Proper 14, 7 August 2022
[It may be helpful to read the whole of Luke 12:13-40 for the fuller context of this message. – Editor]
An astronaut said he left earth a very proud human being, but came back a very humble one. The reason for his change of heart was a change of perspective: He left thinking that the earth was the centre of the universe, but returned with a realisation that it’s a tiny part of something vaster and more significant.
Life is more than you think
Today’s Gospel is in two parts, and combines different topics. The first part begins,
“Do not fear, little flock, because your Father [has… given] you His Kingdom”.
“Sell your possessions”.
This may not be for all. When Saint Francis of Assisi heard this, he took the message literally, sold textiles from his father’s business, and gave to the poor. He revolutionised the Church, and brought to our attention the necessity of not being indifferent to the needs of those around us. Jesus was teaching about the essence of life (what life is all about), and especially our priorities.
In response to His encounter with a rich man, who was considered foolish,[i] Jesus teaches His disciples that life is more than we think. If I were to ask you, “What is life?”, your answer would depend on the way you look at it. For many people, it is being born, raised by your parents, going to school and then college, finding a job, getting married, having children – and if we live long enough, grandchildren – and then dying. Jesus stretches His disciples’ imagination by explaining that life is more than food and clothing;[ii] it is also more than a house and a car. According to Fr. Patrick Reardon,
“The modern, materialistic world seems to know nothing of this, believing in no future outside its immediate and perceived needs”;[iii]
“nourishes no further hope”
beyond its own contours. If man is born to die, one might wonder what is the reason and purpose for being born – until God opens to us His message. The Gospel is not only a manual for life but the revelation of Jesus Christ, and it discloses to us the plan of God.
God sustains the earth
Jesus also teaches His disciples about God’s providence.[iv] Psalm 104 describes God as the Great One, expressing in poetic fashion how creation points to its Architect and Maker. It describes God as the Creator,
“who stretches out the heavens like a tent, and sets the beams of creation on the waters; who makes clouds His chariots, who rides on the wings of the wind, and makes fire and flame His messengers.”[v]
Verse 30 says,
“When You send forth Your Spirit, they are created;
and You renew the face of the ground.”[vi]
There is much talk about climate change and “Mother Nature”, but the good news is that God is the one who renews the earth. He sustains the earth with His power and providential care.
There’s something more significant…
“Do not be afraid, little flock”[vii]
– Genesis 15:1 also says,
“Do not be afraid” –
“… for it is the Father’s pleasure to give you the Kingdom.”
Jesus is saying is that there’s something more significant than what we perceive and know. “Do not focus on things that are really not important, but on those that are more important. Let your priorities be what is more important, rather than what is less important.”[viii] But how can we have right priorities if we don’t understand life?
Be ready to obey
The second part of the reading is Luke 12:35-40. This year in Madrid we experienced early summer weather; but last week, surprisingly, it rained, and no one really prepared for it. The reading draws our attention to what is to come: Do not be so involved in things of the world that you forget about God’s plan for us. Saint Basil said that the mark of a Christian is
“to watch daily and hourly, to stand prepared in the state of total responsiveness to pleasing God.”[ix]
Christians should always be ready. You don’t have to be a Boy Scout or Girl Scout to know this – Christians primarily have to be ready, so that we will not be caught unaware and be surprised.
There is no better example than the life of Abraham. When he was called by God, he left his town and followed where God led him; and many years later, God told him to offer his son Isaac. Abraham never made a fuss or argued with God. My first tendency would be to say, “You must be out of your mind! You gave me a son and now you want me to offer him to you – I don’t understand.” Abraham did not procrastinate, but obeyed God; truly he lived a life of readiness, particularly readiness to obey God. There are certain times in the Bible that are time-sensitive; delayed obedience means delayed blessing. Is there something God has been telling you that you have been delaying? Perhaps this message is for you today. Abraham was ready to obey God immediately; all Christians should live in that readiness.
Prepare for the wedding
The Church is living in the interval between Jesus Christ’s resurrection and Second Coming. What should we be doing while we are waiting? Verse 36 mentions a wedding banquet. Fr. Reardon says,
“‘The Kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son’,[x]that marriage’s consummation [completion] being the definitive aim of our destiny, and all of history constituting the courtship that prepares and anticipates the yet-undisclosed hour of its fulfilment.”[xi]
Many people struggle about purpose in life, but what is the Church’s purpose? The purpose of creation has changed because of Christ’s death, and our final destiny is to be united with God again; this is portrayed in the parable of the wedding-feast.[xii] Creation will be reunited in “marriage” with God, its Creator. This is the Christian hope and the destiny of the Church.
Reardon warns that
“There is a distinct danger”
in viewing life from a purely materialistic perspective, because we will forget that
“the present life is but a preparation for another, its many and manifold efforts only a provisioning for a greater future.”
When we become so caught up in the things of this world because these are the only things we perceive and know, we forget that there is something else. Doesn’t the Creed say,
“We believe in the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come”?
Is this what life about, or is there something else? You can even come to a point of losing everything and selling all your possessions, but you will inherit the Kingdom of God, because this kingdom will pass away, but His Kingdom will not.
Acts of mercy
If you desire to “go to heaven”, are you preparing yourself? Have you ever gone to the airport without your passport? All this life is but a preparation for what is to come. This is the secret: Jesus said to His disciples,
“When I was hungry, you fed Me; when I was thirsty, you gave Me something to drink; when I was in prison, you visited Me… when I was naked, you clothed Me… Come, be with Me.”[xiii]
Read Matthew chapter 25, and one day you will not fear anything. His disciples asked,
“When did we do this, Lord?”
and He answered,
“What you have done to the least of My disciples, you have done to Me”.[xiv]
That is where readiness should be. Our time on earth is to prepare for what is to come. Let us be ready with the oil, which represents acts of mercy.[xv] Then when we see God, when the wedding takes place, we are ready.
Imagine you are that astronaut: When you leave the earth you are proud, but when you return you are humble, because of a change of perspective. What is our perspective in life? Is it only in this life, or are we really preparing for what is yet to come? Our Lord Jesus says, “Be ready, because the best is yet to come, prepared for you.”
- What do YOU think life is? Is your answer shaped more by the culture in which you were raised, or of the world around you, or by the teaching of Christ and His Church?
- Considering God’s providential care, what should be our attitude as Christians towards climate change and society’s reactions to it? How can Jesus’ words and those of Psalm 104 help us to be a witness to the world in this area?
- How do the Father’s gift of His Kingdom and His providential care help to take away our fear? In view of this, what is your response to Jesus’ exhortation to sell your possessions?
- Do you understand life? What is it about? How do your answers to these questions shape your priorities, and even your ability to set priorities? What are the right priorities? Are you and your family or community focusing on them, or on something less important?
- Are you ready to obey God, like Abraham? Has God been speaking to you about something in which you are delaying your obedience? If so, what will you do about it?
- What do you see as your hope, your destiny, and your purpose in life? How do you feel about the wedding feast to which you and your family are invited (Matthew 22:1-14)?
Have you ever been to the airport to travel without your passport? Are you and your family or community preparing for the heavenly wedding feast, or are you caught up in the things of this world? Are you ready to do
[iii] Fr. Reardon’s Daily Reflections: Tuesday January 26, 2016 (Touchstone), https://touchstonemag.com/daily_reflections/2016/01/
[v] Psalm 104:2b-4
[vi] Psalm 104:30, ESV
[vii] Luke 12:32, NRSV
[viii] Luke 12:29-31
[ix] Basil of Cesarea, Moralia
[x] Matthew 22:2, NKJV
[xii] Matthew 22:1-14
[xiii] Matthew 25:35-36, 34 (paraphrased)
[xiv] Matthew 25:37-40 (summarized)
[xv] Matthew 25:1-13