Reflection for December 1, 2020


Virtue is like a thirst. When a man begins to drink of it, he becomes more thirsty and seeks to drink of it all the more. He who begins to exercise the virtue of compassion knows no measure and acknowledges no limit. St. Philaret was no less generous when he was impoverished than when he was wealthy. When his granddaughter became empress, he became a rich man once again, but no less generous. One day, he told his wife and children to prepare the best feast that they could and said: “Let us invite our King and Lord, with all His noblemen, to come to the feast.” Everyone thought that the old man was thinking of inviting to dinner his son-in-law, the emperor, and they all worked as hard as they could and prepared the feast. Meanwhile, Philaret went around the streets and gathered all the needy, the beggars, the blind, the outcasts, the lame and the infirm, and brought them to the feast. Placing them at the table, he ordered his wife and sons to serve at the table. After the feast was completed, he put a gold coin in the hand of each guest and dismissed them. Then everyone understood that by “the King” he meant the Lord Christ Himself, and by “the noblemen” he meant beggars and those in need. He also said that one need not look at the money that one gives to beggars, but rather one should mix up the money in one’s pocket and give only what the hand removes from the pocket. The hand will draw out whatever God’s providence ordains. (St. Nikolai Velimirovich, Prologue from Ochrid)

Fr. John’s Reflection

…the Lord raised up judges and the Lord saved [Israel] from the hand of those who plundered them. But even so, they would not listen to their judges, but instead they played the harlot with other gods and bowed down to them. They turned quickly from the way in which their fathers had walked in obeying the commandments of the Lord; they did not do so. And the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge and delivered them out of the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge; for the Lord was moved by their groaning because of those who besieged them and harassed them. And when the judge was dead, they went back to their former ways and behaved more corruptly than their fathers, by following other gods, serving them, and bowing down to them. They did not reject their pursuits nor their stubborn ways. (Judges 2:16-19)

In those days there was no king is Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
(Judges 17:6)

At that time, the sons of Israel walked away from that place, every man to his tribe and to his family. And they went out from there, every man to his inheritance. In those days there was no king is Israel. A man did what was right according to his own vision. (Judges 21:24-25)

It seems sometimes like the whole Old Testament is a simple narrative; God calls His people, gives them miracle after miracle, they fall away and worship false idols, He punishes them (sometimes quite severely), they come back in repentance and it starts all over again. The Book of Judges (my personal reading discipline at this time) is a crystal clear example of that narrative. It happens again and again in the course of twenty-one chapters. A “judge” was not a judge as we think of that term. A judge was a ruler set over Israel by God in times of necessity, often war or apostasy. But as we see in the verses above, Israel turns away from the Lord and forgets His Law, causing the Lord to appoint judges (chapter 2); one of the sons of Israel (Micah, not the prophet) forges a molten idol and even “consecrates” a Levite to be his “priest” (chapter 17 – read the whole story) and the moral is that “everyone did what was right in his own eyes”; and the very last verses of Judges, the end of a tale of rape and murder, vengeance on the tribe of Benjamin for the crimes, and their restoration (chapter 21). The final verse states that “there was no king in Israel.” That’s not exactly correct. Israel had forgotten that God was their King. When they ceased following Him, they were left to their own devices. And we know how that went!

But the narrative doesn’t just fit the Old Testament. The narrative gives life to the challenges of faith, temptation, apostasy, repentance and redemption that is the human condition. God loves all people, but just as Israel had a special relationship with the Lord, so does the Church. The covenantal relationship ultimately rejected by Israel is inherited by the Church. But we (the Church) face the same choices the first Israel faced. Do we remember the miracles? Do we remember that we are the descendants of Abraham, who God said would “be as numerous as the sands of sea?” Do we remember that we were in bondage and slavery to our sins and passions just as Israel was to Egypt, and that just as God led them through the Red Sea, we have been led through the waters of baptism to the Promised Land? Do we remember that just as the Lord gave the Tablets of the Law to Moses, He gave the living Word and Law in His Son?

If we do remember all of that and more, then the question becomes “have I forsaken that for idols?” Whether it is a conscious rejection of God and His Church or not, we certainly are unfaithful to Him by following various idols in the form of passions, possessions, ego, uncertainty in faith, etc. The list is literally endless. We can be quite wobbly-kneed when faced with choices between faithfulness and the “things of this world.” Israel faced the same temptations that you and I face each day. They failed the test often, but God was merciful and sent judge after judge. He is still merciful and sends us the Word Himself and His priests. We hope and pray that we are strong and faithful enough to receive such judges in the Church today. And we certainly hope He never tires of giving us chances. For the worst thing a Christian can do is “what is right in his own eyes.”