Sunday, August 18, 2013

You Will Have Treasure in Heaven

Monday of the Twentieth Week in OrdinaryTime

Even when the LORD raised up judges to deliver them from the power of their despoilers, they did not listen to their judges, but abandoned themselves to the worship of other gods.  They were quick to stray from the way their fathers had taken, and did not follow their example of obedience to the commandments of the LORD. Judges 2:16-17
Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come, follow me.”  When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions.  Matthew 19:21-22


We are visitors on this planet.  We are here for ninety, a hundred years at the very most.  During that period we must try to do something good, something useful with our lives.  Try to be at peace with yourself and help others share that peace.  If you contribute to other people’s happiness, you will find the true goal, the meaning of life.  – The Dalai Lama


There are times that I doubt the Bible is an historical document.  Today’s readings provide a prime example.  Most of the people of ancient Palestine were poor.  They were shepherds.  They were fishermen.  They were carpenters.  They were farmers.  While there was a ruling class, a priestly class and a military class, the majority of people we encounter in sacred scripture were of simple means. 
When I hear Jesus admonish such plain folk to eschew their many possessions, I wonder how much they could possibly have – BY TODAY’S STANDARDS.  It was big news when Peter abandoned all that he had.  A fishing boat.  It was big news when Matthew walked away from his tax collecting ledger. 
Likewise, it was bad news when people did not give up their possessions – like in today’s story.  One of Judas’ faults was how he kept control of the money pouch that helped to fund the excursions of Jesus teaching in the world. 
On the scale of what you will find in one room of any of our houses today, these people were poor in every aspect of life.  Life has changed little in some places from the quality of life when Jesus walked among these same sand dunes.  While today the Egyptians and Syrians and Turks and Jews have cell phones and air conditioning, they still lack water and continue to fight over the land that holds water and other precious natural resources and commodities. 
Despite how little they had, Jesus still asked them to give up all that they had.  What in the world would he ask of us if not the same thing?


We are more like the people described in the readings today than the examples provided to the prophets writing Judges or Matthew.  Last weekend, I participated in two events.  Saturday, Fairfax County had a “document shredding event” at the North County Government Center in Reston.  Cars – mostly fairly new cars – lined up with up to five boxes of personal papers (tax returns, cancelled checks, etc.) which would be shredded and recycled for free.  Ostensibly to protect our private information from identity theft, getting ready for the event game me an opportunity to sort through reams of papers and boxes which had accumulated in our attic and basement and office and lives.
Sunday was “Electric Day” at (I love this name) the I-66 Solid Waste Transfer Station.  When I was growing up, we called this place the town dump.  But no.  Not in Fairfax.  In fact, we had to have a special day to discard our old computers, phones, stereos, and other equipment.  Some of that retains the same dreaded private information.  However, much of this has to be reclaimed separately because of the toxic chemicals which would be released if the monitors, screens, motherboards and more leeched into our water table…I guess that also protects our private information – our life.   
The scene was like the opposite of Black Friday when eager shoppers rush the doors at Wal*Mart.  In our fancy cars and trucks and SUVs, we lined up to get rid of the “stuff” we so eagerly bought just a few years ago.
There we were, giving old computers and cell phones and MP3 players the heave-ho.  But, in reality, every car in line had another one or two computers – newer models of course – still perched back at home.  Not exactly what Jesus intended in his instructions to the rich man. 
How much of what was tossed in the dumpsters could have been reclaimed and sent to another part of the globe where people would love to have what we toss aside?  How much of the stuff we tossed was even necessary from the outset?  How much of what remains behind in our offices, dens, kitchens, and bedrooms, could have been passed over as well?
Have we abandoned ourselves to the gods of Apple, Sony, Panasonic, and Google? 
How, then, shall we live?  This is the question posed by Wayne Muller in his book of the same name.  Muller’s version of the Ideal talk poses four questions to contemplate – questions that are as difficult as the directive Jesus issued to the rich young man. 
·         Who are you?
·         What do you love?
·         Knowing that you will die, what ideal will form your life?  Acceptance of what you have or a desire for more?  Simplicity?  Gratefulness?  Generosity?

·         What gift will you leave behind? Not the flotsam and jetsam intended for the dump (excuse me, the Solid Waste Transfer Station).  But what gift of lasting value will you leave behind?  

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