We can’t possibly pay attention to all the “stuff” that presents itself to us in the course of an ordinary day. The thousands of things our eyes see, the thousands of sounds our ears are hearing; no way can we take notice of them all and remain sane.
So, either we make a chance sampling of it all according to the impulse of the moment or we deliberately select what we will attend to and disregard the rest. When I open my morning newspaper, I’m aware that I cannot read all that it contains, but at the same time I often find myself getting into this or that article or captioned photo and then saying to myself, Why am I wasting time on this?
And that’s the way our entire life has to go, of course: an unending series of value judgments about what is worth our time and what is not.
This applies to our religion as well. There is a solid core of belief and practice that defines our religion, but there’s also an awful lot of “stuff” that has been added and compounded over the centuries that may or may not merit our involvement or commitment.
Jesus reduced religion to two basic commandments: to love God with all our heart and to love others as we love ourselves. He said that all other laws are rooted in those two. Sounds great to me – I mean, to be guided by such succinct law that leaves us free to make our decisions based on what our conscience tells us to do or to avoid. However, for many people it’s an unacceptable risk; they feel much safer in obeying scrupulously all the particulars of the law. For such people, it’s a lot easier to be told what to do and then to obey it to the letter as if they were obeying God.
In very dramatic, hyperbolic terms in today’s gospel passage, Jesus speaks of the end time, the final days of the world’s existence. This bible passage, above all, must not be interpreted literally. Jesus had no idea of how the world would end. He was a man of his times, limited in his capacity to understand scientific phenomena, and ignorant of those that would not be discovered until centuries after his time on this earth.
As I have mentioned before in other homiletic connections, I think that what Jesus was doing was creating an ornate frame in which to display an important picture, namely, that God, the Creative Spirit that he called Father, was permanently and completely embedded in the world, infinitely greater and more powerful than all the powers of nature put together. That omnipotent God would ultimately conquer all the forces of evil and death, leaving nothing but love and happiness and peace to be enjoyed by all people for all time and eternity!
I regard this prophetic statement of Jesus as a challenge to his disciples – therefore, to you and me — about how wide or how narrow their vision of him would be. Do we appreciate him for the depth of power and life he represents? Do we take seriously his invitation to move closer to him, to invite him into the problems and prospects of our life? Are we actively connecting with the God whose presence to us he was always emphasizing?
Are we ready and willing to forsake the methods we were given in our childhood as ways to meet God and instead accept God as found in the mind and heart of Jesus?