The Readings for the 10th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B2)
For all things are for your sakes; that the grace abounding through many, may abound in thanksgiving unto the glory of God.
This quote came across my Facebook yesterday. It’s so un-American, so un-Modern, so un-Millenial, so un-Boomer, I had to share it. It is, really, very Xer, or so I think… and very “Greatest Generation” or “Silent Generation”. It’s from St. Nikolai Velimirovich, an Orthodox Saint. Born in Serbia, he was imprisoned in the Dachau concentration camp then lived in the Communist Yugoslavia. He came to America after the war and died in Pennsylvania.
Only the foolish think that suffering is evil. A sensible man knows that suffering is not evil but only the manifestation of evil and healing from evil. Only sin in a man is a real evil, and there is no evil outside sin. Everything else that men generally call evil is not, but is a bitter medicine to heal from evil. The sicker the man, the more bitter the medicine that the doctor prescribes for him. At times, even, it seems to a sick man that the medicine is worse and more bitter than the sickness itself! And so it seems at times to the sinner: the suffering is harder and more bitter than the sin committed. But this is only an illusion – a very strong self-delusion. There is no suffering in the world that could be anywhere near as hard and destructive as sin is. All the suffering borne by men and nations is none other than the abundant healing that eternal Mercy offers to men and nations to save them from eternal death. Every sin, however small, would inevitably bring death if Mercy were not to allow suffering in order to sober men up from the inebriation of sin; for the healing that comes through suffering is brought about by the gracefilled power of the Holy and Life-giving Spirit.
Let that sink in for a moment: from a man in a concentration camp: “Only sin in a man is a real evil, and there is no evil outside sin. Everything else that men generally call evil is not, but is a bitter medicine to heal from evil.” I think of all the “evils” we imagine today, from “hate speech” to “gun control”, from “oppression” to “open borders”, from nuclear war to ozone depletion, we are filled with things we think of as “evils”. The only evil is sin. And nearly no one calls sins out as “evil” anymore for that would be “judging someone”. Yet here’s a man who has endured what I – and you, perhaps – would call the two greatest evils of the 20th century (Nazism and Communism) who says “Everything men call evil usually is only a bitter medicine to designed as a cure from evil.” No body likes bitter medicine. Every day Christians pray for their rulers – even the “evil” ones: Caesars, Kaisers, Commissars, Fuhrers, and Trump. God put them there for a reason.
And you might think it’s evil… but are you saved yet?
St Paul says, “All things are for you.” The implications are astounding. Sure, you might take the Oprah/Osteen line and opt for “only the things I want are for me…” but Paul says πάντα, panta, all things. All means all. That crappy email from a client, the customer yelling at your barista, the car that swiped in front of you and made you slow down, the smelly guy on the subway. We usually want to get rid of all these things. What about that political opponent that won, that lazy coworker that got a promotion, the doctor that charges too much money for the pills you need? What about that sleepless night worrying about nothing in particular that ruined your workday, or that unjust work situation that turned into the most grueling three days ever experienced? What about that family that is emotionally abusive, the pain that you still feel from that sports injury in school, the monotonous repetition of your job? All means all.
I want to tell you that I’m not some wise man spouting on a mountain top. I can complain with the best of them. But Paul says all things are for your sakes and he means it. Think how many times this comes up through the New Testament writings:
- in all things thanksgiving…
- all things work for the good of those who love the Lord…
- count it all joy…
- for I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature…
But we will stop everything for just a little bit of pleasure. And when we can’t get the pleasure that we want, we complain we are being “oppressed” as if St Nikolai and his Dachau friends had nothing to compare to the folks at WalMart not saying “Merry Christmas”. We will literally bend over backward and swallow hands-full of pain killer just to avoid feeling pain.
Paul says all things.