Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Days Grown Cold and Humility

From Benedicta Ward’s collection of sayings of the Desert Fathers:

The holy Fathers were making predictions about the last generation. They said, ‘What have we ourselves done?’ One of them, the great Abba Ischyrion replied, ‘We ourselves have fulfilled the commandments of God.’ The others replied, ‘And for those who come after us, what will they do?’ He said, ‘They will struggle to achieve half our works.’ They said, ‘And to those who come after them, what will happen?’ He said, ‘The men of that generation will not accomplish any works at all and temptation will come upon them; and those who will be approved in that day will be greater than either us or our fathers.’

(The Desert Christian: Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection. Translated and with forward by Benedicta Ward, S.L.G. New York:Macmillan Publishing Co. First American Edition 1980)

We see in this saying two things at work. First, that these days and our love is growing cold. Or as a seminary professor once said, “People are just getting worse all the time!” Second we can see humility at work. Given that these desert monks enjoyed more sanctification than we–and it is hard to deny it–they still did not praise themselves for keeping so many commandments, but those who struggle to do less.

Lutherans express these thoughts slightly differently, usually in terms of vocation. Who does the greater work, the Pastor visiting the sick, studying the Word, calling sinners to repentance, or the mother who stuggles to be patient with her children? Neither on the face of it. God does not measure results or weigh merits or give points. He has created us all differently, at different times, with different strengths and suffering from different weaknesses. He grants and looks for faith–faithful work in our vocations. The mother who prays hourly for her children may be more faithful than the pastor who relies on his training and intelligence.

God have mercy on us and give us faith!