Every parent has heard themselves say this at one time or another: “If you two don’t stop bickering, I’ll stop this car and punish you both!” I mean, surely I’m not the only one! Please tell me I’m not the only dad that has threatened this!
Seriously, as parents, we really do set expectations of behavior for our children. One of the most fundamental tasks of parenting is to both model and expect “good” behavior in our children’s lives. After all, if we don’t teach them about how to behave, I guarantee others will, and those lessons may not be what’s best for your children.
Of course, if this is true of our basic parenting skills, we will find a spiritual connection to this same principle in how we, as a Church, become spiritually mature in the Faith! In fact, it seems these parallels between the physical world and the spiritual world are endless. If I eat right, exercise, and pay attention to my health, I am physically healthy and free to pursue my life with confidence. And if I pay attention to my spiritual health with serious purposefulness I reap the spiritual freedom from those spiritual illnesses that make me a slave to my desires. If I am willing to pay the price good health and mature living, I gain the freedom to be my best self. And this is the struggle at the heart of true spiritual maturity.
Look at our lesson in 2 Corinthians 12:20-21; 13:1-2:
Brethren, I fear that perhaps I may come and find you not what I wish, and that you may find me not what you wish; that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, selfishness, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder. I fear that when I come again my God may humble me before you, and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned before and have not repented of the impurity, immorality, and licentiousness which they have practiced.
This is the third time I am coming to you. Any charge must be sustained by the evidence of two or three witnesses. I warned those who sinned before and all the others, and I warn them now while absent, as I did when present on my second visit, that if I come again I will not spare them.
Wow, St. Paul sounds like he is a bit upset with these folks in Corinth. But that isn’t it at all. To be sure, a cursory reading of this passage will leave us with the impression he is threatening these folks. But that’s going to miss the true power of St. Paul’s “fatherly” care for these spiritual children of his! There have been very few times I’ve had to discipline my children that they didn’t find it painful. In fact, it is only when the pain is felt that the discipline is learned. The old sign at the gym that says “No Pain, No Gain” has it right.
The context for this passage is St. Paul’s continued “fatherly” ministry to the parish he established in Corinth years before. This community was vibrant, dynamic, and an absolute mess! It was an exciting place to be, but the spiritual maturity of the community was hampered by many in the community who really didn’t want to grow up! Consequently, the “father” of the community had to eventually tell them this situation wasn’t sustainable and his next visit to them was going to be a turning point in their relationship.
It really doesn’t do anyone any good to allow a perpetual immaturity to grip the lives of people they say they love. It isn’t loving or patient or even kind to allow someone you say you love to forever escape the consequences of their bad choices. Whether you call it “tough love” strong parenting or even just honest conversation, eventually, if you truly love someone, you have to confront reality. And they have to confront reality as well IF they are ever going to escape the perpetual childishness of their immaturity. And this is exactly what St. Paul does with these precious people he loves in Corinth. St. Paul isn’t going to continue participating in a delusion. He refuses to allow any of his spiritual children to remain in the prison of pretend. It’s the third time he’s visited, and times up for ignoring reality! Paul takes his role as their “father” seriously and while his discipline and his wisdom isn’t easy for these precious people, it is good! And that’s what motivates Pauyl to do the hard work of a father a=mong these treasures of the Lord!
Just look at the lives of Sts. Zacharias, the Prophet and Elizabeth, the parents of St. John, the Blessed Forrunner. Many of the Church Fathers insist this Zacharias was the priest the Jews killed between the Temple and the Altar in Matthew 23:35. This was because Zacharias always called the Theotokos a virgin even after Christ was born. His unwavering witness to the truth about Christ and His mother cost him his life, but he paid that price because even though it wasn’t easy, it was good! And Elizabeth saved her son who would grow into the last Old Testament prophet and announce, and baptize, the Lord Himself, hid St. John somewhere in the desert when King Herod was killing all the innocent boy infants after the Lord’s birth. These heroes of the Faith took the harder path that led to the ultimate good for all humanity. Their witness should encourage us to stay on the Pasth even when it’s hard!
Today, this isn’t an easy place to be. And it isn’t pleasant either. But it is good. It is good to finally wake up from a perpetual spiritual kindergarten to the spiritual maturity that leads to freedom in Jesus Christ. That’s why our “fathers” and “mothers” in the Lord sometimes have to speak plainly to us, for our salvation. But never without authentic love. The wisdom of a serious and loving spiritual father in your life and my life is absolutely essential if we are ever going to truly live a Normal Orthodox Life!
P.S. In the vesture of a priest, according to the Law of God, you did offer unto Him well-pleasing whole-burnt offerings, as it befitted a priest, O wise Zacharias. You were a shining light, a seer of mysteries, bearing in youself clearly the signs of grace; and in God’s temple, O wise Prophet of Christ God, you were slain with the sword. Hence, with the Forerunner, make entreaty that our souls find salvation.
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