Where Do Your Choices Come From?Fr. Barnabas Powell
It seems the backlash against political correctness has become stronger and stronger in our society. There is even a hashtag on Twitter that says #GoWokeGoBroke! Societies are always struggling to enshrine this or that ideology as “the best way” but, inevitably, the societal pendulum swings back the other way! Erick Erikson wrote a book a few years ago entitled “You WILL Be Made to Care.” In it, he rightly observes that the heart of this current societal chaos has an all too familiar religious feel to it with shame and guilt as the primary motivators of control of people’s behaviors and choices!
And it seems that this kind of social chaos is, frankly, very common in human societies throughout history. This is not a new phenomenon. We seem to never do the hard work of discovering where our choices come from before we are all worked up in changing the choices or behaviors of others. We never seem to learn the lesson that external controls always have limited success in changing internal hearts. Our choices and behaviors start inside of us and that’s where the work in change has to begin!
Look at our lesson today in Matthew 5:27-32:
The Lord said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into Gehenna. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into Gehenna. It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that every one who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, makes her an adulteress; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”
I don’t know about you, but this seems pretty straightforward and plain! The Lord isn’t going to win any “compassion” points for this kind of language. And yet, isn’t this exactly what we need to hear? And the Lord says these very pointed words in such graphic detail to show us that our actions aren’t just out of the blue, but they flow from within us!
And here’s the challenge. If we try to reduce our faith to merely some behavioral modification technique to change the way we act, we run the risk of missing the point of the Faith in the first place. After all, drugs, yoga, or some other self-help books might do just as good or better than a religion reduced to “the Big Man in the sky is going to beat you up if you break the rules!” Frankly, that kind of religion is best suited for perpetual kindergarteners rather than the mature adults God wishes for all of us to become. It’s more a pagan attitude towards Faith than Christian.
Our undisciplined passions, our shortsighted choices, and our easily broken relationships all flow from an inner illness that has to be diagnosed correctly if we are ever to be healed! And the stark language used by the Lord in today’s passage illustrates this point perfectly.
Our outward choices are just the tail end of inner illness!!!!!
And just because you stop a physical behavior doesn’t mean the heart sickness is cured. No, you have to go deeper to ever become as free as you were created to be. And how do we do this? By the startling admission that it is my inner life that has to be healed. That interior journey means first a willingness to truly come to know yourself. Next, I have to be willing to repent, and you know from our previous visits that repentance is more than just being sorry I did wrong. It means a change of mind and a deeper contemplation of my true purpose and destiny! WHY do I do what I do is the question IF I am ever going to truly repent! But you won’t be able to travel this journey by yourself. You need a guide! So, the next step is the humility of loving communion. You have to be willing to be connected and willing to hear timeless wisdom IF you are ever going to get to the real reason WHY you do what you do!
Today, are you aware that your choices and behaviors have a starting point? Do you know yourself enough to see clearly that it is the interior journey that is most important? And, do you have a guide for this all-important trip? There is such wisdom and healing in the disciplines of the Orthodox Christian Faith and all of these treasures are waiting on anyone who is willing to be Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. Heavenly King, Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, Who is everywhere present and filling all things. Treasury of Blessings, and Giver of Life; come and abide in us. Cleanse us from every stain. And save our souls, O Good One. Amen