Wednesday: 12 September, 2012 –– 23rd Week in Ordinary Time
1 Corinthians 7:25–31 /Luke 6:20–26
A Passing World
Today’s Gospel is Luke’s presentation of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. We hear these things and know it’s Jesus and give a mental nod.... but who really embraces these things in daily life? That is one way to understand what Paul was dealing with in this part of his Corinthian letter. It is also something pertinent to all Christians all the time –– including us today.
The real issue for Paul is not really sex, marriage and singleness. Those just happened to be some of the particular things that were the focus of the Corinthian attention. What makes Christian thinking and understanding different from everything else? What is the crux of our faith? How do Jesus’ words here affect our lives in the day to day world? How does being a Christian affect our family life, our jobs and hobbies, our buying, and everything else?
The things that seem to occupy our concerns are jobs, education, family, housing, possessions and such things. We label people that way. "Well, he's a Ph.D. –– how can I relate to him?" "Oh, I'm just a clerk at work." "They live in a rented row house." "He buys all his clothes at Brooks Bros." Is that really what counts? The world says those are, indeed, some of the things that count (one way or the other). The world’s message is so often before us: A man with a graduate degree and a powerful position is more important than a delivery truck driver. The woman in a natural fiber business suit in her office is due more respect than a woman in polyester pants with a couple of kids hanging on her in Walmart.
Do we buy into the world's value system? Is "upward mobility" part of the gospel? If a person with a broken past comes into the church, is he or she sentenced to forever play "catch up" with those whose lives have been spared some of the stigma? If we are honest, those are the kinds of things that often fill our minds –– how to look good to others. By the world's standards such things make all the difference in the world.... but not according to Jesus, and not according to Jesus’ Spirit speaking through St Paul.
That is not to say possessions and accomplishments and relationships in the here and now are wrong, or not important at all. It is to say that Christians have the glorious opportunity to be free from the level of concern that consumes most people in the world. The most important thing in life is not things. Pouring our energies into worrying about the things that label us on earth just isn't worth it! Paul tells us why.
Christians are called to be people of faith who “see” differently (that’s what faith is). We recognize a different wisdom. Losing can be winning. Death can mean life. We are not people who believe the world's picture of the "good life." We embrace another picture –– a crucifix –– that shows weakness, defeat and death. Christians are people of the cross.
In the last verse of the Epistle reading we are explicitly told why this is so: The picture showing the world of the "good life" is not true; it is a mirage, and it is passing away. Everything that happens to us in this life must be tempered with that. In vs 29-31 there is a list of things that happen to us on earth. We often marry. We are happy sometimes. We mourn sometimes. We purchase things. But none of those things are ultimate reality. We cannot totally possess the things we buy. The situation that makes us happy or sad will pass. Even marriage will not follow us into eternity. So why do we think those things can be the reason for our existence? Christians need to live in the consciousness of a greater reality. Things that are so big to non-believers are mere passing trifles to people who see who Jesus is and what he has done.
What has Jesus done? We know he has died and has risen, but perhaps we do not fully understand how in doing so Jesus has passed judgment on the present form of the world. His resurrection promises a new existence. The coming kingdom is the ultimate reality. Once we see the truth of that, we cannot look on this world and the things it offers and the things it promotes the same way. It is like someone who is terminally ill. Once a person knows the end is near, the amount of time left is lived with a new perspective. He sees, hears and values in a new way. This change of perspective isn't something that can be faked. This cuts through the things that matter and the things that do not.
Can we dare to live with that kind of faith? So much of what we fret about in this life, so much of what we think is important, so much of how we judge others in the church just isn't relevant to Christian identity. Christians belong to Jesus Christ. Christians are travelers through a world that is passing away. Yes, we face the same issues as others. Some marry; some remain virgins. We sorrow, we rejoice, we buy, we use the world –– but those things do not make us who we are. The world in its present form is passing away.