You Have to Choose Sides!Fr. Barnabas Powell
It was a defining moment in the Old Testament when, at the end of Joshua’s life, he apportioned the land of Israel among the 12 tribes. Joshua was Moses’ successor and had led the tribes of Israel since entering the Promised Land. He and his people had driven out the pagan inhabitants of the land and began to create a great nation that was committed to following the Torah and being faithful to God.
Joshua had lived a full and rewarding life and now he was facing his death, and his words to the people of God still ring true today: “Now therefore, fear the Lord, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord! 15 And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:14-15)
Joshua wanted the people to know that even though he was dying, he admonished them to stay faithful to God and His wisdom. But, regardless of what the other tribes chose, he wanted it to be clear that he and his family after him had chosen sides; we will serve the Lord.
In a society increasingly gripped by the madness of self-worship and the false gods of comfort and wealth and fame and pleasure, when we decide to “pick sides” we have to be ready to be rejected and hated by those gripped by the madness of their self-love and their deluded idolatry. But picking sides is exactly what we have to do in this age!
Look at our lesson today in Matthew 10:32-36; 11:1.
“Every one who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven; but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s foes will be those of his own household.”
Jesus makes it clear that someone who takes seriously the message of Christ and the wisdom of the Church will simply not be able to avoid the natural conflict of a Normal Orthodox life with a world system still gripped by the laws of selfish desire. They are, and will always be, in conflict. And this conflict actually serves a tremendous purpose to act as drawing to the Light the consequences of false worship and “too small” visions of human purpose.
And the first place these wrong ideas are in mortal conflict is in my own heart. This is precisely where most of my own struggles with the faith occur. I try to “make peace” between my selfish desires and the clear teachings of Jesus, and it simply is never going to happen. I am going to have to choose sides in this conflict! In fact, whenever “enemies” are mentioned in the Scriptures, it usually means the “enemy” I have to struggle against in my own heart. This is why the Normal Orthodox life is always focused on repentance, the reorienting of my thinking away from small and selfish desires undisciplined by ascesis (spiritual labor) towards the true liberty of a disciplined life where my emotions and my desires are healed and formed to serve me instead of master me or drive me. I have to start choosing sides FIRST in my own heart.
Next, the Normal Orthodox life of a serious disciple will naturally lead to conflict in relationships. We shouldn’t be surprised by this. We should expect it and prepare for it. In a bit of a paradox, we should actually welcome these times! Jesus says these conflicts will arise even in the closest of family members. So, when my family reacts negatively to my practice of the Faith, I have no right to act surprised or even offended! I am called to an inner peace that allows for external turmoil to be handled with grace and mercy and love. That’s the whole purpose of my own practice of the faith; to find such contentment and peace inwardly that I am a bringer of peace even in the face of external conflict! In fact, the reason these conflicts are both necessary and positive is precisely because they serve to exercise my growth in the Faith AND they offer an opportunity to witness the strength and life-giving beauty of the Faith to others so they will know their way home themselves. With this perspective as the center of our lives, we are free from the fear of conflict and we are set free to be who we were made to be; Witnesses of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ!
St. Agrippina was a faithful follower of Christ in the 3rd century before Christianity was made legal in the Roman Empire. This pious and courageous woman chose, from her freedom, to remain unmarried and live in this world as a virgin dedicated to Christ alone. St. Agrippina refused to deny Christ and chose sides when arrested for being a Christian. She was beheaded in 262 AD and her body was taken by three faithful sisters to Sicily where her holy relics produced great faith in the Lord among those who remembered her faithfulness. This is what happens when you choose sides – you become a source of faith and strength for others even after your physical death.
Today, are you practicing the faith so faithfully that the inescapable external conflict is occurring? If your faith isn’t setting light against darkness, perhaps you aren’t doing it right? AND, is your serious practice of the faith allowing you such a sense of contentment and peace that this naturally occurring conflict doesn’t penetrate your heart, allowing you to be a source of peace in the face of this conflict? The Faith always invites us to answer Joshua’s question “Choose Whom you will serve!” As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.
P.S. O Lord Jesus, unto You Your lamb cries with a great voice: O my Bridegroom, You I love; and seeking You, I now contest, and with Your baptism am crucified and buried. I suffer for Your sake, that I may reign with You; for Your sake, I die, that I may live in You: accept me offered out of longing to Thee as a spotless sacrifice. Lord, save our souls through her intercessions since You are great in mercy.