Saturday, August 31, 2013

Contentment and Generosity

Reflections on the Readings
September 1, 2013 - 22st Sunday in Ordinary Time- Year C

Contentment and Generosity

"You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just." - Jesus

A Genuine Reputation

I recall my dad saying, "He's a small person trying to be big and doesn't know how." Someone throwing their importance around is hard to miss. I will go on record right here and confess that sometimes I get too big for my britches. And I don't mean gaining too much weight to fit into my clothes. Although that happens too. I mean pushing my weight around creates no small amount of disappointment both in my own heart and too often wounds in others.

Some may try to improve their standing in the community by keeping up with the Joneses. It can be an expensive effort. I've heard of people who leverage themselves into a home that they really can't afford. After moving in they don't have enough money to fill it with the furniture they need. But it looks good and we may think it makes us look good to others as well. As you can see, success is sometimes a hard taskmaster. Especially this is true if our definition of success is measured with stuff and things. Somehow we never catch on that the neighbors we are keeping up with are broke too. 

Jesus spoke about a treasure hidden in a field. When it's found the finder recognizes it's value and gives himself to secure that treasure for himself. It captivates and animates his very life. He tells his family and friends that he's a new person and that he lives by another rule. Describing it he gushes with the laughter of a child. And in this life he demonstrates a child like faith and having adequate food and clothing he is content. Contentment with godliness is great gain. 

What a Friend we Have in Jesus

Jesus did not set out to make a name for himself. He rather humbled himself. Though he is God he revealed his godness in a virgin's womb. His first bed was a manger among shepherds. In Christian theology we say that he emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. We confess it each Sunday by saying, "For us men, and for our salvation, he came down from heaven..." For Jesus it was about us! 

Jesus is our example. He did not come to build his reputation. His coming to us in the world in which we live was not a PR campaign. It was and remains a mission of inviting all of us into his friendship. I know we drop names and write up resumes about our incredible accomplishments. Climbing the ladder of success can consume a lot of time. I talk to people who will not let me forget to address them according to the initials that follow their name.

Can you imagine Peter telling Jesus, "I know how we can make this thing work out more profitably. We can sell tickets and invite mothers to bring their children to sit on your lap and hear you tell a story." Then all of the mothers would by their tickets from Peter and line up to get to sit on the lap of Jesus. And before you know it we have Christian consumerism and no real disciples of Jesus.

Instead, however, Jesus embraced a cross, the very sign of certain death. He humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Blessed be the name of Jesus.

Love thyself or Love thy Neighbor?

In the gospel reading today, Jesus is teaching us to seek a greater life, a larger way of living. John the Baptist found and lived that life. He saw himself not on the periphery of life but smack dab in the middle of God's perfect will. Recognizing Jesus for who he was, John saw the fulness of his life wrapped up in the One who he declared to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. "I must decrease, but he must increase!" John announced. And in that attitude we see a greater glory than hugging one's self. Self absorption is the Christian life with a consumer's mindset. "What's in it for me?" becomes the all important criteria for living. That's a smallness Jesus is inviting us to escape.

Everyone loves an invitation. We prepare for special times by wearing special clothes and sprucing up. But our Lord uses the marriage feast invitation to tell us to not take ourselves too seriously. Don't go to Mass to be noticed or even to be rewarded or because it's good for business. Places of honor and prestige and recognition are not to be sought for. Such things come, if they come at all, because of something greater happening in us and through us. 

Mother Theresa comes to mind. The endless stream of humanity in all of its brokenness is what her order of the Missionaries of Charity look after. And the Kingdom gets bigger and richer welcoming the downtrodden and the afflicted as they take up the cross of Jesus and rescue the perishing of body and soul. The folks down at KARM remind us that there is more to life than stuff and things, that there are folks who could use some clothes, a meal, and a place to stay for a while. Folks who have run out of more than just stuff and things. They've run out of bread and water. Nothing, I suspect, is more like heaven than a smile from someone whose hunger is no more, and whose thirst has been quenched, and whose body has been bathed and clothed in Jesus' name.

In the passage from Hebrews today we learn of the great mystery of the New and everlasting covenant; an offer of friendship based on Love. The New Covenant, inaugurated by the gracious blood of Jesus, signals a New Day. It is marked by a deep and abiding friendship with the Almighty who extends his mercy and forgiveness to all. Through Christ the very gates of heaven have been opened to all. The Son of God, a friend of the friendless, leads the festal gathering of angels and archangels in an anthem of praise to him who sits upon the Throne. 

Jesus, our Friend, invites us to come up higher. Out of endless love for you and me, He welcomes us into the Holy Precincts of Mount Zion. Here he has the Table spread from which we receive the sacred meal of his Body and Blood. As a local church sign I read recently says: "You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving." Jesus love us and keeps giving himself to us by making room for us at the Table. Let us receive him with the humility that this holy occasion elicits. And then let us be as generous of heart as we can be since Christ has so freely given us all that brings true contentment. We shall be adequately compensated at the resurrection of the just.  Amen. 

Dennis Hankins is a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN.  Prior to uniting with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2006, Dennis served as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. E-mail Dennis at: or follow him on Twitter: @dshankins or visit him at: 

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