Friday, March 28, 2008

The Good, the Bad, the Negative or just "That which needs to be better?"

I have been reflecting upon the Great Fast recently and our spiritual journey as Orthodox Christians. I have to admit here that I am a person who tends to dwell upon those things that need, from my perspective at least, to be improved both in my life and “of course” the world around me. To most this comes across as being negative. “Why don’t you ever talk about the good things you see?” I am often asked. “Why are you so negative?” These are good questions, and I think the Gospel during the Great Fast has something to offer in our answer.

In the Gospel of Luke we have two examples of the character trait of someone who will be saved contrasted by the character trait we are encouraged to avoid. When the Rich Man asks, “what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 18.18-27) after patting himself on the back the rich man is told, “You still lack on thing….” Christ does acknowledge the good things the rich man has done in his life, but while affirming him encourages him to strive for the next level and, “sell all he has and distribute to the poor,” at which point the rich man leaves very sad “for he was very rich.” Our second example is the Publican and the Pharisee (Luke 18.10-14). It was not the self-aggrandizing of the Publican that led to salvation but the acknowledgement of sin and the cry for mercy. It was the sinner who “went to his house justified rather than the other, for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

You may wonder what this has to do with my tendency to draw attention to those things that need improvement. Don’t these examples instruct me to mind my own business and not worry about what I see around me? Yes and no. We are called to personally focus upon our selves, but the constant prayer of the Divine Liturgy is to “commit ourselves and one another and our whole life unto Christ our God.” We are called as the Body of Christ to be each other’s keeper (see my blog by this title) and as members of the Body of Christ we must constantly hold each other to a higher standard while always affirming to good. I believe this is evident in the Scriptures and the legacy of the Saints. Countless Saints have been known for referring to themselves as dogs and worthless sinners. This doesn’t sound life self-aggrandizing to me.

To this end, I pray that we are all able to affirm the good while never losing focus on those things that need to be improved lest we too become like the Pharisee or the Rich Man.

Have a blessed Fast.

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