To Be Truly FreeFr. Barnabas Powell
“Well, you should have known better!” Oh, how I hated hearing that from my mom. It was the tone in her voice as well as the words. You know the one. The tone communicated disappointment, disapproval, AND frustration all at the same time! Oh, I HATED it! But what made things worse was she was right! I SHOULD HAVE known better. In fact, I did know better, and yet, there I go again. Amazing. And here I was a “grown man” making the mistakes of a teenager! ARRGH!
There is all too often a disconnect between what I know and what I do. In spite of having good examples AND bad examples in my past, I catch myself making the same mistakes over and over again in spite of the clear wisdom I know. Why? And I suspect you may know exactly what I’m talking about, and maybe you’ve had the same experiences in your life to one degree or the other. St. Paul knew what I meant. Listen to his cry of frustration in his letter to the Romans “For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do.” (Romans 7:15)
The truth is this disconnect goes to the heart of the Orthodox understanding of our human need for salvation, our struggle to be truly free. We have a broken will. And that broken will keeps us both aware of what we should be AND at the same time unable to become what we should be. What a horrible prison! The truth is most people “know” what they should do. Most people know what they shouldn’t do. And yet our weakened will hobble us from ever becoming what we know we should be. It is precisely this weakened will in humanity that makes us both our own worst enemy AND completely responsible for our actions. So, how do we escape this prison? How are we to be truly free?
Let’s look at our Gospel Lesson today in Luke 11:29-33:
At that time, when the crowds were increasing, he began to say, “This generation is an evil generation; it seeks a sign, but no sign shall be given to it except the sign of Jonah. For as Jonah became a sign to the men of Nineveh, so will the Son of man be to this generation. The queen of the South will arise at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them; for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. The men of Nineveh will arise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar or under a bushel, but on a stand, that those who enter may see the light.”
Jesus is confronting an ever-growing crowd of people who are following Him and listening to Him and being physically healed by Him. It looks like the Lord misunderstood good public relations because He confronts the growing crowds and His growing popularity with a bit of a downer opening line of His sermon: “This generation is an evil generation…” Well, at least He got their attention.
The Freedom Christ offers me is the strength to struggle my whole life against delusion and selfishness. The Jewish people were blessed beyond measure by their unique relationship with the Creator and they squandered this gift. In doing so, their descent into evil and mere rule keeping tarnished their witness to the world. That’s why Jesus tells them that “the queen of the South” will judge that generation. This refers to the Queen of Sheba from 1 Kingdoms 10 where this stranger and Gentile queen sought God more than even those who had that special relationship with Him. Jesus tells them and us that just because you are born with a spiritual head start doesn’t guarantee you anything but the chance to treasure your spiritual advantage. If you take it for granted, the Lord will raise up even “outsiders” to embrace what you’ve let slip away through negligence.
Today, the path to true freedom runs through my willingness to be honest, and grateful! I have to regularly confront, through the wisdom of prayer, fasting, and generosity, my need for repentance. I have to have the courage to go to confession regularly so that I never allow the delusion of my own self-righteousness to enslave me to my passions. I MUST stop taking my faith for granted! Only by honest confession will I ever begin the journey to be Orthodox on Purpose.
P.S. Dear Lord, You love humanity. You grant us true freedom by setting the way of salvation through repentance. I confess, Lord, it is easy in this present world to take my Orthodox faith for granted. Too many of us fail to stay attentive to this spiritual treasure. When we fall into this spiritual blindness, You love us enough to share this treasure even with “strangers” to help wake us up to our treasure of Faith. Forgive me, Lord, for taking my faith for granted, and grant me strength to embrace repentance and faithfulness my whole life. Amen