Honestly, I am very happy that I was able to preach on these readings today. Speaking personally, I have not been feeling very well for several weeks because of a Cdif bacterial infection among other things, and I woke up this morning sweating and tired–evidence my body is still trying to fight off the infection. A week ago, my body violently reacted to an antibiotic that the doctors gave me, so I had a rash for four days where I felt like I wanted to tear off my own skin so they pumped me full of steroids, and then I recently had a colonoscopy where they did not sedate me enough. Imagine my surprise. That was a laugh a minute as well. So the past few weeks have not been my favorite. I feel as if I have seen doctors more this year than the first forty years of my life combined.
And I’m not trying to complain, but because of a lot of this I was not able to look at the sunday readings until this morning, and I usually start writing my homily earlier than that.
And what do I hear in the second reading? I will read the section again if you were not paying close attention.
“My son, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord
or lose heart when reproved by him;
for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines;
he scourges every son he acknowledges.”
Endure your trials as “discipline”;
God treats you as sons.
For what “son” is there whom his father does not discipline?
At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain,
yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it. So strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees.
Make straight paths for your feet, that what is lame may not be disjointed but healed.
Greeeeeaaaat, right? “At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain.” Ain’t that the truth? So is the suffering that I am going through a discipline? What about the suffering that you are going through? Maybe it’s just an accident? Maybe just chance or Fate? Maybe it’s just nature? Maybe I am just reaping the natural consequences of stress and a diet that has not been the greatest? I’m not really sure.
You know, I am perfectly willing to believe that some of the things that are happening to me are accidently, or even my fault. It may very well be true that God did not actually cause any of it. But what the reading reminded me of is this: that absolutely everything that happens can be a cause for growing in holiness. Absolutely everything that happens can be turned into something good, no matter how dark and ugly it might seem. Do you know how I know this? Take a look at the cross behind me–an innocent man was falsely accused, ridiculed, beaten and tortured to death. Not only that, but he lived an entire life where he was misunderstood and rejected by his own people– and he turned it into an instrument for the salvation of the entire human race. Did God cause that or did evil men cause that to happen? You know, on a certain level, the answer to that question doesn’t even really matter. What matters is that Jesus took the suffering, accepted it, and turned it into a training for holiness, and a gateway to salvation for those whom he loved.
I once heard a very simple but wise fellow say something about this problem. Many of us sit around wondering, “Why is this happening to me? What has caused it?” And we ponder and worry ourselves sick about the causes of what is burdening us and dragging us down. Let me tell you an image that this wise, simple fellow gave me. He said, “When your donkey falls into a ditch, some people scratch their heads and wonder all day, ‘how did the donkey fall into the ditch?’ And other people just shrug their shoulders and say, ‘Who cares? What matters is that you just get the stupid donkey out of the ditch.'”
There were a lot of things that happened to me that were not caused by my parents. But that stop my father from saying, when I felt like I was down, “What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger, son,” (or one of my personal favorites) “that builds character.” Those words are a little harder when what happens to be “building your character” at the time is causing you pain and making you cry. Those are the kind of things that make you want to say, “If this builds character, then I want to have absolutely no character whatsoever–I want to be the most boring human being on the face of this earth.”
That very short second reading mentions the word, “discipline” five times. It is no doubt the most important word in the reading.
The Greek word for discipline is paideia–the definition can mean “training” or “teaching” or “instruction.” But it usually has the connotation of correcting or disciplining someone. But there is a reason for that. The reason is because the root word for paideia actually comes from the Greek word paidarion, which means “a little child.” Discipline is what you do to a little child. And what is the purpose of disciplining a little child? You discipline a little child so that he will not be a little child anymore, but a mature man or woman. And let me ask you a question? Is disciplining a child really pleasant for either the parent or the child? No it is not. It is neither. But it is necessary for both. Because if you are a parent that does not discipline, then you do not truly love your child like a mature adult should, and if you are a child who is not disciplined, then you will remain a child forever.
And what is the opposite of a disciplined person? It is someone who is spoiled. Food that has spoiled has gone bad, and no longer can give nourishment to anyone. And the same goes for spoiled people. They can’t nourish anybody else. They go around making everybody sick. It is someone who does not understand what is happening to them and does not accept what happens with any amount of grace or humility or hope.
And unfortunately, the process of discipline almost always means that we have to do things we do not want to do, suffer things we do not want to suffer, and leave behind things we would rather not leave behind. Why? Because if you want to turn into to something different, then you have to do something different in order to transform yourself into something that you are not. That means that you have to reach outside of yourself–stretch yourself. And who enjoys stretching?
When Jesus was asked if only a few people would be saved, he did not say, “Yes.” He said instead, “Try to enter through the narrow gate.” The narrow gate is hard and winding and dark, and we only find it after climbing a mountain that is difficult to climb. This is the discipline of the Lord. No one can climb a mountain without first training for it, or it will simply be too much for us. And this is not pleasant, but it is necessary. This is being trained not to be spoiled, but mature–training to be nourishment for others and lights on a dark path. But unfortunately, in order to become lights, we must first have to learn how to make our light shine brighter in a darkness of our own.
St. Paul tells us that the Lord disciplines those whom he loves. I just told a friend of mine that sometimes I wish the Lord didn’t love me so much. But maybe he really does. Maybe he really does…