The Plain Truth of Two ChoicesFr. Barnabas Powell
The great Oriental philosopher Confucius declared “Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” I would add, “It may be simple, but it isn’t easy!”
So, why do you think we tend to complicate our lives? More and more I’m convinced that those who want things complicated want to maintain a level of control, so if they can make things complicated, then they make themselves indispensable. I told a lawyer friend of mine once that I knew why he made the law complicated; it was so he could be the expert and keep his job secure!
Maybe that isn’t always the case, but I confess to being suspicious when someone insists something is very complicated or nuanced. It feels like they are trying to make sure the plain truth doesn’t sting them with hard choices.
But, at the very core of the message of Jesus is the very plain truth of choosing between life and death; between freedom and slavery; between joy and self-centered misery. And we live in an age where it seems we want everything to be allowed so no one has to make the hard choice of saying “no” to some desire or craving. This has only guaranteed we are living in a permanent adolescent age where no one wants to grow up and be responsible for taming their passions. There is no lasting future in such an immature age. It only leads to destruction.
Look at our lesson today in John 10:9-16:
The Lord said, “I am the door; if any one enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hireling and not a shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hireling and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd.”
Our Lord Jesus knew His words were going to be misinterpreted by His hearers. He knew they were going to be scandalized and even offended by His declarations. And He said these words anyway.
Please notice some stark and plain truths Jesus makes in today’s lesson:
I am THE door – Jesus doesn’t suggest He is one way to wisdom, but that He is the ONLY way to wisdom and life. He compares Himself to the “Thief” who comes only to steal, kill, and destroy people. Jesus comes to give life, abundant life, overflowing life, and real life to you and me.
I am THE Good Shepherd – Our Lord says He is THE Good Shepherd. The claims of exclusivity are plain and challenging. But Jesus doesn’t stop there. He compares His Good Shepherd to the “hireling” who only pretends to care for the flock. The Hireling cuts and runs when danger comes. The Good Shepherd lays His life down for the sheep.
Our Lord Jesus cares for everyone, even those whom He knows will reject Him and even crucify Him. But that doesn’t make the Lord reject them because they reject Him. He loves them, and us, enough to speak the Truth to us regardless of our reactions or even misunderstandings. He does this because, all too often, it’s the stark and disturbing Light of plain truth that has the best chance of waking us up from the stupor of our self-centeredness. This is so very potent, so disturbing BECAUSE of what is at stake – Eternal Life or eternal death. That stark choice deserves the power of plain talk to rescue people God loves. The plain talk of eternal truth SHOULD be sobering and clear!
No wonder the Church moves us to these passages when we approach the wisdom of the normal Orthodox disciplines of the Faith – Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving. It is these wise seasons of the Church Year that invite us to the regular and necessary “spiritual spring cleaning” we, who live in a fallen world, desperately need to keep paying attention to our deepest reason for living! Too many times we are lulled to sleep by the desire to be liked or popular or relevant when the Truth is we endanger ourselves and others by accommodating a “tamed” Faith that only leaves us too weak to “hear” His Voice and then miss His direction. As we approach the “Winter Lent” and purposefully prepare for the Feast of the Nativity, don’t try to “water down” the plain talk of the Faith to save you from the destruction of making the wrong choice.
The “Golden Mouthed” St. John we remember today preached the straight message to the Faithful and it got him exiled from Constantinople several times. St. John died in exile after he spoke the plain truth to the Empress of the Roman Empire and confronted her with her hypocrisy and sin. To this day, we have access to the wonderful homilies he preached which earned him the name Chrysostom which means “Golden Mouth.” His eloquence and powerful preaching confronted everyone with the plain talk of the 2 choices we humans have; will you choose the Path that leads to life in CFhrist, or will you allow the apathy of the passive drifting of selfish living to take you down the “highway to hell?”
Today, I know it’s hard to hear the plain truth, and there is always the temptation to misunderstand. But our Lord Jesus loves us and only desires our salvation and peace. His devotion to you today means He speaks plainly for your good. And when you love others like He loves others, your willingness to speak plainly to others is sweetened by that loving concern. So, don’t be afraid of plain talk. Embrace it and risk being Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. The grace of your words illuminated the universe like a shining beacon. It amassed treasures of munificence in the world. It demonstrated the greatness of humility, teaching us by your own words; therefore, O Father John Chrysostom, intercede to Christ the Logos for the salvation of our souls.