The Refuse of the WorldFr. Barnabas Powell
“Poor me! Are you enjoying your little pity party?” She had a pouting look on her face as she chided me for complaining about how some of my friends were treating me. It was a lesson I wouldn’t soon forget. She was my single mom and she simply didn’t have the time to allow her son to sit and feel sorry for himself. She wanted better for me, and she insisted I understand what it means to be a mature person. And being mature meant I didn’t allow the behaviors of people I couldn’t control to control me!
I just wish she would have done it “nicer!”
Actually, that was exactly what I needed to hear. I was old enough as a teenager to get the lesson that a mature person doesn’t let external forces control his inner peace. If I didn’t learn that lesson, I’d be a slave to other people’s opinions of me my whole life. But what if I really was being mistreated?
Look at our lesson today in 1 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 is about to teach his spiritual children in Corinth a valuable lesson IF they are humble enough and brave enough (by the way, notice humility and bravery are always companions. Always. True humility is always bravery and true bravery is always humble!) to embrace this powerful wisdom.
Paul spends the whole of the passage comparing his situation with his spiritual children in the Church of Corinth. And he makes sure they understand the reality of their place and his place. If you had to choose, I bet you wouldn’t choose St. Paul’s situation. And that’s because St. Paul wants to illustrate to the Corinthian Christians that the Faith isn’t about making them “happy” or “comfortable.” The Faith is about making them resilient and strong and consistent and faithful.
In each comparison, St. Paul is clearly the “loser” according to the wealthy and prosperous Corinthians. The apostles are “a spectacle” to both angels and men. The apostles are fools for Christ, but the Corinthians are “wise” according to the world’s standards. Pauls says he is “weak” but the Corinthians are “strong” by all appearances. Paul is hungry, they are well-fed. Paul is homeless, reviled, persecuted, and slandered. And how does Paul respond?
Here is the lesson St. Paul wants his spiritual children to learn from the life of their spiritual father. Paul does the opposite of his treatment. Persecution is met with endurance. Slander is met with conciliation. Paul blesses even those who revile him. And the lesson is clear. A True Follower of Jesus Christ always looks beyond the moment to the eternal. A True Follower of Christ looks past the temporary faults of their “enemies” to the image of God that every person who ever lived possesses. And the True Follower in Christ refuses to return evil for evil. Revenge just isn’t in the heart of the True Follower of Christ.
And then Paul reveals his heart to his spiritual children. “I do not write this to make you ashamed.” St. Paul isn’t throwing a pity party and he isn’t trying to get sympathy from the Corinthians. He writes this way to admonish (a fancy word that means “strongly encouraged”) his spiritual children to take on his way of dealing with external circumstances. And this is because if they are humble enough and brave enough to react this way to how they are treated by others, they will always be free no matter what happens to them!
Today, are you stuck in a mood that is the result of you being a slave to other people’s opinions of you? Are you always reacting to life instead of living a life that is free because of the peace in your heart? It’s time to reject living your life as a slave to external circumstances and start being Orthodox on Purpose!