October 21, 2018

Mrs. McIvor was lonely after the death of her husband George, so she read in a magazine article that a pet parrot would be great company to her and she went to the local pet store and purchased “Petey” the parrot and a cage and took him home, but Petey didn’t talk.  She called the pet store and told them about silent Petey and they said to buy a mirror (he would see his reflection, think it was another parrot and talk).  Nothing!  Called the next day and the pet store owner suggested she get a ladder for Petey to climb.  Nothing.  She called again the next day and a swing was suggested with no results, then a perch and on and on.  After 2 weeks, Petey died.  She went back to the store and told the owner who was shocked.  He asked Mrs. McIvor if Petey had ever talked and she told him, “Yes, his final words were don’t they sell food at that pet store?”  This silly little story moves from humor to confrontation when we take a serious look at the motives behind the things we do.

Matthew’s Gospel is organized around the major teachings of Jesus.  Every time Jesus taught, he addressed the lifestyle (ethic) of a believer (Christian) and Jesus confronted the “accepted norm” of faithful living in his day that still challenges our 21st century understanding of how Christians are to live and think and act and love in the secular world. Our series of messages titled: He Said What?!! And each week we’ve been looking at the challenging teachings of Jesus regarding the Christian’s relational faith practice.  The essence of Christian ethics is overcoming evil with good. Today we conclude our series of messages with Jesus’ teaching about the great reversal: that the last will be first.

Has anyone ever felt at times that you have been so concerned about obtaining the things of this life that it overshadowed your concern about obtaining the substance or true meaning of life itself?  We live in a very materialistic day.  The universal mantra is: more is better – regardless!  And usually we discover that the “more” we crave brings only temporary joy.

The town of Kemi, Finland hires 30 workers each winter to build a 13-foot wide walled ice village complete with a chapel, a theater and an art gallery. The cost is $1.1 million, yet the entire complex will melt away by mid-April. How much time, energy and finances have we devoted over the years to similar things that will melt away as we know deep in our souls that all of the things of this world will eventually “melt” away.

Materialism is based on two lies: 1) the more things I obtain, the happier I will be. A young man with a down-trodden face told his psychiatrist, “I own a beach house in Maui, a penthouse in NY and a 90-foot yacht.  All my clothes are tailor-made in London.  I have a 2,000-bottle wine cellar and I’m still not happy. Tell me why?” The psychiatrist asked, “Do you own a Rolex?”  With a big smile, the young man stood up and said, “No I don’t!” And he left for the jewelry store.

The more I obtain the happier I will be is a lie from the pit of hades.  Those who live into this lie always believe that they are one purchase away from a happy life.

The second lie is: The more I have the more self-sufficient I am.  I wonder how many people who lived in either of the paths of the previous two hurricanes would answer that question today?  I’m still struggling with watching the scenes on TV of the boats and yachts costing thousands of dollars floating down a flood-swelled river to their destruction last week. Years ago, a wealthy man was bragging to his pastor about all the things he owned and had accumulated over the years.  He then asked the pastor, “Are you going to tell me that all my land and my possessions don’t belong to me?”  The pastor replied, “Ask me that same question 100 years from now!”

In Matthew 16:26, Jesus asks, “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their own soul? Or, what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”  The essence of life today is not in having; the essence of life today is in having to have.  Jesus’ words to the rich young man made him decide between two kingdoms:  his own kingdom or God’s kingdom.  The same holds true for us.  Jesus asks us if we trust God enough to provide for all of our needs, or do we trust in our own wealth or ability or intelligence or connections or network?

The message today is all about the great reversal that invites us to change from seeing things through worldly eyes to seeing things through divine, spiritual eyes.  In God’s eyes (the One who owns everything eternally) the wealthy or rich are not those who own it all or who govern it all, but rather the wealthy in God’s kingdom are those who completely trust God in all things first, before trusting in ourselves.  The wealthy are those who give generously as a first response to need rather than a last-resort from guilt. Perhaps we have discovered that we are truly rich when we have looked upward to God instead of inwardly to ourselves.

The last will be first and the first will be last.  Where are your treasures stored: in that place where we are in charge where moth or rust or vermin can destroy? (MT 6:19-20) Or, are our treasures stored in that never-changing, always secure place where God is?

Co-founder of the Catholic Worker and poet, Peter Maurin wrote almost 100 years ago, “The world would be better off if people if people tried to become better.  And people would become better if they stopped trying to become better off.  For when everybody tries to become better off, nobody becomes better off.  But when everybody tries to become better, then everyone is better off.”

He said what!?

  1. Reconcile your anger!
  2. Turn the other cheek!
  3. Love your enemies!
  4. Serve only one master!
  5. Do not judge!
  6. Wash your heart!
  7. The last will be first!

Serving the true master, Jesus Christ, starts at the end of the line! I hope to see you there.

Oh, can someone please buy Petey some parrot food please?