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Settling for Poverty

“In thy presence is the fullness of joy, and at thy right hand there is pleasure forevermore” (Psalm 16:12).

We do not seek joy enough. This is our problem. We spend our time chasing cheap substitutes for it, lusting after fleeting thrills and avoiding the source. The purpose of Lent is to pull us up out of our poverty, so that we can enjoy true pleasure: the pleasure of glorifying God.

“As he approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging” (Luke 18:35).

Imagine a boy who has grown up in the slums. His whole world is poverty and crime. One day, a kind stranger passes by and notices the boy making mud pies in the filth. The stranger tells him about his summer home by the ocean, with beautiful gardens and delicious food. He asks the boy if he would like to visit. The boy turns him down. He cannot conceptualize anything outside of the slums. He prefers the filth. This is the spiritual state of the blind man at Jericho, and we are no different.

“We are half-hearted creatures,” C. S. Lewis says, “fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us” (Weight of Glory).

He was sitting by the roadside begging for crumbs. He lived in a world of shadows. The expanse of the sky, the wild flowers, the works of art, all the beauty — everything — he was cut off from it. His only pleasure, when he could find a little stale bread or distract himself with tepid water. Are we any different?

We have become a gaming culture. Yes, we have different games, but we are all in the same boat. For some it is the endless panoply of virtual realities, social media, instagram or TikTok. For others, it is television, music, casinos, or shopping. Neil Postman summed up the situation, we are “Amusing Ourselves to Death.” Fr. Seraphim Rose taught about how irregular our modern life has become. Our obsession with fun is unbalanced and crippling. “Life becomes a constant search for ‘fun’ which, by the way, is a word totally unheard of in any other vocabulary…Life is a constant search for "fun" which is so empty of any serious meaning that a visitor from any 19th-century country, looking at our popular television programs, amusement parks, advertisements, movies, music—at almost any aspect of our popular culture—would think he had stumbled across a land of imbeciles who have lost all contact with normal reality.”

Everything nowadays is like the crowd pressing against the beggar. “Don’t look up.” “Don’t reach out to God.” “Stay down in your filth.” God wants us to be joyful, and that is why our addictions are a problem. We settle for mud pies while God offers something far better.

The beggar succeeds because he refuses to settle for poverty.

"When he heard a crowd going by, he asked what was happening. They told him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.’ Then he shouted, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Those who were in front sternly ordered him to be quiet; but he shouted even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’" (Luke 18:37-39).

He called out for God’s help. Everything around him tried to shut him down. Have you ever tried beating an addiction? It is no different. The minute we try reaching out to God the world, the flesh, and the devil pummel us. But the beggar was determined. He kept on shouting, and God showed up.

“‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Jesus stood still and ordered the man to be brought to him; and when he came near, he asked him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ He said, ‘Lord, let me see again.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Receive your sight; your faith has saved you.’ Immediately he regained his sight and followed him, glorifying God; and all the people, when they saw it, praised God” (Luke 18:39-43).

At last, the man’s eyes were opened. But what did this mean? He was free to worship God.

God is the source of joy. What are we looking for all the time? Joy. When we wake up grumpy in the morning, our eyelids feel like they are glued and our knees ache, what do we want? Joy. When we set out to a restaurant hoping to enjoy a meal, we are looking for joy. When we turn to cheap entertainments or to sinful fantasies, we are looking for Joy. Every man knocking on the door of a brothel, is seeking Joy. We only find what we want by turning to God.

This is what Lent is about. Something has been weighing on my heart. Why is it so important that we take Lent seriously? Why does the Church insist we step up our game at this time? All the fasting, the long prayer services, the act of confessing our sins — is it just religious formality? Or is it because our souls are addicted to filth, and God wants for us a better life?

The man had scales on his eyes. He could not see anything because of an optical disease. Our pride is what blinds us. Everywhere we turn, the ego shows up. Life becomes a constant pursuit of stuffing our belly, numbing our mind, or distracting ourself with thrills. The ego sticks to us like a slimy false self. Our only hope is to starve it. We must not settle.

I used to drive by a restaurant in northern Indiana. Its name glimmered in bold, neon letters: “Just Good Enough Food.” That always made me think. “Just Good Enough.” Is this how we measure our life, our Christianity? Are we striving to be saints, or do we settle with being “just good enough Christians”? God does not ask us to be good enough. He asks of us complete submission, death to the self. Why?

“We are half-hearted creatures fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us” (Weight of Glory).

So now, as we enter Lent, we need to keep the purpose in mind. It is not about checking off a religious obligation. It is about pushing back against everything choking the soul, so that we can be free, and worship.

“In thy presence is the fullness of joy, and at thy right hand there is pleasure forevermore” (Psalm 16:12).


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