Will You Answer?
Here we see the Apostle John addressing the people of the city of Laodicea, which is about eighty miles east of the city of Ephesus. It was a wealthy, industrial city that was famous for its manufacture of violet/purple cloth, which it exported to the wealthy all over the Roman empire. As true then, as now, economic prosperity seems to have brought about a spiritual bankruptcy within them. John is addressing that problem when he writes, ʺI know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, ‘I am rich and affluent and have no need of anything,’ and yet do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.ʺ
Laodicea is a perfect metaphor for our own times as well. It could be easily argued that the wealth of our society has had as much to do with the ʺdeath of Godʺ thinking that is so popular among the intelligentsia, Hollywood and Wall Street elites and pop-culture, as any humanly devised ʺphilosophiesʺ of atheism have. Wealth makes instant gratification of every kind possible, seemingly without any difficulties. If difficulties should arise from one’s decisions in our relativistic age, they can often be ʺerased,ʺ at least from the legal record, with the help of a clever and expensive lawyer or two. In essence, this attitude frees one up from having to recognize, much less obey, any untidy, demanding obligations one has to the common good, which, of course, relies on a common morality. The people of Laodicea were proud of their wealth and what it allowed them to do. For example, it made it possible for them to rebuild their city after a devastating earthquake in 60/61 A.D., without any outside aid. But it also made them ʺlukewarmʺ in their attitudes toward all things that required adherence to a moral certainty.
Indifference is dangerous to the well being of the individual soul as well as to the society. This indifference, or ʺlukewarmness,ʺ is insidious and often disguises itself as a ʺvirtueʺ called ʺtoleranceʺ when, in fact, it does not care one way or the other; as long as it does not interfere with, or make one feel ʺuncomfortableʺ with one’s personal pursuit of one’s own immediate desires. The irony is that none of us can separate ourselves from the world around us, good or bad. ʺAn injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere.ʺ (Martin Luther King, Jr., ʺLetter from Birmingham Jailʺ) This is so because we are all members of the human race and we are a part of, and/or, affected by anything that is human, good or bad. Choosing to be lukewarm, or indifferent has its own consequences, as real as those choices made out of any hot or cold attitude.
John addresses this attitude by saying, ʺI advise you to buy from me gold refined by fire (meaning God’s grace), so that you may be rich, and white garments (symbol of an upright life, as opposed to the purple garments of decadence) to put on so that your shameful nakedness may not be exposed, and buy ointment to smear on your eyes (referring to their famous eye ointment export product) so that you may see.ʺ These, John is suggesting, are the remedies to the attitudes the Laodiceans had fallen into. He is warning them that if they put their faith, hope and love only in the finite, impermanent things of this world, they will eventually find themselves poor, naked and blind. Why is John doing this? Because he loves the people of Laodicea. He is speaking to them as a loving parent would speak to a child when he or she sees the child developing habits that are dangerous to its soul and well-being. ʺThose who I love, I reprove and chastise. Be earnest, therefore, and repent.ʺ His admonition, like that of a loving parent, honors their freedom too. He has put the ball in their court. They can still decide, even in the face of the truth that John has presented them, to repent, or not to repent. Of course, each decision bears its own consequences, wanted or not.
Then John finishes the letter by telling the Laodiceans that it really is not him, John, who is addressing them, but Jesus. ʺBehold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me. I will give the victor the right to sit with me on my throne, as I myself first won the victory and sit with my Father on his throne. Whoever has ears ought to hear what the Spirit says to the churches.ʺ
Jesus is knocking at my door, at your door, at this very moment. I, too, know how hard it is to hear his knocking amidst the din and blare of our present culture with its endless enticements. But he is knocking. Do you have ears for him? Do you hear his voice? Then, open the door of your heart, and your mind, and let him in. If you do, you will no longer be indifferent. You will feel the incandescence of his love and be moved to live your life out of it. Your life will be afire with his grace and you will know the wealth of true happiness. Listen! He is offering you a seat at his table in the heavenly banquet. Open the door of your heart, the windows of your mind, let the fresh, cleansing voice of Jesus enter the house of your soul. Amen.