The Lifelong Task

Thursday, March 29 (O.S., March 16), 2018: Thursday of the Sixth Week of Lent; Martyr Sabinus of Egypt († 287); ✺ Martyr Papas of Lyconia († 305-311); Apostle Aristobulus of the Seventy, Bishop of Britain (1st C); Hieromartyr Alexander, Pope of Rome († 119); Martyr Julian of Anazarbus (4th C); St. Serapion the Archbishop of Novgorod († 1516); Hieromartyrs Trophimus and Thallus, Priests of Laodicea († c. 300); Venerable Christodoulus the Wonderworker.

Sixth Hour: Isaiah 65:8-16
Vespers: Genesis 46:1-7
Vespers: Proverbs 23:15-24:5

Sometimes I’m tempted to confuse the Gospel with a fairy tale in which “they all lived happily ever after.” Like the blessings of wealth and power, judgment and condemnation are part of God’s economy. To be sure, these are not the central elements of the Christian life. But neither can they be ignored much less dismissed.

Taking Isaiah at his word, some will be saved but not all.

Thus says the LORD: “As the wine is found in the cluster, and they say, ‘Do not destroy it, for there is a blessing in it,’ so I will do for my servants’ sake, and not destroy them all. I will bring forth descendants from Jacob, and from Judah inheritors of my mountains; my chosen shall inherit it, and my servants shall dwell there.

Compounding my embarrassment about the Gospel–and let’s be clear, that’s what it is, I am at time tempted to be ashamed of the Christ and His Word (see, Mark 8:38 and Luke 9:26),–there is the unabashed materiality with which God describes salvation and condemnation.

…thus says the Lord GOD: “Behold, my servants shall eat, but you shall be hungry; behold, my servants shall drink, but you shall be thirsty; behold, my servants shall rejoice, but you shall be put to shame; behold, my servants shall sing for gladness of heart, but you shall cry out for pain of heart,…

Throughout the Great Fast, God reveals Himself to us as a God Who saves not just the soul but the body as well.  And how could He do otherwise?

To be human means to have a body and to be a member of a community. When God saves Joseph, He also saves “his father Isaac.” And not only Isaac but his whole family. their households and all their worldly goods.

…Jacob set out from Beersheba; and the sons of Israel carried Jacob their father, their little ones, and their wives, in the wagons which Pharaoh had sent to carry him. They also took their cattle and their goods, which they had gained in the land of Canaan, and came into Egypt, Jacob and all his offspring with him, his sons, and his sons’ sons with him, his daughters, and his sons’ daughters; all his offspring he brought with him into Egypt.

God saves not simply the individual but the community. This means He also saves the material and social goods that communities need to thrive.

Likewise, God doesn’t just reward our good deeds, He also punishes our wicked ones. He calls us to Heaven but He allows us to choose Hell. And none of this is reserved for the life to come. It begins in this life.

Sin, as Solomon reminds us, is anything that cuts us off from the larger community. In today’s reading from Proverbs, two sins are singled out: Drunkenness and sexual immorality. Both these sins offer the illusion of salvation. Drunkenness offers a counterfeit joy; sexual immorality, a false communion.

And both these sins are their own punishment.

For a harlot is a deep pit; an adventuress is a narrow well. She lies in wait like a robber and increases the faithless among men. … Do not look at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup and goes down smoothly. At the last it bites like a serpent, and stings like an adder.

The challenge we all face in our Christian life is this: How do we balance the different elements of the Gospel?

There is divine mercy, compassion, and forgiveness, on one side, divine justice, judgment, and condemnation on the other.

On the one hand, the blessings of wealth and power, on the other the need to living simply and in humility.

The exact balance will is different for each of us. It will even be different at different times in your life as your circumstances change. Finding the balance is a lifelong task.

When we come to understand this, the Christian life becomes daunting. Living this out is what makes the Christian life exhilarating.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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