When I had recently become Orthodox, and was contending for the faith with Evangelicals, I sometimes heard Orthodox fasting dismissed with “bodily exercise profiteth little” which is followed by “but godliness is profitable unto all things.”
I typically dismissed the cavil with the thought that abstention from food by itself, without increased prayer and meditation, does indeed profit little spiritually. “After all,” I had already been tutored, “the demons never eat.”
But I now think that I was getting suckered into assuming that the Apostle Paul was saying that “bodily exercise like fasting doesn’t do much good spiritually.” I now think that it might better be rendered “bodily exercise is good for physical fitness, but that’s much less important than godliness,” and that Paul was not saying anything about bodily discipline’s role in godliness.
After all, the same Apostle Paul wrote “But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.”
David Muir: Now, sir, let me ask you about your feeding of the multitudes during your sermons, as recorded in the Gospels. It’s said that somehow you fed on one occasion, four thousand people, and on another occasion five thousand people… all with a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish. Now, how is that even possible? Were there really that many people there at either event?
Jesus: Of course there were. Probably more. Maybe eight, nine, ten thousand at each. They were huge. And there was so much love in those crowds. Let me tell you. And it was a miracle… OK… that’s how they were all fed. And there were even more people watching from the hills, so it was probably the biggest religious rally ever… See, this is the problem. The press demeaned the size of the crowds I got. In fact, they tell me that the press didn’t even cover my entry into Jerusalem, when thousands and thousands of people turned out to throw palm branches down under the feet of the donkey I was riding on. Just so much love in the crowds….
David Muir: Well, if you were really this popular, sir, why did the crowd side with releasing Barabbas instead of you when Pontius Pilate gave them a choice?
Jesus: We’re going to look into that…. There was a lot of fraud, I can tell you that. A lot of fraud. There were people in that crowd who weren’t even legitimate Roman subjects… maybe three to five thousand. And they weren’t yelling for Jesus of Nazareth, I can tell you that.
Richard T. Eulenspiegel is the Luther Martin (of Maryland) Professor of History at Utopia College in Falls Bluff, Maryland. A scholar of lesser-known personages throughout history and sports, he is the author of The Rise and Fall of Pope Joan: How One Woman Bucked the Misogyny of the Roman Catholic Church; Sidd Finch: The New York Mets’ Once Great—and Now Forgotten—Prospect; and Remembering Captain J.S. Tuttle, Unsung Hero of the Korean War.
(“Richard Eulenspiegel,” What if the Mainstream Media Interviewed Jesus?)
The more I think about this, and about Stanley Hauerwas’s piece on Trump, the weirder things get.
There is an unrelenting theme throughout Scripture in which God accomplishes His work through that which is least and broken. Whether it is choosing the second son rather than the first, Joseph as slave and prisoner to be first in Egypt, Moses who stutters when he speaks, young David rather than his brothers, Israel itself as an insignificant nation, Abraham and Sarah who are too old to have children, and so on, the pattern is clear. Mary the Mother of God says it well in her hymn of praise:
He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, And exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, And the rich He has sent away empty. (Luk 1:51-53)
It is easy to recognize this as the way in which God deals with His creation, but it is yet something else to recognize that this is so because it is who God is. We are told that God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble. We do well to understand, however, that this is so because God Himself is humble.
Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Mat 11:29)
We are invited not only to be meek and lowly, but to learn such meekness from the heart of God ….
(Fr. Stephen Freeman, The Despised God)
Modernity fits most of the requirements of a religion and is probably best understood in that manner. As religions go, it has been successful in gaining adherents. It has also failed to achieve its promises, offering, instead, an unending religious argument that is today called “politics.”
The greatest loss, and the most insurmountable obstacle in the politics of modernity is established by the reality that we do not, in fact, exist as individuals. Human life is not just community (a collection of individuals), it is a communion. No one life exists alone. The needs of the one do not exist apart from the needs of the other. Our lives co-inhere.
At its root, the failure of modernity is its account of what it means to be human. It pointedly and persistently ignores the given wisdom of inherited human experience and continues to insist that its model is not only right, but that any amount of technological and artificial interference can be justified in making its solutions work. The result is an increasing alienation of individuals as well as the creation of an abstracted, artificial biology that begins to rival the imagination of Mary Shelley.
Life as communion is our natural existence …
Because communion is not a political project, it is not a competitor within the political world. It is not an argument for solving problems (it is the solution); it is not the dream of a better world (it is the willingness to live in the present one). It is family, children, sickness, weakness, kindness, sharing, prayer. It is transformative but not as political solution. The Christian Church is precisely such a life in communion.
The modern project has changed the nature of the human conversation. Because it locates the solution for all things (its “better world”) within the political realm, it judges all things within that setting. Only those things that can argue for a better political solution are given attention, everything else is deemed to be impractical or somehow belonging to something other than the “real world.” When Christians choose to agree with the assumptions of the modern project, they agree as well that the Church serves only an ancillary position, perhaps as adviser or moral coach. Too often, however, simply agreeing to be part of the modern conversation is already an abandonment of faith.
Christ has not made the Kingdom of God hostage to the politics of any culture. The life that He has given us is already present and immediately available. It requires that it be lived. Just lived.
(Fr. Stephen Freeman, Politics and the Kingdom of God)
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“In learning as in traveling and, of course, in lovemaking, all the charm lies in not coming too quickly to the point, but in meandering around for a while.” (Eva Brann)