by Fr Gabriel-Allan Boyd
There are a couple of characters in Pixar/Disney’s Monsters, Inc. that remind me of this Sunday’s Gospel reading…the big monster named Sully, and a sweet little girl, he calls, Boo. Sully works for the company called Monsters, Inc., which is essentially the power supply company for the monster’s city. Monsters, Inc. gets its power by collecting the screams of frightened children, and Sully is their “Top Scarer.” However, Sully’s encounter with little Boo, challenges the foundations of everything his life was built upon, and he discovers something worth risking his whole life on—love. Sully gives us some wonderful insight into the nature of risk in faith. And through it all, his life is wonderfully transformed.
In this Sunday’s Gospel Reading (Matthew 4:18-23), we encounter Jesus asking four seasoned fisherman, Peter & Andrew, and James & John to take an enormous leap of faith. He asks them to leave their fishing boats and come follow Him. Jesus promised to make them fishers of men. In the journey that lay ahead of them, He would teach them about risk that comes with faith, as the essential element of love. Consequently, their lives were wonderfully transformed into something they could have never imagined.
It’s advantageous for each of us to take a few moments to explore the things that we regard as faith & love. Many Orthodox Christians believe that, simply because we were once baptized, and we now believe that Jesus is God, then that means we have, both, faith in God and love for Him. So, now it’s beneficial to stop and ask ourselves, does our faith involve any risk whatsoever? In his epistle, James says, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that…and shudder” James 2:19). So, ask yourself, “How does my faith in God differ from the faith of the demons?” If our faith doesn’t involve the risk of being changed…if it doesn’t manifest itself in risky works devoted to God, then how can it really be a Christian faith or love. It can’t.
When a married couple invites an infant into their lives…out of love, they willingly invite the risk of being changed forever by the experience. The possibility of the parents having a restful night’s sleep, for many months to come, is out the window. The amount of disposable income and time for personal amusements is dramatically reduced. The sum and quality of intimacy that the couple can enjoy together will never-again be like it was before their child came along. As time goes on, from troublesome sicknesses to the myriad of aspirations that children have, to the possibility of rebelliousness, there are an infinite number of ways that the parents’ lives will be forever changed as their child matures. And yet, couples readily invite this risk of change into their lives out of love.
Authentic love always manifests itself in taking the risk of being changed, because when you commit yourself to a loved one in a relationship, each of you will be changed into something you weren’t before. Genuine love persistently seeks out ways to know the heart of the other. True love becomes concerned with pleasing the other, continually offering tangible acts of love based on what it knows of the other’s heart. Real love always has the other’s best interests at heart. Authentic love has faith, that the way we risk being changed by the relationship is for our own good. When you compare your life with what God asks of you, can you really say you love Him?
Jesus said, “If you love Me you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). Obeying someone else’s commands requires faith and risk. It is the risk that my life will be altered from my own self-absorbed pursuits…and faith that the Person I’m obeying has something better in store for me. For our Lord, it means being set apart to God in our holy vocation—the mission He gave to His Church, to be disciples, to make disciples and to grow disciples of Jesus Christ.
Walking by the Sea of Galilee, Jesus sees Simon-Peter & Andrew & James & John doing the work of fishermen…and so our Lord calls out to them, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” Saint John Chrysostom says that Jesus calls them from what they at first saw as a secular duty (casting nets into the sea), but which was in reality a prophecy of their future dignity. So, in obedience, they followed Him. Essentially, Chrysostom is illustrating a person’s transition from merely having a profession…to suddenly discovering their Christian vocation. And how did these disciples discover their God-given vocation? It was only because they decided to follow Jesus in a life of obedience. They were fishermen who were now called to the vocation of fishing for people.
So, a person who is a merely a ditch-digger…when they finally use their trade to follow Christ in obedience…their vocation becomes someone who digs watercourses…so that Living Water might enter the hearts of everyone around them. A person who is merely a managing executive in a large company…in their Christian vocation becomes someone who manages people and events for the specific purpose of using their work to offer clients and collogues an experience of the actual presence of Christ. An optometrist, in her vocation now concerns her life with helping people to see how the love of God is being directed toward them. An engineer, in their vocation becomes someone who designs, builds, and maintains ways for people to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. A father, when he has accepted that role in obedience to Christ, following our Lord…finds his vocation of fatherhood primarily in becoming an icon of Christ for his wife and children…of constantly demonstrating what it looks like to offer his life self-sacrificially…so that they may be set apart unto God and find their way into the Heavenly Kingdom. When our kids ask the question, “What am I supposed to do with my life?” the answer foremost on our lips and given by our own example should be, “Whatever you do in life…however you make use of the talents and gifts and strengths that God gave you…make sure that you set them apart unto God for His purposes.”
In other words, the right question is not so much “What am I supposed to do?”…but rather, “Who am I supposed to be in whatever I do?” When we decide, to follow Christ, obedient to His commands, what was merely an occupation, is now transformed into a faithful expression of our Lord’s will. Have you, perhaps wondered why there’s no transformation in your life? Have you wondered, “Why don’t I see God’s energies effecting my life like the powerfully effective saints of the New Testament, and beyond?” It’s likely because you haven’t been willing to risk anything in order to walk in obedience to Christ. Faith involves risk to our reputation… risk to our livelihood… risk to our relationships with other people… risk to our sense of security. Jesus asks us to follow Him in faith, when doing so will ultimately bring the risk of something in our lives…and we’ll only ever see transformation in our own lives when we’re willing in faith to take that risk, trusting that He knows what’s best for us.
St John Chrysostom said, “Thus, let us imitate those things that made the apostles great. And how did they become great? Hear Peter, saying, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us” (Matthew 19:27)? Hear also Christ saying to them, “You will sit upon twelve thrones,” and, “every one that has left houses, or family, or father, or mother, will receive a hundred times more in this world, and will inherit everlasting life.” Therefore, let us withdraw ourselves from all bodily desires and dedicate ourselves to Christ, so that we may, both, be made equal to the apostles according to His declaration, and may enjoy eternal life; unto which may we all attain, by the grace and love towards man of our Lord Jesus Christ to whom be glory and might forever and ever. Amen.”
Therefore, taking divine risk by the hand, in love, we become like the Eucharist. With faith in Christ, we are blessed by Him to be broken and given to others. And in doing so, our lives are wonderfully transformed into something we could have never imagined.