Friday, July 07, 2006


Abraham came to see Ares, and while they were sitting together, a brother came and asked Ares, "Tell me, what must I do to be saved?" The hermit said, 'Go, eat bread and salt every evening for a whole year, then come back, and I will talk to you again.' So the brother went away and did so, and at the end of the year came again to see Ares. By chance, Abraham was with him again. This time Ares said to the brother, 'Go, fast for a year, and eat every second day.' When he had gone, Abraham said to Ares, 'Why, when you put a light yoke on all the brothers, have you laid such a grievous burden on this brother?' Ares replied, 'Other brothers come to ask questions and go away just as they came. But this brother comes to hear a word for God's sake, and he is one who works hard for the Lord and takes the greatest trouble to do whatever I tell him. That is why I speak the word of God to him.'
Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously wrote: "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die." What is lost in that conception is the idea that Christ does not call every Christian to such service. Christ spoke to, blessed, taught, corrected, smiled on, healed, and benefited, many people in his earthly ministry. He called 12, and then 72, and then at least two who, it turned out, weren't fit to be disciples.

But he didn't call us all to "come and die" (as even Bonhoeffer later recognized). This story, and this one are good reminders of what obedience means:

Arsenius, of blessed memory, once said to Alexander, 'When you've finished your palm leaves, come and have supper with me. But if pilgrims arrive, eat with them.' Alexander worked away gently and unhurriedly. At supper time he had not finished his palm leaves. Though he was hungry he wanted to obey the order of Arsenius, so he went on until he had finished the palm leaves. Arsenius noticed that he was late and had his own supper for he thought that perhaps pilgrims had come, and that Alexander was eating with them. Alexander finished his task, and in the evening came to see Arenius. Arsenius said to him, 'Did pilgrims come?' He replied, 'No.' Arsenius said, 'Then why didn't you come?' He replied, 'Because you told me to come when I had finished the palm leaves. I did what you told me and di not come because I have only just finished the work.' Arsenius admired the exactness of his obedience, and said to him, 'You should lay aside your work sooner, so as to say your psalms, and fetch water for yourself, otherwise your body will soon grow weak.'

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