Watchmen: Do We Want Them?

Synaxis of the Seventy Apostles

Samuel_the_Prophet_Square.jpegMANY A Sunday sermon has been preached on the subject of Christ’s words at the Pool of Siloam. Approaching a wounded man at this place of healing, Jesus asked him a strange question: “Do you want to be healed?” The answer seems obvious. The man has been waiting 30 years. He is alone, friendless, near the end of hope. Surely the man wants to be healed. But Our Lord would not have asked unless there was some doubt or some further consideration. The question “Do you want to be healed?” brings the inner life of the wounded man to light for examination.

We could guess that the wounded man’s thought was something like this: If I can just walk again, my life will be fine and back to normal. But Jesus’ healing is never exclusively physical, and “normal” for Our Lord is a matter of eternity. Sickness, suffering, and sin are parts of the same fatal wound; they must be cured together or not at all. When it is easier to remain sick than to suffer a deep cure, the question “Do you want to be healed?” becomes more than a simple matter of opinion.

The sick man could easily stand for much of contemporary Christianity: wounded among the wounded: losing sight of our “first love.” Perhaps, before asking, “Where are the Watchmen?” we need first to ask ourselves, “Do we really want Watchmen?” This is a dangerous question, because the words of the Watchmen might be spoken against the Church. Would we be willing to listen and change, or would we respond like the thought of the wounded man at the pool and say, just fix the external problems so everything will be back to normal. 

Our tradition tells us that there have been times when “a word from the Lord was rare.” Take the life of Samuel. Before Samuel was called by God, religious experience went on “as normal”—with low-level corruption, low-level engagement, and low-level sanctity. And we recall that it was just at this time, as the people were complaining about the hypocrisy of their religion, that they turned away from God and toward politics, almost without realizing what they had done. “Give us a king” was their solution, when what they needed was healing. They substituted an external change for an internal metanoia, a change of heart. The people in Samuel’s time recognized the problem, but not the solution, and they had made no provision for their future. They had no Watchmen in place, and they weren’t prepared to listen to the one God had given.

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Perhaps also, before asking “Where are the Watchmen?” we need to ask ourselves, “Are we producing Watchmen?” Is the culture of the Church lively and strong enough to create men and women who stand for truth? The production of Watchmen does, in fact, require a whole culture. With Samuel as an example, three prerequisites for Watchmen could be cited. Watchmen require education. Watchmen require courage. Watchmen require holiness. The first two go together: truth and bravery are Christian virtues which St. Paul calls “zeal according to knowledge.” Do we take the education of our children—and the continuing education of adults—to be a primary vocation of our communities? Do we ourselves consider that Jesus came “not to bring peace but a sword,” and that Christian life is a battle for virtue? However, the third prerequisite is the most important. Even if we seem to lack education and courage, we can at least make the offering of faith and trust. Those educated or brave who do not also pray with attentive humility might be professors or soldiers, but they can never be Watchmen.

Of course, we want the kind of Christian culture that produces knowledge, bravery and holiness. And we want these in abundance. But if we are content with letting the culture educate us, if we are pleased with the level of comfort we have achieved, and if we are unable to distinguish between outward forms and inward sanctity—then we have rejected our Watchmen before they can even speak. Conversely, if we have traded education in truth for vocational training, if we see no need to prepare for battle, and if our lives and those of our secular neighbors are identical, then we have nothing for our Watchmen to guard.

Samuel’s message to the people was clear: by choosing a king to rule over them, they were rejecting God. The people of his time thought a political, moral, or physical change would heal them internally. Our contemporary situation is comparable to Samuel’s and to the wounded man waiting to be healed. God might gently (or with necessary force) prompt us:    

Do we want Watchmen? 

Are we prepared to listen to Watchmen? 

Are we producing Watchmen? 

These are the questions we should be asking, humbly and honestly, as we meet for our Symposium and at the start of a New Year.

Joshua Alan Sturgill is a former Vice-President of Eighth Day Institute and a graduate of Sangre de Cristo Seminary. His eleven-year association with Eighth Day Books provided frequent opportunities for lectures on literature, iconography, and Orthodox theology at universities, conferences, and churches. He currently resides in Santa Fe, NM, pursuing a degree at St. John's College. He spends as much time as possible reading and hiking.


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  • Alan Winter
    commented 2017-01-06 21:20:15 -0600
    A telling and necessary question. Thank you Mr. Sturgill. Looking forward to the symposium.