good is necessary in a world where lesser goods demand to be our god rather than the True God and the Highest Good. Especially during this fasting season, we desperately need some spiritual “violence” to fight the prevailing spirit of the day, if not for our souls then the souls of those who follow us!
Look at our Gospel Lesson today in Luke 16:15-18; 17:1-4:
The Lord said to the Jews who came to him, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts; for what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God. The law and the prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and every one enters it violently. But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one dot of the law to become void. Every one who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.”
And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come; but woe to him by whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung round his neck and he were cast into the sea, than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. Take heed to yourselves; if your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him; and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”
Our Lord Jesus calls us to reality when He reminds us that “temptations to sin are sure to come.” That means the heart of “fighting” temptation is first to not be surprised by them! The truth is we live in a world where it’s easy to sin and hard to do right. We live in a world where we are constantly tempted to compromise relationships, wisdom, and truth, all in the name of “getting along.” And yet, even when we compromise, it seems those who want us to water down the Faith are never satisfied. No, we give them this, and they demand more from us, more compromise, more accommodation, more “get with the times.” Of course, we can never change enough to satisfy the demands of this modern world. They won’t be happy till we capitulate altogether!
And that leads to the next reality check of our Lord’s words to us today! The Lord says “everyone enters it (the Kingdom) violently.” To be sure, this isn’t violence against others, but violence against our weaknesses and sin. No wonder the Lord follows these provocative words with clear examples of this “violent” path to the Kingdom. He confronts our spiritual poverty in relationships and our not being satisfied with our sins. No, we want others to join us in our sin! This “violent” wisdom of serious commitment, honest confession, and humble obedience seems to those who only desire their comfort to be a “violence” against “what comes naturally.” Then the Lord doubles down on His “violent” path by insisting that we take responsibility for our brothers by loving them enough to help them see the destructiveness of rebellion and then to forgive them every time they ask!
St. Hilda of Whitby was a hero of the Faith in the early Church in Britain. She was of noble birth and was the kinswoman of King Edwin, king of Northumbria. St. Ewin is remembered in our calendar on October 12. What made St. Hilda (called “Righteous Mother Hilda”) was her tireless work in organizing and teaching. She was known for her willingness to use her inheritance of land and money to serve the people of the area and raise the society in both piety and learning. She was known to be wise and her wisdom was sought by kings and great leaders of the area. But her love for the common people was her greatest virtue. She so cared for all around her that she was called “mother” Hilda by all. St. Hilda suffered from a fever for the last 7 years of her life, but she was not going to let that stop her struggle for the Faith. She paid the price of a great athlete in sacrificing what she must to achieve the Highest Good in her life which was being a devoted follower of Jesus Christ. She reposed in peace in 680 AD.
Today, are you brave enough to enter God’s Kingdom “violently?” Are you willing to accept the words of your baptism as a newly illumined member of the Lord’s Church as having been enrolled in the Kingdom of God and called to keep your baptismal garment “spotless?” If so, know this will take a “violent” embrace of wisdom, repentance, spiritual struggle, and faithfulness when all around you is tempting you to give up or give in. Entering the Kingdom of God takes someone willing to be Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. For three and thirty years in the world, chaste and modest, for three and thirty years as a righteous monastic, you came, O Hilda, unto Christ’s stature, and perfect man; and on being cleansed through grievous bodily sickness, you were taken up in light and glory to Heaven, Where you do pray to God for us.