Hit or Miss: The Good Life

Tom Bartolomeo
27th Sunday Ordinary C 2013b
Habakkuk 1: 2-3, 2: 2-4; Psalm 95;
Timothy 1: 6-8, 13-14; Luke 17: 5-10
Reproduced with Permission

Yesterday evening while returning to my parish from my home in New York, a long uninterrupted thirteen hour drive, I passed by a billboard on a highway outside of Chicago displayed in bold letters: "Hit or Miss". The line above it read," the Good Life", the line below read, "the Illinois Lottery." So life's a blind gamble? You want to know how the world thinks? How many of us buy lottery tickets? Before then while driving and listening to the radio I caught an old favorite song of mine from the 70's, "Wild World" by Cat Stevens. Back in the 70s I found the music enchanting. Today, a little wiser, I found the lyrics revealing.

La, la, la. La, la, la. La, la, la.

Now that I've lost everything to you
You say you wanna start something new
And it's breakin' my heart you're leavin', baby, I'm grievin'
But if you wanna leave, take good care
Hope you have a lot of nice things to wear
But then a lot of nice things turn bad out there

Ooh, baby, baby, it's a wild world
It's hard to get by just upon a smile
Ooh, baby, baby, it's a wild world
I'll always remember you like a child, girl

Hope you make a lot of nice friends out there
But just remember there's a lot of bad and beware, beware

"The bad out there" is mostly "the pride of life", hit or miss, now or later. Lord, help us! What a waste. You've heard this warning numerous times in our Sunday readings particularly these last few Sundays - from the mind of God through the lips of Jesus to us. Recall Jesus' meeting with the rich young man who followed all the commandments but who afflicted with one deadly vice, his attachment to his wealth and the things of this world. (Matthew 19: 16-26). That was one of the few times Jesus did not teach in parables, anagrams of sorts which we can only understand through study. For many confusing riddles to be dismissed as Jesus anticipated:

'He who has ears to hear, let him hear'. And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, 'To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven'. And he said to them, 'Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? (Mark 4, 9-13).

Jesus would not "throw pearls before swine lest they turn upon him", another one of his parabolic sayings, about the hard hearted who only want to hear what they want to hear. (Matthew 7, 6). I pray none of this applies to anyone here. Last Sunday's Gospel from Luke preceding today's reading told the story of rich man who died and was condemned to hell and a poor beggar, Lazarus, "who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man' table who also died and was "carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham" in heaven. (Luke 16: 19-31). This, however, is not the crux of the parable. Can you hear? When the rich man in the parable "tormented" in hell pleaded with Abraham,

'send Lazarus to my father's house, for I have five brothers, that he may warn them, lest they too come to this place of torment.' But Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.' He said, 'O no, Father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.' Then Abraham said, 'If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead'." ( Luke 16: 19-31 ).

The rich man, his family and his brothers ignored Sacred Scripture, the Word of God which could have nourished faith, hope and love in their hearts in the promise of a Messiah which Moses and the prophets revealed, who would prepare them for riches beyond this world's in the joy and comfort of God's world. (Ibid.) Saint Jerome who spent his entire life collecting and translating into one common language all seventy three books of the Bible said, "ignorance of the bible is ignorance of Jesus Christ." And we have not only Moses and the prophets of the Old Testament but the last words from the Word of God 'made flesh' in the New Testament. And it is all within our reach. Ignore Him at your peril. Ignore him and Jesus' parables may remain undecipherable uninspiring riddles.

Take, for instance, today's parable. In the words of Bill O'Reilly, "What say you?" Had the hard working servant won the lottery would he have been better off? Did his master, his employer, seem a little 'insensitive' and 'put offish'? Were we thinking, Certainly God would approve the servant bettering myself. Find another job or improve his situation. Would it be better that we let God speak and hear his Word? "He who has ears to hear, let him hear". Read Sacred Scripture. Read Sacred Scripture aloud for the effect of hearing it. Then pray that you may answer well the question Jesus asked each of his Apostles, "Who do you say that I am?" and remember "Not everyone who says to me 'Lord, Lord' will enter the kingdom of heaven". (Mark 8, 27; Matthew 7, 21). He may answer your knock on the door and say, "Go away, I do not know you." (Matthew 25, 11). His words. Did you recognize the figure of Jesus in the parable of the servant and his master. It was the life Jesus led for us cited in one of the early prayers of the Church found in the Apostle Paul's Letter to the Philippians:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death-
even death on a cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2: 5-10).

There is nothing Jesus asks of us that he did not do himself. Saint Francis of Assisi knew this whose feast day we celebrated last Friday. Francis' life was filled with joy in the service of others, a joy which always focused on the light of Christ in a dark world which drew many followers to him including Pope Francis. The Franciscans were the ones who secured and restored all the holy places in Israel centuries before the state of Israel was established by the United Nations in 1948. Had the Franciscans not held the holy places before under Israeli law they would have become the property of Israel.

Where evil abounds Saint Paul tells us grace abounds even more, but God's Word must be known to be embraced. When evil abounds in ignorance it flourishes. A majority of Catholics in our country ignorantly approve what Jesus condemned. Many if not most of the Scripturally illiterate have little or no real understanding of God. How much of that could be corrected by reading the Psalms which Jesus prayed. Jesus always maintained his focus on his Father in the moral darkness of the world often in prayer at night or the early morning away from the distractions of the world. A habit we, too, can develop following the instructions of Saint Peter, the first Pope, in his letters to his flock that they study Sacred Scripture, "So we have the prophetic message [of Jesus Christ] more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts." (2 Peter 1, 19).

This will require for many an entirely different orientation. We live in this world only for a short time which Jesus called "a little while", a temporary foreign excursion which each of us will leave behind. Jesus would have us live our lives in a better world than this. Why he said, "those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life." (John 12, 25). Think of our lives moving through this world focused, as Saint Peter said, on "a light shining in a dark place" beyond this world. A light which increases in the passage of time as the darkness of the world decreases "until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts."