Saturday, October 16, 2004

Too Preoccupied

Jesus said: “Be careful or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.” Luke 21:34-46

What a downer. Why can’t Jesus be more positive and encouraging??

I think it’s interesting that this whole passage starts at the temple, with the disciples gawking at how gorgeous it is, with the inlaid gems and all the beautiful things supplied by the wealthy to adorn their house of worship. This is the place and time when Jesus notes the poor widow, who gives her two pennies and earns Jesus’ respect, because she trusted God enough to offer all she had.

In counterpoint to that, Jesus notes the preoccupation of the wealthy and established, which was, to show off how wealthy and established they were. It brings to mind the beautiful cathedrals of Europe, where you can’t take a step without seeing or stepping on the name of someone buried there, usually with a monument to their honor. While the cathedral is beautiful and I am humbled by the evidence before me of the communion of saints, I can’t help wonder if the Lord’s honor was completely what was on the mind of the monument-builders and –spenders.

So then Jesus begins to talk about the day coming when the temple itself will be destroyed. So much for a monument to the future glory of the wealthy who adorned it! And I think the whole thing put Jesus in a bad mood, if you can accept for a moment that Jesus had human emotions. He knew what was coming; and beyond that, he knew what already was, what misery humans lived in, how hard it was for people to find God for the obstacles that got put in their way. And I think it bummed him out to see the beautiful temple and the processions of the wealthy making a big deal out of their gifts when they were missing the whole point.

So in Luke 21, he tells them about the future destruction of Jerusalem (which happened in 70 A.D.), and then segues into the end of the world. It’s gruesome, and yet not all bad, because for those who are waiting for him, they will see “the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

So is that enough? It is for those who don’t get preoccupied, who don’t get “weighed down” as he says with this life. For those who keep their eye on God and His perspective, we can’t ever totally enjoy the temples of humanity with their gems and honor rolls, because we can still see the injustices left unaddressed, the lost girls and boys who can’t find love in the right or wrong places, and all the brokenness of the world. If I can number myself among them (and I don’t feel like I always can!), we feel more like medics on the battlefield without time to admire the monuments that have become field hospitals.

It’s not as much fun to see things that way. I guess that’s what had Jesus bummed, too. But our redemption draws near, and it’s forever.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Should Desire Rule?

“Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.
…. Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness. When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness.
What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:19-23

Bob Dylan used to sing a song called, “Gotta Serve Somebody.” The idea of it was that whenever we think of “freedom” we are missing the point: even when we do what we think we want, we miss the fact that we are obeying our appetites, our desires…and we never wind up getting what we were aiming for when we started out on that road. St. Paul’s message is that we were created for something else, for a life lived freely in love with God, which is where we find real freedom. He calls it “slavery to righteousness,” but it feels no more like slavery than forward motion does to a car: it is what we were made for.

It seems to me that in public life it has gone out of fashion to say that a desire should not necessarily be satisfied (unless of course it is the desire for high-carb bread!). We act as though a desire is a natural and good thing that has no other end but our long life and prosperity. We forget the evidence all around us that desire can spring from selfishness, ambition, hatred and rage, just to name a few natural but not-good sources. Lining ourselves up with God puts us in a better place to know what desires should be acted upon, and which need to be separated from.