We get great satisfaction out of judging. We get great satisfaction out of solving. We get great satisfaction out of measuring. We have a need to know who is worthy and who is unworthy to help us navigate life.
You might even say, at some point, satisfaction turns into our sense of what fulfillment and love mean. The Word of God warns us that there is a line where one becomes the other. Where our identity get wrapped up in our ability and need to engage in these things. Richard Rohr said, “Our lust for certitude and our need to be right is what keeps us in conflict.” Well said.
The Scriptures and collect for today (and others just like it I could list but will not) in the Western Church run speak of a way of life that is exactly the opposition of judging, solving, and measuring. They speak of a God who loves and of His people who love. They do not speak of the suspension of a sense of right and wrong but of way completely different way of responding that does more to defeat wrong than any other alternative. A way of coming to understand and relate to right and wrong that does not end up robbing us of life instead of fostering life. After all, when did worthiness become the standard?? Thank goodness it was not the standard that governed whether or not He would go to the cross!!
O Lord, you have taught us that without love whatever we do is worth nothing: Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue, without which whoever lives is accounted dead before you. Grant this for the sake of your only Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
The LORD spoke to Moses, saying:
Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.
When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the LORD your God.
You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another. And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the LORD.
You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning. You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the LORD.
You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the LORD.
You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.
33 Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statutes, *
and I shall keep it to the end.
34 Give me understanding, and I shall keep your law; *
I shall keep it with all my heart.
35 Make me go in the path of your commandments, *
for that is my desire.
36 Incline my heart to your decrees *
and not to unjust gain.
37 Turn my eyes from watching what is worthless; *
give me life in your ways.
38 Fulfill your promise to your servant, *
which you make to those who fear you.
39 Turn away the reproach which I dread, *
because your judgments are good.
40 Behold, I long for your commandments; *
in your righteousness preserve my life.
1 Corinthians 3:10-11,16-23
According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.
Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.
Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written,
“He catches the wise in their craftiness,”
“The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise,
that they are futile.”
So let no one boast about human leaders. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future– all belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.
Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, `An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
“You have heard that it was said, `You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
The protests we throw up in reaction to understanding these passages (and other ones too) in any sort of practical sense as meaning just what they are saying are like a hermeneutical tsunami ! ! Certainly Jesus and St. Paul and the Old Testament writers could not have really meant for us to actually DO this ! ! What they REALLY meant was …
Solving, measuring, judging, etc. But now it is not others. Now it is God we are judging.
Now don’t get me wrong. The hearing and doing of these MUST be in the context of the Body of Christ across time and space and we can fall off into the ditch of literalism that is just as dangerous as the ditch of “explaining it all away.” What is required is a narrow path between these extremes. A path of impossibility. A path that is desperately in need of God’s wisdom at every moment. For indeed, doing these things (living this life) is impossible for man. But, it is perfectly possible for God. Or, to put it more aptly, for “The God-man.” For Christ Jesus, Son of God, Son of Man.
St. Paul spoke The Mystery of possible impossibility when he said, “I can do all things through Him Who strengthens me.” St. Paul was/is the temple of the Holy Spirit.
St. Innocent of Alaska (1797-1879), in his classic, Indication of the Pathway into the Kingdom of Heaven, says,
“…without the help and assistance of the Holy Spirit, it is impossible not only to enter the kingdom of heaven but even to take a single step toward it. And therefore we must seek and ask for the Holy Spirit and have Him within us, just as the holy apostles had Him. But how we can receive or obtain Him, we shall soon see.”
It is Christ-indwelling in the person of the Holy Spirit, Who does all things in and through St. Paul. In and through you and me. What is require is humility. And, of course, humility at with all of this, is not what he think it is…
St. Tikhon of Zadonsk said,
“Try to know yourself, your own wickedness. Think on the greatness of God and your wretchedness. Meditate on the suffering of Christ, the magnitude of Whose love and suffering surpass our understanding. Ascribe the good that you do to God alone. Do not think about the sin of a brother but about what in him is better than in yourself …. Flee from glory, honors and praise, but if this is impossible, be sorry that such is your lot. Be benevolent to people of low origin. Be freely and willingly obedient not only to those above you but to those below …. The lowlier we are in spirit, the better we know ourselves, and without humility we cannot see God.”
“For love does not seek its own, it labors, sweats, watches to build up the brother: nothing is inconvenient to love, and by the help of God it turns the impossible into the possible …. Love believes and hopes …. It is ashamed of nothing. Without it, what is the use of prayer? What use are hymns and singing? What is the use of building and adorning churches? What is mortification of the flesh if the neighbor is not loved? Indeed, all are of no consequence …. As an animal cannot exist without bodily warmth, So no good deed can be alive without true love; it is only the pretence of a good deed.”
We can, of course, take issue with St. Tikhon’s statements based on a belief that the institutional Church has gotten it all wrong and his words reflect a shame-based spirituality, etc, etc. Be that as it may be or may not be. I agree, the institutional church and its members have fallen short of the glory they espouse to be sure. Reading the writings of the saints requires great care. But, the beautiful essence of what he said, when rightly understood and applied, still stands.
The Christ-ian life is not about “figuring it out.” No about doing good stuff in the name of Christ even our of what we would call a spirit of gratitude. The Christ-ian life is about “abiding in and being abided in” with a spirit of gratitude. It is about letting go of “my” life and receiving Christ’s life as my real life. That means Christ Himself performs in and through us what He comes us to perform. It means the criteria for wisdom is not solving, measuring, and judging but abiding faithfully and co-operating in the doing of Christ regardless of how the world solves, measures, and judges.
You may ask, “But how in practical terms?”
I say, “I don’t know. I see through a glass darkly. But, I see at least this much. All I know is this is the way. It does not suspend unconditional love or boundaries. It mysteriously upholds and fulfills them both.”
And that is an upward call that requires in my life a lot of transformation. The reality of this truth and the infinite saving beauty of it, I have only just begun to comprehend.
“Thus says the Lord:
‘Stand in the ways and see,
And ask for the old paths, where the good way is,
And walk in it;
Then you will find rest for your souls.
But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’” (Jeremiah 6.16)
“Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying,
‘This is the way, walk in it,’
Whenever you turn to the right hand
Or whenever you turn to the left.” (Isaiah 30.21)
“Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7.13-14)
Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy. Grant me to walk in this Way more than I have before.