But Jesus said to them, “All cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given… (Matthew 19:27)
In the above saying of Jesus, Christ affirms a concept which was accepted in the spiritual tradition of the Church: namely, that people have differing capacities to hear and understand portions of Scripture. Consequently, not every verse in Scripture is intended for everybody. Rather, people will find in Scripture verses geared toward their level of understanding –their spiritual gifts—with some verses being more important to some individuals than to others. What is required from us is the wisdom to know whether a verse or lesson applies to us or whether we are best leaving it for others to wrestle with. As it says in Psalm 131:1 – “O LORD, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.”
The Syrian monk now called Pseudo-Dionysius (late 5th or early 6th Century) writes:
For as our sun, through no choice or deliberation, but by the very fact of its existence, gives light to all those things which have any inherent power of sharing its illumination, even so the Good (which is above the sun, as the transcendent archetype by the very mode of its existence is above its faded image) sends forth upon all things according to their receptive powers, the rays of Its undivided goodness. (THE DIVINE NAMES AND THE MYSTICAL THEOLOGY, p 87)
Whether speaking of our solar system’s sun or speaking of God, we know that things have differing capacities to receive their light—whether absorbing in or reflecting it. The light is the same, it is only our capability to receive it which changes. Not everyone is given the same receptivity as we each are differently gifted by God. So, Evagrios, the 4th Century Egyptian monk writes:
All those who wish to embark on the toils of the virtuous life should train themselves to the task gradually, and keep on until perfection is achieved. Do not be confused by the many different paths our forefathers exemplified, and do not try to copy all of them exactly, for this would upset your way of life. No, you must choose a way of life that suits your lesser abilities. Travel your road and you will find life there, for your Lord is merciful, and he will find you acceptable not because of your achievements, but because of your heart’s intention, just as he receives the poor widow’s gift (Mark 12:43). (STANDING IN GOD’S HOLY FIRE, p 53)
Evagrios like other Patristic writers does not believe there is one-size-fits-all spirituality. God reveals Himself to us according to our abilities, which are also gifts from Him and differ for each person. We each need to find our path in life – we cannot simply try to imitate what saints in other lands or in past centuries did. We have to find our path in our life and world today. I shouldn’t judge others who perhaps focus on different aspects of the Gospel than I do. Conversely, I don’t need to focus on everything other Christians focus on, and I shouldn’t worry if they judge me. When we are on the path which God wants us on, we will find eternal life. It may be an arduous path, and we may need wisdom to navigate the choices before us. God will guide our hearts, if we have good intentions and good will.
The good news is that God loves each of us and has gifted each according to His love. I don’t need to worry that my interests and abilities are different from the saints or from my fellow Christians. God has blessed me with my gifts, talents, resources, personality and expects me to use them according to the abilities He has bestowed on me. I don’t need to be concerned that I don’t have the spiritual gifts of some of the saints, for God gifts me with what I need in my life, my lifetime, my world. As St John Chrysostom joyously proclaims in his Paschal sermon:
If any have toiled from the first hour, let them receive their due reward;
If any have come after the third hour, let him with gratitude join in the Feast!
And he that arrived after the sixth hour, let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss.
And if any delayed until the ninth hour, let him not hesitate; but let him come too.
And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour, let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.
For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.
He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour, as well as to him that toiled from the first.
To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows.
He accepts the works as He greets the endeavor.
The deed He honors and the intention He commends.
Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!
First and last alike receive your reward; rich and poor, rejoice together!
Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!