Only this Lifetime. All of this Lifetime.
A reflection on Acts 17:1-15 (Paul Facing Persecution)
Christ is Risen!
There have been many martyrs for Christ down through the ages, even to our own time. Some Christians have devoutly desired the crown of martyrdom. Even so, the Church decided early on that one should not make a point to go seeking martyrdom; it was enough to be willing, should it come to us. In his recent homily our brother was right to remind us all of the need for the skill of discernment in general; it is needed regarding martyrdom, as well.
I say that because in today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles we can see some similarities between our Savior, Jesus Christ, and his apostle to the gentiles, St. Paul of Tarsus. I think Jesus as God is the source of all good discernment, but also practiced it as man; St. Paul certainly also had need of good discernment. Several times, the enemies of Jesus sought to kill Him, but couldn’t, because his time had not yet come: He had a mission from our heavenly Father to fulfill, and it wouldn’t come about till the time was ripe. This is true also of St. Paul. His enemies were out to kill him, but he escaped; the Lord wanted him to witness in Rome. Both had rabble-rousers come out against them. Both had to die for the faith. Both had been promoting the truth about the Christ, both offended people and ended up with many enemies, yet persisted in their missions.
I seem to recall that one time Paul was lowered from the tall outer wall of a city by means of a basket; that’s one thing I don’t recall Jesus having done. Never did it myself, either. I think Paul should be a patron saint for basket weavers. The early monks did lots of weaving with papyrus and we could take up making pine needle baskets, if we had a little more time.
But our point is that both our Lord Jesus and St. Paul were discerning as to when to insist on proclaiming truth, and when to keep silent; both were discerning as to when to rile up their enemies, and when to reply more gently and kindly; both were discerning as to when to submit to their enemies, when to escape from them, and when to die for the Kingdom of God. We may be devout; we may be willing to die for Christ; God may or may not lead us to Himself through the arduous but glorious means of martyrdom; but the one thing we ought not do in all these matters, is to be rash: to act impulsively, without discernment. Rash judgment is a fault that some have more of than others; others may have other faults to work on, perhaps even the fault opposite to rashness.
Rashness means to act without enough consideration, without thinking a thing through enough. Some folks are rash in general, others in some ways but not in others, and may God bless them all, for it’s a hard thing to catch impulsive thoughts and urges that suddenly spring up, pushing us to speak or act without enough deliberations, and to fall into the mistakes that those can bring upon us. There are very many vices, faults, and failings one can have, and we do well to work on mending the more prominent ones first, and to cultivate the virtues and ask for the gifts of the Holy Spirit we most need, too. Probably everyone can recall with embarrassment some incident where one has acted rashly; I know I can. Finding how to slow down those impulses and urges to where one can ponder things well, and then practicing whatever ways we discover that work for each of us, can take a very long time. We have only this one lifetime, and we have all of this lifetime, to work on it, or work on whatever else we may need. We have God’s grace available, and can ask in prayer. We have writings in our tradition, and help from outside it may sometimes help as well.
And so, let us continue following our Savior, learning as we go, how best to follow him. May He guide our steps, and protect us along His way.
Christ is Risen!
Homily 2023-05-15 6th Monday after Pascha
(© 2023, Br Seraphim of Mt Tabor, Redwood Valley CA)