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June 28, 2020 Ordinary Time/Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (Green) Genesis 22:1-14; Matthew 10:40-42
Making a meaningful life
Our culture vs. Jesus’ teaching
“What kind of life do you want to have?” This kind of question is so abstract that it’s actually hard to answer. Maybe our answer is also abstract, such as “I want to have a good life.” Then, what do you think a good life is? That question is hard to answer, but you might think of a life of well-being in many different ways. Perhaps you may think of a living a respected life in society. In fact, who would ever want to live a shabby life? Our culture of today teaches us that satisfying our desires or putting our own interests first is more important than everything else. That’s why we have an abundance of everything: we have so much food that we are afraid our eating habits will make us fat: we have so many clothes that even resale shops can’t take them: we have so many things that we don’t want to move to another apartment. The saddest thing is that most people in this highly capitalistic country just believe this kind of egoism. In other words, having what we desire is evidence of a happy and successful life. Then, what is this meaningful life that Jesus offers us? If we really consider ourselves as his disciples, we should live by his teachings. No matter what our philosophy may be, our Lord Jesus’ teaching in the Bible has never changed and never will be. That is, we must stop living for ourselves and live for others if we really want to be his disciples. At the Last Supper before he was arrested, Jesus clearly told his disciples, “If you want to be my disciples, you must wash others’ feet, as I did to you.” Throughout this symbolic lesson, Jesus taught us that it is in this giving and serving life to others that we can make a meaningful life.
The spirit that transcends all things in the world
In the Old Testament, we can see Jesus’ teaching through a man who pleased God by giving his own life. This man is Abraham, who is well-known as the forefather of faith. But the problem is, we don’t like today’s scripture: God tested Abraham by telling him to kill his child like a beast and bring it to him as a sacrifice. Perhaps this passage is the most horrific event in the entire Bible. If we take it literally, we can hardly say “This is the word of God for the people of God.” We must find the hidden message that this passage is trying to teach in terms of God’s word for the people of God. We need to see the cultural background in this passage. Abraham’s time is referred to as the patriarchal age. The greatest concern of the ancient Hebrews was fertility, in other words, having lots of children (They believed fertility was God’s will for all his creatures – “Be fruitful and multiply” in Genesis Chapter 1). Actually, it was the very popular idea not only to the Hebrews but also to all the ancient races. Why did the ancient people regard having many children as living a successful life, a happy life, and a life blessed by God (or gods)? In short, it is only because having many children provided an advantage to survival in their jungle-like-world. But Abraham belonged to God. He had faith in God. He didn’t simply live according to the culture of his day, but tried to live by God’s will. That is why he gave up so many things from his homeland and moved to the unknown world as he followed God’s calling. Now at the old age of one hundred years, he had a son Isaac because of his faith in God. But Abraham dared to give up even his own child just to obey God’s command. I know this is an unreasonable and inhuman story. How can we enjoy the concept of sacrificing one’s own child? But once again, we should find the hidden message in it whether we like this story or not. From Abraham’s resolute determination, I can see a spirit that is transcendental or progressive not only to this ancient custom but also to our age of materialism. Think about this: God is invisible, but Abraham’s son Isaac is something he could see right in front of his eyes. To the ancient people, children were a symbol of good fortune. Everyone would try to have more children. But Abraham dared to give up his own child just to please God, who is invisible. Let me put it this way. Can you see God’s kingdom? Can you see eternal life? Can you see faith, hope, and love? Can you see justice, equality, freedom, peace? These kinds of ideas are invisible, but we know they exist in our world just as our invisible God exists in our lives. And we also know those invisible ideas are much more valuable than something we can see in our everyday lives such as money, food, a home, our family, our business, our own bodies. [In the New Testament, the disciple Paul says that “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18)]. In this ancient time when everybody pursued material blessings like fertility, Abraham realized that something invisible was far more precious and valuable than something visible. (In terms of our Christian language, he knew people should live by God’s word, not only by bread.) If he chose to keep his own son, he would be considered a good father. But Abraham decided to give up everything (his son) and entrust his life to the invisible God. That is why he became the forefather of our faith and Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world was born in Abraham’s family line. His choice for the invisible brought salvation to the world, changed the history of the world, and left a more valuable heritage to all generations. But we should know that Abraham’s decision wasn’t easy. We know that this was only God’s test, but he didn’t know that. How painful it must have been when he was asked by God to sacrifice his own child? Like Abraham’s experience, we are sometimes given a moment of choice. If God also tested us today, like Abraham, would we have the courage and faith to give up all these material things that satisfy our desires just for their invisible value? It’s easy to say that justice, equality, or freedom are very important values for all humanity, but just like Abraham, are we really willing to give up or sacrifice our own Isaac, our pleasure, our interest, our properties, or our gifts and dedicate our lives to those invisible values? Let me put it this way. You know we Christians are called to follow Jesus Christ, practice his teachings, and carry on his ministry throughout the world. But if we are really called to support and stand for those who are invisible, voiceless, nameless, and powerless in our communities, are we also willing to give up our own favors and benefits for those? Just like Abraham, do we have the courage and faith to transcend our desires? If we are honest, this ancient story of Abraham’s faith is still radical, progressive, and transcendental to us today.
The Instruction of Jesus Christ
Loving God, more than we love ourselves, more than we love our children or family, and more than we love what we have is not a simple task. It challenges us sometimes to give up our treasures and even our lives. But we should know that when we obey this invisible God and stand for the unseen values like justice, equality, freedom, peace, and serve those who are powerless in our world, we can bring God’s salvation and change history. We can pass on a better world to our descendants. How do we make a blessed life in our journey of faith? It is not about ourselves. It is about our Lord; it is about other people; and it is about something invisible. Jesus Christ’s new commandment is “Love your God and love your neighbors.” He also says, “If you love one another, people will know that you are my disciples.” Loving others, serving others, living for others are ways we can prove we are true disciples of Christ, and it is the way we can manifest the image of God. Our deeds of love, compassion, and mercy are our ways of doing the work of God and following the way of Christ. Amen.