The Stove Is HotFr. Barnabas Powell
Let’s face it, we live in a society that has exalted radical uncertainty to a virtue. Where the “really sophisticated” people pride themselves on being able to “see all sides” of an issue without ever coming down clearly on a position. The modern thinkers fear being labeled “fundamentalists” or “close minded” and fear this so strongly that the fundamentally refuse to hold a position on anything except that they refuse to hold a position on anything. AND the are close minded to any opinion strongly held so that they can protect their status as “fair” and “open minded.”
What is it about clarity and conviction that scares us today? Is it the fear we will actually have to live up to a standard of conduct that is seen as “too restrictive” or imposes a common morality upon us? Maybe we simply aren’t comfortable around those with strong convictions because it reveals our own lack of conviction. Or maybe we have thrown out so many time tested social morays in favor of what seems “fair” that we simply have no foundation to stand on anymore.
In any event, our Orthodox Christian faith doesn’t suffer from these limitations of modern humanity. And our Lord Jesus didn’t mince words when He spoke concerning morality and choices and freedoms. In fact, His plain speech was what eventually left His enemies no choice but to try to destroy Him. It seems clear speech and plain wisdom is a mortal threat to a system built on passive-aggressive manipulation and the double-speak of those who always desire to justify themselves.
In both our Gospel and Epistle Lessons, plain speech is the norm, and that speech by both the Apostle Paul and our Lord Jesus simply doesn’t allow for much wiggle room. In fact, the words of our Gospel and Epistle Lessons are meant to shake us up, grab us by our lapels, and say “Pay Attention!”
In our Epistle Lesson St. Paul has to confront some of his detractors in a very forceful way. He even encourages young Timothy to “wage the good warfare.” St. Paul then goes on to say something that simply shocks me. He has two men who have apparently really tried to hurt his ministry, and St. Paul names them to young Timothy as both a warning and a lesson. He writes “By rejecting conscience, certain persons have made shipwreck of their faith, among them Hymenaios and Alexander, whom I have delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.” (see the whole reading at 1 Timothy 1:18-20; 2:8-15)
Wow. I pray these men did learn not to blaspheme.
In our Gospel Lesson our Lord Jesus talks about the haphazard way the people of His day were dealing with the sacred gift of marriage, and He speaks very plainly about this. But then the Lord unlocks the key principle that helps us come to grips with both His plain speech and St. Paul’s direct teaching in both a healthy and authentically Christian manner.
He says “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” (see the whole reading in Mark 10-11-16)
It is precisely by being child-like (not childish – BIG difference) that allows us to hear very direct and straightforward teaching AND remain open and vulnerable to the gentle leading of the Holy Spirit. Children appreciate concrete thinking. That’s the way they think. Clarity creates a sense of safety and comfort for children. They know what to expect and it creates a space where they can safely explore their world. Without clarity then these children will more than likely hurt themselves because of the lack of clear boundaries. “The Stove is hot” is not an attempt to stifle a child’s freedom!
Today, let’s be adults when it comes to clear teachings and let’s be children when it comes to trust and love.