August 23, 2015
ORDINARY 21 (B)
You have the words of eternal life. – John 6: 68
In a story entitled “Out of Order,” the author describes how he felt when he saw a young mother and her four year-old son standing at a popcorn machine:
The mother says, “You can’t get any popcorn, dear, because the machine is out of order. See! There is a sign on the machine!” But the child didn’t understand. After all, he had the desire, he had the money, & he could see the popcorn machine. Yet somehow, something was wrong, because he couldn’t get the popcorn.
The boy walked back with his mother & wanted to cry. And, Lord, I too felt like weeping – weeping for people who have become out of order – filled with the goodness that people need & want; & yet will never come to enjoy because somehow, something has gone wrong inside.
If our self-esteem falls short of the good news that we are infinitely precious in God’s eyes, that God loves us beyond our ability even to imagine, then something is out of order inside. And, to the extent that we are failing ourselves in this way, we are failing others.
Many years ago, at the University of Wisconsin, there was a group of brilliant male students who had demonstrated considerable talent for writing. They met regularly, & each time, one of the members would read aloud a story or essay he had written, & it would be critiqued by the others: no punches were pulled, nothing was held back. So brutal were the sessions that the members called themselves “The Stranglers.”
Then, a similar club was formed, called “The Wranglers.” Its members consisted of female undergraduates who had demonstrated literary talent. But there was a significant difference in their criticism. It was exceedingly gentle. The Wranglers tried to find kind things to say. The key attitude was encouragement, even for the most feeble efforts.
Twenty years later, a graduate student made an analysis of the careers of both groups: it was discovered that not one of the bright, young students of the “Stranglers” had made a literary reputation of any kind. On the other hand, the “Wranglers” had produced half a dozen prominent, successful writers. The basic talent in the two groups had been much the same. The Wranglers uplifted & encouraged one another to believe in themselves, but the Stranglers did exactly the opposite.
If we believe the inner Strangler’s voice that is telling us our life is meaningless, worthless or unimportant, then we are out of order. Somehow, somewhere, there is something wrong inside. If so, we need a spiritual tune-up – maybe even a complete overhaul.
Jesus’ language is not ours when He tells us in many different ways that jobs & food & clothing (important as they are) do not explain our humanity, & cannot account for our deepest hungers & thirsts & hopes, for they will not, in themselves, produce happiness for our lives. He is telling us that the Christian faith is not a luxury to be indulged in by those who are well-fed, well-clothed & well-heeled.
You see, questing for God’s Kingdom is more important than questing for material things. Indeed, it is the quest for the Kingdom that directs, inspires & corrects all our life experiences. So we do not choose between food, drink, clothing or career on the one hand, & faith on the other. We simply decide which is to be our guiding star – our pattern, our Rule of Life. Are we among those who find this too hard & turn away? Or are we with Peter when he says, “You have the words of eternal life? AMEN!