Tom Stoppard once said, “Maturity is a high price to pay for growing up!” While that really is funny, it is also a painful splash of reality. It really does take time to become mature.
Sadly, I’ve known men who were older but never mature. And one of those older men was the guy I look at in the mirror every day!
Maturity is the ability to embrace wisdom and deal with life as it is, not necessarily how you wish it was or fear it is! This mature life is a hard-won battle with taming my desires so that what I want is tempered by what I truly need and the difficult work of making sure my desires are grown up. The truth is that maturity is seeing my desires, what I want, transformed into the more humble work of aligning my desires with what God wants for me.
The whole of the Orthodox Faith is the lifestyle of mature living. To take the “Royal Path” of Orthodoxy is to live every day as someone who wants to grow up in Christ and live a life focused on eternal perspectives instead of childish immediate gratification. That’s hard work, but your life will be truly peaceful if you choose that way of living!
Look at our Lesson today in Luke 5:33-39:
At that time, the Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Why do the disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink?” And Jesus said to them, “Can you make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? The days will come, when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.” He told them a parable also: “No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it upon an old garment; if he does, he will tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; if he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine desires new; for he says, ‘The old is better.’”
While the initial conflict seems to flow from those who are stuck in their “old way” of thinking about the spiritual discipline of fasting, you can look at the beginning of Luke 5 you’ll see why these Pharisees are so upset. It’s because Jesus does something that really bothers the “establishment;” He chooses a “publican” (a Jewish collaborator and tax collector with the occupying Roman authorities) as one of His disciples! Talk about letting the “undesirables” in! This immediately had these religious people start questioning Jesus about religious behavior! Their “passive-aggressive” attitude sure does seem familiar! It seems to be the pattern of some to question the devotion and piety of those who have deeper insights into the faith that causes those so satisfied with the “elementary” ways to fear for their future. But spiritual maturity is free from this childish passive-aggressive defensiveness!
The Lord plainly deals with the sickness of an atrophied faith and His warning is plain. Trying to mend a patch of clothing that has worn out with new cloth isn’t wise and will always result in disaster. You have to have the courage to embrace the new better and more mature way to keep your relationship with God fresh and whole. Now the Lord isn’t saying the old is useless; not at all. He is saying that now that He has arrived, the Messiah, the New Israel, the tutoring system of the old way is completed and the path of salvation is now open to the whole world! His arrival marks the place where it’s time to grow up from the tutoring stage of the Law and embrace the harder work of a deep and transformative relationship with Christ. In other words, it’s time to put away childish things and realize you were made to be the eternal companion of your Creator, not a perpetual adolescent always left to merely follow the rules. Now it’s time to have the wisdom of the Faith actually become who you are and not merely what you do!
St. Callistratus was a native of Carthage and was a soldier of the Roman Army. The Roman Emperor at the time was Diocletian. St. Callistus was related to a Christian named Neochorus who was an army officer under Pontius Pilate and witnessed the crucifixion of Jesus. St. Callistus had a noble Christian heritage and he was a devoted believer. Since it was still illegal to be Christian in the Roman Empire, St. Callistius did his prayers to Christ after all his companions had gone to sleep. He wasn’t ashamed of his faith, but neither was he foolish and reckless. One night one of the other soldiers overheard St. Callistus praying to Jesus and he reported the saint to the commander. The commander questioned Callistus and attempted to get the holy hero to offer sacrifices to the pagan gods. When Callistus refused the commander had him severely beaten and tortured. But the suffering did not break Callistus’ commitment to Christ. Finally, the commander had St. Callistus sewn up in a leather sack and thrown into the sea to drown him. But the sack struck a large rock and burst open. The saint made his way to shore and was saved from drowning. When several soldiers witnessed this amazing turn of events, they too embraced Christ. 49 compaction soldiers of Callistus confessed Christ and all of them were beheaded for the Faith. In one powerful display of God’s grace, these men rejected the childish fear of pain for the eternal maturity of Faith and companionship with God.
Today, where are you trying to hold onto an immature spiritual life? Don’t you know that your “addiction” to childish ways, small ways, limited ways, will always be too weak to hold the “new wine” of a purposeful and mature Orthodox Christian life? It’s time to put this ever-fresh, ever “new”, ever “sweet wine” of the message of Jesus in the new “wineskins” of your transformed and mature life daring to embrace the fullness of this Orthodox Way. To be sure, this Orthodox Way is going to challenge some of our “old” understandings and we may feel nostalgia for that “old wine” but the path forward is with the “new wine” of a mature and expanded vision of God’s love and purpose! This Normal Orthodox Life is challenging but it is also always worth it!
P.S. Your Martyrs, O Lord, in their courageous contest for You received as the prize the crowns of incorruption and life from You, our immortal God. For since they possessed Your strength, they cast down the tyrants and wholly destroyed the demons’ strengthless presumption. O Christ God, by their prayers, save our souls, since You are merciful.
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