Shock preaching the plain truth

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul, Wk. XVIII-C, 04 August 2019
Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:21-23 >< }}}*> Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11 >< }}}*> Luke 12:13-21
Mount of Olives Jewish Cemetery

Outside Jerusalem is the Mount of Olives Jewish Cemetery. It is one of the world’s oldest, existing for over 3000 years. It is also one of the most expensive cemetery in the world for having the choicest spot to be buried in the planet as it faces the Eastern Gate of Jerusalem where the bible tells us the Messiah would be coming through. Hence, all tombs at the Mount of Olives Cemetery point to that direction so that all those buried there would be the first to rise again to life and welcome the Messiah when he comes.

Of course, we Christians believe Jesus is the Messiah or the Christ who in fact came through that Eastern Gate on Palm Sunday when he entered Jerusalem over 2000 years ago to offer his life for our salvation on Good Friday, resurrecting on Easter Sunday!

And while the Jews await the Messiah and we Christians affirm he has come in Jesus, our Moslem brothers and sisters sealed the Eastern Gate during the Middle Ages that since then, no one could pass through it except literally face a blank wall.

I love telling this amusing story to fellow pilgrims to the Holy Land but find it today as a beautiful springboard for reflection to balance our Sunday gospel that sounds like a “shock preaching” by Jesus Christ.

Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.” He replied to him, “Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?” Then he said to the crowd, “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.” Then he told them a parable… “Thus will it be for the one who stores up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.”

Luke 12:13-16, 21

Beginning this Sunday until the next three weeks, we’ll hear Jesus Christ “shock preaching” us the plain truth we always forget or even disregard: that we all die and what really matters most in life are the good deeds we have done. All our cherished possessions, everything we have labored so hard in this life we shall leave behind when we die because as the Lord had said, “life does not consist of possessions”.

We have known this all along but we rarely realize its full impact until we come face to face with death due to an illness, retirement, or situations when we existentially feel we are mortals after all, contrary to what we have felt and held when we were younger.

So, why wait until it is too late? Start considering now in everything of what will remain after our death.

And if you find this shocking, see also how Jesus coldly refused the man’s plea for his intervention to have his share of inheritance that is rightly his: “Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?” What had happened to his teachings last week about prayer, of God giving what is best for us like our sinful parents?

Here we find the value of Christ’s shock preaching: his response was not only directed to the man but to us all who always pray to him, asking him for so many things when we forget the more essential, God. As we have reflected last Sunday, we pray to have God because when we have him, we have everything! Jesus is redirecting our attention and focus on things that last even after our death, on “being rich in what matters to God.”

After my father had retired, he was diagnosed with glaucoma. While driving for him on our way home from the hospital, he told me how he had realized that God is not really so concerned about our temporal affairs like wealth. He claimed that everything he had prayed for was granted by God except only that one thing of being rich.

I totally agree with my Dad and that is why I do not pray for any material thing for myself since 1995 while a seminarian until now that I am a priest for 21 years. I do pray for the material well-being of my family, relatives and friends because when they are financially stable, I know they would take care of me and of my needs just like last week when a relative gave me a brand new laptop (a Mac, in fact). I do not pray for things because I am so convinced that whatever I need, God will give me. The only thing I pray for myself is that when I die, God brings me to heaven.

When we try to pray deeper, we also realize that in whatever problem we find ourselves confronted with especially with those pertaining to material things like money, cars, house, and gadgets, Jesus always responds in the same manner he did with that man who requested him on his way to Jerusalem. That is because Jesus came not to be a judge and arbitrator of our inheritance and assets. Jesus came for the salvation of our souls, for the fulfillment of our lives that can never be achieved with money and wealth or power and fame.

Jesus came for us, for you and me. Personally. He wants us to focus more on “what matters to God” like love and mercy, kindness and generosity with others which he lavishly gives us. When we are rich with these gifts that matter to God, we also find ourselves desiring less material things, being more fair and just in our dealing with others. No stealing, no cheating, no character assassination. When we have more of spiritual goods, we have more joy within, more peace and contentment. But when we have more of material goods, we feel more uneasy and most prone to sin.

Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth, vanity of vanities. All things are vanity! For what profit comes to a man from all the toil and anxiety of heart with which he labored under the sun? All his days sorrow and grief is his occupation; even at night his mind is not at rest. This is also vanity.

Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:22-23
Women pose for photos near a homeless man during the New York Fashion Week , October 2012. Photo by Reuters via The Economist Magazine.

Qoheleth is no “killjoy” but merely telling us that everything on earth vanishes like thin air. Only God lasts for all eternity. And that is also the whole point of St. Paul in the second reading.

Brothers and sisters: If you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

Colossians 3:1-3

Sometimes in life, we need to be shocked and shaken of the simple facts we take for granted like our relationships with God and with others. Here we find that fear can sometimes be good. In fact, it was our fear of death that led mankind to many medical and scientific breakthroughs in history that have made life today better and safer, and yes, easier. It was also this fear of death that had enabled man to discover new lands to inhabit and is now pushing us to explore the universe.

But most of all, this fear of death can also be holy and blessed too because when we become conscious of our own end in life, that is when we start living authentically in the hope of eternal life in God. A blessed Sunday to you! Amen.

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