Willing To DieFr. Barnabas Powell
This story always chokes me up:
The girl needed a transfusion and the only suitable donor was her brother, he was just 11 years old! So, the family talked it over and said it had to be up to the brother to do this. The doctor approached the boy and asked if he’d give his blood to save his sister’s life. The boy thought for only a moment and said “yes.” So, they took the boy into the room and laid him on a table next to his ailing sister. The nurses did their work and began the life-saving procedure. After about a half hour, the boy called the doctor over and asked a question that both surprised and broke the doctor’s heart. “How long before I start to die?” the innocent boy asked. You see, the boy thought when the doctor asked if he’d give his blood to save his sister, they were going to need all his blood and he’d die. This boy was willing to give his life for his sister.
Overcome with emotion, the doctor had to turn away from this brave young man and compose himself. When he could finally speak again without sobbing, the doctor assured the child he wasn’t going to die.
Look at our lesson today in Philippians 3:1-8:
BRETHREN, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is not irksome to me, and is safe for you. Look out for the dogs, look out for the evil-workers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the true circumcision, who worship God in spirit, and glory in Christ Jesus, and put no confidence in the flesh. Though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If any other man thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law a Pharisee, as to zeal a persecutor of the church, as to righteousness under the law blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ.
St. Paul warns the Philippians to be on the lookout for those who would derail their spiritual growth. He warns them not to buy into the false notion that what they had in their faith in Christ was somehow inferior to other religious ideas. He told them to value their faith more than the tempting trinkets of short-term gain so that they wouldn’t be fooled into giving away what was greater for the fool’s gold of false faith!
And then he rehearsed his own religious pedigree. You see, Paul, when he was still Saul, was a big shot in the Jewish community in Jerusalem. He was proud of his religious heritage and his family heritage as well. He was climbing the societal ladder of respect and was even seen as an expert in Jewish life because of his background, his education, and his strong commitment to his religion. But then came his encounter with Christ, and his perspective about what was important was changed.
Now, all he had gained in his society he considered trash in comparison to being a Christian and having Christ. All his prestige. All his accolades. All his education. All the praise of his peers. All of this, when Paul compared them to having Christ, became worthless to him. He valued his relationship with Jesus higher than anything or anyone else in his life. That’s why, when he lost all his standing, his prestige, and the praise of his peers, he could simply dismiss all this loss because his perspective had been radically changed by Jesus Christ.
But, and you may find this hard to believe in light of the ease at which folks take the Orthodox Faith for granted today, this perspective shift and valuing Jesus Christ above everything else in life is NORMAL Orthodox Christianity! This perspective is supposed to be the norm among all Orthodox Christians. And that’s because having Christ IS life! When that dawns on you, then everything else in your life finds its proper place!
Today, do you have that kind of relationship with Jesus Christ? Is the treasure of your Orthodox Faith uncovering the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus” as your Lord? It’s all there, dear one, just waiting for you to be Orthodox on Purpose so you can see what Paul saw: Gaining Christ is more important than anything or anyone else!
P.S. Dear Lord, You call me to join You in taking up my cross and following You. And there is only one use for a cross, Lord. You call me to “die” to all in my life that rivals my attention and devotion to You. You call me to be dead to a world that rejects life and wisdom and reality. And that dying is hard, Lord, because I am so “addicted” to my own comfort. I confess I take my Faith for granted too many times. Please forgive me, Lord, and strengthen my devotion and love for You so that dying to a world gripped by death becomes actually true living! Amen