I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness.
Romans 6: 19
There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!
Luke 12: 50
We are all serving something or someone. We live in a time that greatly values freedom and in which we tell ourselves that our choices are independent and not subject to anything or anyone outside of us. In truth, however, every choice we make is in response to whom or what we are serving. Paul sees our ends as impure and wicked on the one hand or righteous and holy on the other. Even Jesus, in the gospel of Luke, speaks of the anguish he experiences in fulfilling his service to God. Today we are reminded that “not to decide is to decide” and that to live without deliberation and conscious choice to serve God is to be a slave to the ungodly forces in us.
Most if us seldom make focal and deliberate choices to be slaves of “impurity” and “every-increasing wickedness.” But often we do make choices for how to spend our time or how to be or not be with and for others by not deliberately deciding. Often we live from a certain spiritual laziness, what the tradition has called acedia, by which we allow ourselves to be driven by habit and security directives. In effect, we am thus slaves to our needs and desires for security, comfort, and gratification.
The anguish Jesus knew in working to complete the work God had given him to do is not unknown to us. To become a “slave” of God’s will requires of us that we take seriously the daily choices we make of how to spend our time, how to love each other, and how to do our work. There is an anguish, but also a great joy and sense of real life, in being responsible for what we do and how we do it, responsible to God and to the unique mission which God has given us.
In truth, human motivation is almost always mixed. Most of the time we would like to be servants of God, while also being servants of our own needs and desires. This tension is the source of our continuing human and spiritual formation. Yet, there is “anguish” for us in this tension. It is not easy for us to continually recognize and experience the struggle we have in dying to our own sense of self, in giving “our” self away in service to God. So, as the disciples in the garden, we fall asleep in the face of God’s call. We make the choice not to choose, but rather to let our pre-transcendent lives, the lives of our unconscious and our habits, live us.
In The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote: “Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” Today we are reminded not to be too quick to claim our will for God’s. As St. Paul said: “The love of Christ impels us.” (2 Cor. 5:14) To serve God requires of us that we make choices this day: choices to listen for and to wait on God’s call and then to choose to respond in a way that costs us, even slightly, a degree of personal comfort, security, and complaisance. In a recent broadcast interview, Sherry Turkle, professor at MIT and author of new book on conversation in a digital age, spoke of a study in which a large majority of young people would inflict physical pain on themselves rather than experience longer than 6 or 7 minutes of silence with their own thoughts. Perhaps in some way we can make a choice today to be a practitioner of and witness to the human need for and value that silence without which we can only be servants of our basic drives and instincts.
Three things make a person worthy of this path—that one recognize it and enter upon it: first, that one submit to God relinquishing all human control, and that one piously hold on to God’s grace and willingly keep it by being forgiving in all things as far as it is possible for a human will. The second thing keeping a person on this path is that one welcome all things except for sin alone. The third thing keeping a person on this path is that one do all things equally for God’s honor. Thus I think relieving my most basic need counts as much in God’s sight as if I were in the highest state of contemplation that a human being can attain. Why? If I do it out of love in order to give honor to God, it is all one and the same. But when I sin, I am not on this path.
Mechthild of Magdeburg, The Flowing Light of the Godhead, I, 27