“A Pasadena Parable”
by Pastor George Van Alstine

I have been driving by the corner of Washington Boulevard and Altadena Drive at least four times every day for over thirty years, but it was only last week that I recognized the parable told by the commercial enterprises located there. On two corners there are franchises of companies that pander to the lower nature of people who drive by: the fast-food king McDonalds and the queen of quick-stops, 7-Eleven. Situated on the other two corners are businesses designed to deal with some of the physical problems that can be created by eating junk foods: Phoenix Wellness Center, a kind of homeopathic pharmacy, and Pasadena Dialysis Center. Just to make the picture complete, a Curves fitness center sits next to the 7-Eleven.

This array of commercial establishments tells the story of the struggle modern Americans have in an age of indulgence. More than ever before, we have the scientific know-how to eat a balanced diet and follow a healthy lifestyle. But at the same time, we have immediate access to all the things we crave, even though they are usually not good for us. So the pattern we seem to repeat is to create problems at McDonalds and 7-Eleven, then try to reverse the negative effects at Phoenix Wellness Center, Curves, or in extreme cases, at Pasadena Dialysis Center.

I used the word “parable” to describe this because I think it contains a message on an even deeper level. It speaks to me of the constant battle we face between the flesh and the spirit. As long as we live on this earth, we will be constantly tempted to cater to what the Bible calls the “desires of the flesh,” and we will often give in to these even though we know they will crowd out those things that are much better for us, the “desires of the spirit.”

In his long discourse on this struggle, recorded in Romans chapter 7 and 8, the Apostle Paul summarizes

“I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing that I hate . . . . I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” (Romans 7:15, 18-19)

This leaves us always feeling guilty, constantly trying to undo at Curves or Phoenix Wellness what we have done at 7-Eleven and McDonalds. This leads Paul to exclaim, “O wretched man that I am!” (Romans 7:24) Have you ever felt that way?

However, Paul doesn’t leave us there. He has some very encouraging words for us. First, he challenges us not to give up the struggle, but constantly to “set your minds on the things of the spirit” (Romans 8:5-11). We should be encouraged to do this by the promise that in the long run, “he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you” (Romans 8*:11). Meanwhile, we should be reassured even during our struggles with the flesh that “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). He didn’t decide to love us and save us only when we got our act together, shaped up, and got over all our self-destructive behavior. He took us as we were, and he still accepts us as we are. We are quick to condemn ourselves for things he has already forgiven.

So, the next time you drive past the corner of Washington and Altadena, think of this parable, and “Let anyone who has ears to hear listen!” (Luke 14:35)