‘If you choose the path of terror, your life will be empty, your life will be brief, and your soul will be fully condemned,’ Donald Trump told a, no doubt, bemused audience of fanatical Muslims in Riyadh after giving Saudi Arabia, the main supporter of ISIS terrorists, 350 billion dollars worth of new weapons.
Remember Trump’s MAGA hat? Now we know MAGA actually means “Make Arabia Great Again.”
But Abu Ivanka, as Trump is now known, had a serious point in his speech.
Our lives are brief.
They are like the flight of Airforce One that passes and leaves no trace in the sky.
They are like an Arabian sword dance, an apparition, a spectacle without substance.
They are fleeting, dreamlike, much like the ever changing versions of what was said in the meeting between Trump and the Russians in the Oval Office. (“I never met you before, Sergey, but Comey, that guy, is crazy. Here’s some top secret intelligence about laptop bombs. Wow, that Comey is so crazy for thinking we have some kind of secret deal, but I fired him!”)
It’s easy to get caught up in the our routines, our problems, and to forget our lives are short. We’re like athletes, running a race. Yet, we often lose sight of the finishing line. We get distracted from the essential thing.
In Larisa, it might be easier than in most cities to keep in the forefront of our minds the reality that our lives are transitory.
Its theatre is about 3000 years old, after all. It’s huge, could seat 10,000 people.
It is so old, the Persian emperor Xerxes likely saw it when he fled through Larisa after his dreams of conquering Greece turned to dust. St Paul also likely saw this theatre when he passed this way on a missionary journey.
One of the many little chapels around Larisa, this one close to the ancient theatre…
Seeing the weather beaten stones almost every day (it is very close to the court etc) prompts me, at any rate, to think about how many have been generations which have passed since the first audience gathered here to listen to plays or epic poems, such as Homer’s The Iliad or Odyssey. How many people have been born and passed away, forgotten like shadows, like flowers that whither, like dust or morning dew, have sat on those stones, listening to plays and poems, trying to understand the meaning of life.
Homer could entertain, but could not give answers. There was no way for a mortal to become a god. There was no elixir, no magic potion, no special stone to transform the external, finite, frail mortal with a weak mind into a god in Homer’s world.
The most that Odysseus can hope is to die in old age, in the middle of his family, in his kingdom, and at peace. Mortals, in opposition to the gods, are absolutely finite.
Odysseus is compelled to go to Hades to ask the blind prophet Tiresias his way back to Ithaca.
Homer’s description of Odysseus’ descent to the Underworld is a gripping mixture of phantasy and reality.
At the entrance to Hades lost in mist, Odysseus sacrifices a ram, pours the blood into a trench, and calls the ghosts he wants to speak to. He lets them drink the blood so that they are able to talk again. He keeps away the other ghosts with his sword. They throng towards him, longing to drink the blood, thirsting for life.
After talking to Tiresias, Odysseus meets Achilles. Once the most glorious of all warriors, he is now just a shell, drained of all vitality, a shadow, a thing that has a past, that once was something, but now no longer is anything and never will be anything again.
Achilles tells Odysseus that he would rather be a labourer among the living than the king of all the dead. It’s the reverse how he thought before when he chose a short but heroic life over a long and insignificant one. Love also has grown cold in Hades. Although Achilles appears side by side with his best friend Patroclus as a ghost, Achilles feels no joy in his presence now.
Odysseus leaves Hades, shaken to the core. When he returns to Circe, to receive instructions for his journey back to Ithaca, she tells him he has died twice before giving him typically crazy route home, via Scylla and Charybdis etc
St Paul also likely passed this theatre as he went through Greece, teaching the word of Jesus Christ and the Way to eternal life.
The idea is that we human beings, mortals, finite can undergo a divine process, be transformed into a new beings, through an inner change.
Jesus Christ, the son of God, killed death itself, killed Hades, in as far as he came out of it alive. Jesus Christ rose again in the Resurrection. He killed the most terrible imaginable natural death, caused by injustice, hatred and cruelty, and the most shameful, dishonourable death as a condemned criminal, the death of all deaths, the negation of all negations. Out of natural death, the shell, came the most beautiful thing of all, the spirit.
A peak inside the little chapel close to the ancient theatre…
Jesus Christ was not just a good, wise teacher like Socrates. He was God made flesh, the revelation of the divine nature, the absolute truth, that is that God is spirit, eternal spirit.
Believing in Jesus Christ is not about morality or ethics or conscience. It is about the satisfaction that comes from knowing we are spirit, too, and being able to enter into the spirit of God, of being able to have a relationship to God.
Thanks to Jesus Christ, we do not have to travel to Hades, sacrifice blood, summon Tiresias to find our way home to a mere Ithaca, a place of finite rest.
We can be sure all the desires of our heart will be satisfied, eternal life, wisdom, peace, light, love through our relationship to God.
We just have to give up our egoistical way of thinking, feeling and intending and learn to do the will of God. That’s the hard bit
But let’s take a step back today and think about just how short our lives are.
We might think that our lives are very permanent because we are so wrapped up in the details.
But let’s take a step back and think about the choices we face. Hades or Heaven? Hell or Heaven?
Yesterday, Mount Olympus sparkled under blue skies. Clouds blanket it today. “Heat and drought snatch away the melted snow” in a reminder that everything changes.
Mount Olympus shrouded in clouds today…
The same homeless man is still sleeping in the same spot beside the church today…
When Trump flies over Greece in a day or two, maybe he will take a look down and think about how brief his own life is, and how it would be best for him to resign for the sake of America and the rest of the world…
I am sure he could still do a deal with the Feds and get immunity in return for cooperation.
‘If you choose the path of corruption, your life will be empty, your life will be brief, and your soul will be fully condemned,’ as Trump might have said.