Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The 'sign of Jonah' and a reminder that with great privilege comes even greater responsibility (Wed, 1st Wk. of Lent, Lk. 11:29-32)

Just as once long ago Jonah had been God's sign to Nineveh, so now Jesus was God's sign to the people of his time - and they failed to recognize him. When Solomon was king, the Queen of Sheba recognized his wisdom and came to benefit from it. When Jonah preached, the men of Nineveh recognized the authentic voice of God and responded to it.
In the day of judgment these people would rise up and condemn the people of Jesus' time, because they have been given an opportunity and a privilege far beyond anything they ever had, far beyond what others have in fact been given, yet they still refused to believe. Their condemnation would be greater precisely because their privileges were so great.

The gospel today is a reminder that those of us who have been blessed and privileged in life can expect to be asked for a greater reckoning of what we have done with the blessings we have received.

Have we shared these with others or have we kept them to ourselves? Have we used our talents, our gifts, our abilities, our wealth, our power, our fame, and all the other blessings life may have bestowed upon us, to improve not only our own life, but the lives of others as well; or have we instead used them not only to keep others at bay but, worse, to exploit the fact that they have not been as fortunate as ourselves?

"Store up for yourselves treasure in heaven", Jesus reminds us again and again in the Gospel, "treasure that moths cannot eat, rust cannot corrode, and thieves cannot steal". "Treasure" comes in many forms; have we sought treasure that lasts, or have we anchored our hearts onto those that are fleeting, here today and gone tomorrow?

"The hungry mouths of the poor are the great barnhouses of heaven", says Saint Ambrose of Milan. Have we shared what we have with the Lazaruses of this world, or have we passed them by, throwing them our scraps, as we go about our lives, saving for ourselves things that none of us can take when our brief sojourn through life is over?

"Excess is theft", Saint Ambrose continues; very radical words! To selfishly keep for ourselves that which we do not need, rather than allowing God's blessings to flow to those who need them more than us, is to steal not only from the needy of this world, but from our very selves - we whose very nature is to 'go out of ourselves' in order to 'encounter the other'.

The selfish person 'steals' from himself first, from his soul, before he 'steals' from his neighbor; because in being selfish, he damages the very image of God who is a community of persons, the image and likeness whose stamp he bears in his innermost being.

Finally, to be selfish is to 'steal' from God himself who has given us these blessings, not for us to keep but to use for the betterment of His world and the glory of His name; blessings which have never belonged to us but to Him.

Have we been hoarders of God's gifts instead of being the stewards and sharers that He wants us to be?

The people of Jesus' time, failed to recognize him as God’s sign, already there in their midst. Would that we see in the least of our brothers and sisters, God’s signs for us today, and be reminded this Lent of Christ’s words:

“Whatsoever you do to the least of these my brothers and sisters, this you have done unto me”.

"The Kingdom of Heaven is a condition of the heart." (Friedrich Nietzsche)