No What Ifs, Ands, or Buts ~ The Rt. Rev. Jay VanLieshout, OPI

“This is the most important: ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is One Lord, and you shall love the  Lord your God with all your heart andwith all your soul and with all your mind and with allyour strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these” Mark 12:29-30.  Such simple rules by which to live our lives are they not?  And yet, how we human struggle in our worldly lives to even come close to meeting just a fraction of these two simple requirements.  Of course, the difficulty comes from the blending of our secular desires with our inner spiritual desires; the crashing of these two aspects of our existence easily causes us to divert from God’s path, which is the underlying nature of our hamartia (aka sin), our missing the bullseye of spiritual direction. Though we are created in the image of the heavenly hosts, we are flawed, imperfect, prone to mistakes, drawn away from the path of the righteous towards self interest and familiar contentment.  What is the root of our human hamartia?  It is fear, fear of loosing out, fear of falling behind those around us, fear of change, fear of losing control over our lives an fear of loosing our “stuff”.  Now this is not the type of fear that comes from being chased by a bear or being injured or killed by natural disasters, but the psychological fear that comes with asking “what if”, and what about” or “but…”.  There is great benefit to to us, our families, our society and indeed all of humanity to consider the ramifications of our single and corporal actions on the future; it is the cloud of darkness that veils our eyes to the reality of the here and now when we are consumed by the “what ifs” in lieu of the here and now, and so we loose focus on the target and stumble into the pit of hamartia.  Jesus even warns us to “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Today has enough trouble of its own” Matthew 6:34.  And now we worry about worrying..and as I always say: “that’s my job!”

St. James tells us “Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice” James 3:16.  An so it is when we worry about keeping up with the Smiths or who might take advantage of us; we covet, kill, and envy.  We fight against unseen enemies and so we create enemies by scapegoating the weak, the popular, the foreigner, and the marginalized; in our fearful passions we wage wars against our scapegoats and loose everything to gain nothing and so, further feed our fears.  We feed our “what ifs” and fail to ask in wisdom “how can I rely on God to change me so that I might be a positive change to others and to the world?”  We exchange our pleas for wisdom in prayer for wickedness in action.

There are subtle differences between knowledge, wisdom and wickedness.  Knowledge is knowing many answers, wisdom is the ability to put these answers to the correct questions and problems, and wickedness is using answers to only promote ones own desires and agenda, regardless of any concern for others. HaShem gives us knowledge and wisdom in the gift of scripture, the prophets teaching and the promise of the presence and willing sacrifice of Christ.  But as Wisdom (2:12) tells us “The wicked say: Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us; he sets himself against our doings, reproaches us for transgressions of the law and charges us with violations of our training”. In fear we then follow those who ignore the scriptures, minimize the teachings of the prophets and continually lash the back of the Son of Man as we pound the spikes deeper into His flesh on the cross saying “let us condemn Him to a shameful death; for according to his own words, HaShem will take care of Him” (Wis: 2:20), so crucify Him, Crucify Him, CRUCIFY HIM!

Jesus showed His disciples the wisdom from above by being “first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity” and that “the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace” (James: 17-18); and in turn they thought only of their own prestige and gain as they questioned who among them would be the greatest. Their own fearful lack of understanding pierced the silence like echos of a mocking crowd crying “CRUCIFY HIM!” and their words echoed off the hills like the clang of a hammer against a spike as it penetrated soft human flesh into the hard core of olive wood.  In the loving wisdom that comes only from HaShem’s heavenly sphere, Jesus embraced a child walking in their midst, lifted the bewildered child up as the one who was greatest among them! Like a father lifting up His own innocent and lowly child, unlike our children in modern times, would probably not survive into adulthood and whose value was limited to serving as a indentured servant to the family. This child, in their lowly servitude to their parents, IS the the pride of HaShem’s kingdom-no frills, no power no expectations, the last of all and servant their father’s needs.  What a shock to hear Jesus’ words that “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me;
and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me
” (Mark 9:37).  What knowledge and wisdom we can find in this one uncomplicated act, this one elementary statement in reply to the question of how we can keep the command to love HaShem and love each other.

Let us live our lives lives like a true child of HaShem.  Let us lift from our eyes the dark veil of fear so that we might see the light that is His light.

Let us sow the seeds of righteousness in our hearts, overcome the impediments of our own hamartia, shed the “what ifs” we bear as our cross in this journey, and be the merciful and good fruit of His peace,  His Gospel, and walk the straight path into the arms of He who created us in the grace of His own image.

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