Soul Saturday

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Instant Gratification ?
Soul Saturday
22 March, 2008
Hebrews 3:12-16 ; Mark 1:35-44

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Today, our Lord is withdrawing and praying for a brief time after He has been very busy with teaching and healing. His disciples said, as you recall : “'Everyone is looking for You'”. They were urging Him to come back because people in the area simply could not get enough of Who Jesus is (not just what He had to say), because He is Love incarnate. We know how people respond to love – it is like a magnet. They felt intensely drawn to Him ; they could not get enough of being in His presence. They wanted Him to be with them always. The felt similarly to the apostles on the occasion of the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor. If they could, they would have just held on to Him, and held on to Him.

However, that is not how the love of God works. You cannot hold on to anything like that. The more you hold on to something tightly, the more you do not have it. We always have to be open-handed in our attitude towards everyone and everything. Even towards the Lord, we always have to be like these various saints whom we see in icons with their arms spread out and their hands open. This is the ancient attitude of prayer. It does not hurt us to recover this attitude of prayer – with our hands stretched out – because then, with our bodies we are reminding ourselves (and our hearts in particular) that everything has to be open. We have to be free in the Lord. We have to be open, allowing the Lord to come and go as He will in us. Just stretching out our hands like that can help us to keep our hearts open. We are rather simple creatures ; we do not have to have complications. We make complications, but we do not have to have them.

Therefore, our Saviour went away because He knew this tendency to hold on. He knew why He had come. He knew He had to fulfill His commission from God the Father. One aspect of this commission is to be present with the people, and to proclaim the love of God the Father. In Himself, He would demonstrate the real meaning of “God is with us”. Everywhere He goes, He is teaching and healing, as we notice. The first thing He is doing is casting out demons. We, being fascinated with our psychological ways in the West, tend to shrink away in distaste when we hear that He is casting out demons. There is a tendency for North Americans immediately to make some sort of psychological interpretation for this. The fact is, regardless of how we want to explain away mental illness (yes, there are mental illnesses that are truly mental illnesses), there is also possession by demons.

People do get taken over by evil. They do get taken over by selfishness, and complete focus on the self. It is the function of evil to do this. People do get taken over, and they become slaves of this evil. The Lord delivers them. The fact that He is delivering people from demons in the first place is a concrete reminder to us all that He is capable, ready to do it, and always setting us free from slavery to evil, to ourselves, to sin of any sort, and especially to death. He is willing. He is capable. He is ready, and He is doing it. That is the first thing He is doing. After teaching people in the synagogues, He is delivering them, and then He is healing them of their diseases. His love wants all His creatures to be healthy. Wherever Jesus goes, people are set free : their hearts are opened ; their eyes are opened ; their ears are opened ; their bodies are made whole. They are restored to what they were created to be. Their potential to fulfill themselves is returned to them. Everywhere Jesus is in the Gospels, this is what is happening. Grace is pouring out, and His love is pouring out.

In the Epistle to the Hebrews today, we are exhorted to be careful not to do as our ancestors in the Faith did, which is to “harden our hearts” as they did in the wilderness. It says “rebellion” in the text. This rebellion took place in the wilderness in Sinai when the Israelites were wandering around, and they were impatient. They could not (or rather would not) wait for the Lord to do what He was doing, which was to deliver them, and take them to the Promised Land. They had to have their own way, right away, because the Lord was not moving fast enough to suit them. In their fears, they developed the opinion that Moses was taking too long on the mountain with the Lord. Therefore, in their fear, in their boredom, in their false nostalgia, in their impatience, in their selfishness, in their pride, they concocted a scheme based on the false memory that it was much nicer back in Egypt. They concocted the golden calf that we all know about, which they set about to appease with ugly sacrifices. They substituted the inanimate, dead work of their own hands and their own hubris for their true Creator and life-giving Father.

We also know the consequences of this particular sort of hard-hearted rebellion, this stubborn unwillingness to listen to God, to be patient, to wait for the Lord ; but instead to do it “my way”. They said, as it were : “The Lord said that He is going to do everything for us. What is taking Him so long ? Well, we can see to it ourselves, and make a substitute” ; which they did : they fashioned a cheap substitute, that being the golden calf. As a result of that impatient betrayal, they wandered for forty years in the wilderness, until the whole generation had died out that had entertained false memories of Egypt and were tempted to go back there. When the young people had grown up and they still remembered the Lord, and they were much less inclined to go back to the fleshpots of Egypt (as they are called), they were at last prepared to go into the Promised Land. We, ourselves, have to be careful in our lives that we do not get impatient with the Lord as our ancestors did. That is one of our temptations : to be impatient with Him, and to take shortcuts. However, these shortcut-takings that we are so prone to, do not take us to life. They always take us to death. They take us to our destruction.

It is important for us, therefore, to remember Who the Lord is, and what He is to us, and what He does with us. It is important to keep our hearts focussed on Him, and not on our impatience. If I am impatient, it is important for me to recognise that there is something wrong in the heart. If I am impatient about what is going on, I have fallen into the hands of the Tempter ; I have listened to a wrong suggestion that something should be happening much faster. Instead of jumping into the hole, as we often do, it would be much better if we cried out to the Lord, and say : “Lord, I messed up. I listened to the Tempter. Cleanse me. Heal me. Straighten me out. Help me to be patient, and to wait for You, and to do only Your will – what You want me to do, not what I want now”. When I want it now, right now, I am like a two-year-old, and we know what two-year-olds can be like.

I still remember the Greek theologian, Christos Yannaras, saying in his writings how difficult it is, in his opinion, for modern, especially western societies (but it is spreading everywhere) to get beyond this demand for instant gratification. He says that everything about our modern life is dragging us or compelling us to be expecting everything instantly. To turn on a light, we do not have to do anything except to flip a switch, and the lights are instantly on. With anything electrical, we do not have to do anything – it is just there. Turn the key in the car, and it is immediately running. Go to the bank machine, and plug in the plastic – out comes the loot (as long as you have any to come out). It is all instantly there. We do not have to think. We do not have to wait. We even have microwaves, and all these “super-duper” fast cookers, and “whatnot”. We do not have to do anything. Just flip a switch – it happens now. It is because of this that we have difficulty with the Lord. The Lord can move extraordinarily quickly, sometimes far faster than we can keep up with. Truly, that is how the Lord sometimes is. However, He always waits for the right time for things to happen. We almost always think that the right time is now, because I want it now. However, now is not necessarily the right time for me to have whatever it is I think I should have, or to do whatever it is I think I should do.

Perhaps I should listen a little longer to the Lord, and try to catch the drift of what He is saying to me through the Scriptures, through people, through events in my life. Perhaps what I want is not exactly good for me at all, and He is trying to suggest (as He always so humbly and peacefully suggests) that I might go in another direction for my own good. For my own health, I might go in a more life-giving direction. It is hard for us to listen like that, but it is still important for us to try to listen like that, and to notice when the heart gets a little out of focus. Then we should turn quickly to the Lord, and say : “Lord, I am ‘out to lunch’. Bring me back to my place. Bring me back into focus. Help me to know the right way, the life-giving way, the love-living way”. In everything, at all times and everywhere, let us ask our Saviour to help us to glorify Him, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.