And thine eye shall not pity; but life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.
Things take time. The saying goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Another saying I learned from my mentor when I was catechized into the Church, “A fast change in Orthodoxy is one that takes about four hundred years.” I noticed, when studying Rabbinical Judaism, that converts are not readily received. A man approaches the rabbi and says, “I want to become one of you,” and the rabbi rebuffs him, scorns him even, and tells him to go away. The man is undaunted; he comes back, gives it another try. The rabbi receives him a bit more kindly, but explains to him that becoming a Jew won’t be good for him: Jews are plagued by so many persecutions; he surely won’t be able to take it. Again, he is rebuffed, and sent away. The man is confused, but determined. He returns, insisting to the rabbi that he is serious and begins to show reasons why he wants to be one of the chosen people. The rabbi listens a little longer, challenges him again, but lets him stay, just this once. Gradually, the persistence of the convert and the reluctance of the rabbi results in either final acceptance or final rejection. The process takes time.
The Orthodox Church in America, not the jurisdiction but the fact, also by and large throws obstacles in the way of converts racing to the finish line, to slow them down a bit, while at the same time offering hospitality, the “love of strangers” to those who come hesitantly, meekly, to observe the ways of Orthodoxy. It is not as some have unjustly criticized, a convert-hungry, mechanical contraption that sucks in converts like a whale feeding on plankton. A true convert coming to Orthodoxy is often like Jonah, fleeing from God only to be swallowed and caught in the belly of a whale—and that’s no plankton! Unlike Jonah, however, the convert is not spewn out to languish in self-pity under a withering vine, upset because “outsiders” are repenting and being saved. Rather he or she is spewn out of the Orthodox incubator, the process of formal and informal catechesis, to be sent to others, as they are now “in Christ,” as His witnesses.
We are all familiar with the high profile evangelistic crusades wherein a preacher comes and exhorts the audience to turn from their sins and accept Christ, and then people start streaming up to do just that, and to be prayed over, and ostensibly start their new life in Christ. Whatever is really happening in these crusades, God knows. But the world looks on, uncomprehending, because what it often sees is what Christ described as “seed falling among thorns,” and it is not convinced. The world wants it all right now, and expects that if Christ is the God that His followers claim He is, that’s how it should work. The truth is quite different. Conversion to Christ and life in Him may be instigated by a lightning strike, but that isn’t how it is maintained, grows, and bears fruit. Salvation is a process.
It takes time.
The law of Torah cited above from the book of Deuteronomy is a familiar one. We’ve all heard it at least in its shortened form, “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” We all know this has something to do with crime and punishment, or with justice, but certainly not with mercy. It seems very unmerciful, in fact. If we know our bibles, we remember that Christ used this scripture to build upon it His teaching that we should “turn the other cheek” if we are struck on one. We think that is the end of it. Nothing more needs to be said. It’s just an ideal we are supposed to strive for, but rarely succeed. We’re all too ready to smite the offender, give “eye for eye and tooth for tooth,” and Christ will just have to put up with us, so we bring the issue to happy closure by asking for His forgiveness.
“Lord, have mercy.”
Why do I cite this bible verse? Well, it means something entirely different to me. To me, it is linked to what holy apostle John writes, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers” (1 John 3:16). To me, this is what life for life means, indeed, even what the other incidentals mean, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. Since Christ gave life for life, saving us, we too sharing in His forbearance, mercy and love, can also give life for life. Ours.
What does this mean?
Things take time. The world teaches us that “time is money,” and most of us, unconsciously at least, have believed this saying. We think we own our time, that we own ourselves, but scripture says, “You are not your own, you were bought at a price.” This buying of souls for eternal life goes on even today, because Christ is in our midst, He is among us. In us, He walks through the world seeking His lost sheep. When He finds them, He cares for them. He doesn’t just pick them up, hurry over to the sheep pen, and drop them in. No, He doesn’t treat us like that, but He remains with us, at our side, to guide and restore us, to save us.
Following Jesus, this is what we also do, no matter how long it takes.