Daily Reflection for June 11, 2020

DAILY REFLECTION  •  JUNE 11  •  Holy Apostles Bartholomew and Barnabas

A true friend prays to God for his friend. A true friend is concerned about the salvation of the soul of his friend. To dissuade a friend from false paths and to direct him on the path of truth, that is precious friendship. The saints of God are the best friends of mankind. Two youths, Barnabas and Paul, were friends while together they were attending the school of Gamaliel. When Barnabas became a Christian, he persistently and tearfully prayed to God that He would also enlighten the mind and turn the heart of Paul in order that he becomes a Christian. Barnabas often spoke to Paul about Christ the Lord but Paul ridiculed him and considered him as one led astray. However, the Good Lord did not leave the prayers of Barnabas without fruit. The Good Lord appeared to Paul and turned him from the path of falsehood to the path of truth. The converted Paul then fell before the feet of his friend and cried out: “O Barnabas, teacher of truth, I am now convinced that everything which you spoke to me about Christ is the truth!” Barnabas wept with joy and embraced his friend. Barnabas, the friend saved the soul of his friend by his fervent prayer. If Barnabas has succeeded to place Paul as the emperor of Rome, he would have done less for him than what he succeeded in doing with prayer to bring him to the truth. (St. Nikolai Velimirovich, Prologue from Ochrid)

 Fr. John’s Reflection

And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.
Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practice such things. And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?
(Romans 1:28-2:4)

We continue in Romans from yesterday’s reading, which ended with verse 27. As Paul continues his moral teaching, there are two very clear points he makes. After talking about unrighteousness and God giving them up to uncleanness, he actually clarifies what he means. What are the unrighteous given up to? Sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, etc. — a long shopping list of sins and debauchery. He says that those who know what the judgment of God is and practice such things anyway are “deserving of death,” and not only that, but they compound their sin by approving of those of like mind and behavior, propagating their sin like the ripples spreading out of a pebble thrown into a pond. Doesn’t our world always not only excuse sin, but “normalize” it and then turn around and make righteousness and holiness seem impossible or, worse, antiquated? Out of step, out of tune, “old-fashioned?”

But then a sober reminder to us all that there is a difference between knowing what that laundry list of sins is and condemning those who fall into them. That difference is the difference between eternal life and eternal damnation. For Paul reminds the Romans that “in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.” This is the condemnation brought about by self-righteousness. Spiritual smugness. Doesn’t it seem like there is an awful lot of “Christian happiness” in many churches today? No sin? No struggle? No need for repentance? Everyone is not only ok, but better than ok. The reality, though, is struggle toward holiness is a very long, very narrow, and very difficult struggle, and one of the biggest pitfalls on that road is prelest — delusion. The demons seduce us into believing that the path of holiness is wide and easy, that “I’m not that bad,” and that if others could “only be a little more godly,” or a “little more like me,” the world would be better off. But this is the sin of the Pharisee and total delusion. Each of us stands before God with the life He has given us, and in that life everything that is needed for salvation is there. In that life is also our judgment. The demons are also there and unrolling that laundry list every single day in front of our eyes and our hearts.

So, it’s a quandary. Paul makes the list of sins very clear. He makes the consequences of those sins very clear. And he then reminds us that each of us is guilty of those sins! So, what then? Hold on to his last words: “the goodness of God leads you to repentance.” And God forgives. I must always remember that God forgives those who truly repent. Even “unto seventy times seven.” Even when we are reminded of the difficulties and darkness, the joy of forgiveness pierces that darkness and gives us the one thing the world doesn’t — hope.