There was once a story about a Rabbi who was distraught because he didn’t have enough money. One day he entered the synagogue and cried out ‘Lord, Lord I need to win the lottery – my daughter needs braces and my wife wants new furniture’. Nothing happened, so the next week he again went to the synagogue and cried – ‘Lord, Lord I need to win the lottery . . . my daughter needs brace, my wife wants new furniture and my car needs new tires’. Again nothing happened . . . so the third week he went into the synagogue crying out ‘Lord, Lord – I need to win the lottery – my daughter needs brace, my wife wants new furniture, my car needs new tires and my house needs a roof. Please Lord, please I need to win the lottery!’. As he got up leave, a voice came from the midst of the synagogue saying . . . “Saul, Saul” and the rabbi said ‘Yes Lord?’ “Saul” went the voice . . . “meet me half-way . . . buy a ticket”.
One of the things Barbara and I have always taught our children is, if there is a rule number one in life it is that: Life Isn’t Fair. Right or wrong, most of us who are grown-ups accept this rule as a basis of life. It is what we see borne out everyday. We see it in our neighbor’s lives, we see it in the newspapers and on television. We see it also in our own jobs and in our own households as we try to chip out for ourselves a little piece of the American Dream. And even though we have included within our society such things as Equal Opportunity, Leave No Child Behind and Americans with Disabilities equal access laws we know that for the great majority, ourselves included, life is not fair.
A child is taught from the very beginning to share his toys, to clean up his own mess and to help others. These are all altruistic traits that, if everyone actually grew up taking these on as life goals, the world would be a very different place. But, as it is, there are two ways of looking at the world around us. One is the way it ought to be; and the other is the way it actually is. These two perceptions have been at odds with each other since the fall of man.
If you didn’t know it by now, you ought to know that the universe is at odds with itself. There is a tension that exists that forces us to choose sides each and every day. Each day we choose between good and evil, between right and wrong, between our own well-being and the well being of others, between giving and getting, between helping others and helping ourselves.
We are forced, all the time, to choose on issues about war and peace, about sexuality, about smoking in public places, about prayer in schools and about abortion and euthanasia. And this is only part of the tension that we live under.
But, this tension is not the way it is supposed to be. In fact, if there were no one on earth, if man had never been created, this tension would not exist because the fall of man would never have happened. That is why Jesus came; that was his mission; to change the hearts of men to be more in line with the Father’s in heaven. Jesus tried to show us a new way of being one with the universe instead of at odds with it. He tried to teach us what we teach our children when they first start out in school . . . share your toys, help each other out and be kind. Some listen, but many do not. The teachings of Jesus do not always fit easily into the world as we know it; a world that, for the most part, accepts as rule number one: Life Isn’t Fair.
Job, of course, was probably the poster child of ‘Life isn’t Fair’ when we recount the story of how a man who has everything and then suddenly stricken with terrible misfortune and as a result loses all . . . his home, his possessions, his family and his health . . . . all because of a bet between God and Satan . . . and then to regain it all back again in today’s reading . . . a very strange story indeed. The point of course was that God wanted to prove to Satan that Job, a righteous soul, would love God no matter what happened in his life . . . no matter how rough things got. Some may ask if this was a real story or just an object lesson. To answer it I guess you would need to believe that God would actually test someone to the very limits of his life to prove a point to someone else who thoroughly hated him.
Then there is the story of Bartimaeus. In thinking about him this week I couldn’t keep my thoughts off the details of the story. A blind man in Palestine was probably considered not only useless but most likely was thought of as being punished by God for something that he might have done. He was desperately poor and begged for what little he had . . . he begged every day for his very life. His only possession was a cloak that probably kept him warm at night and protected him from the sun by day. And the people crushing around him, telling him to ‘keep quiet’ since they heard him begging every day and probably thought of him as the town nuisance.
And yet he yells out in the din of the crowd anyway “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus hears him and calls him forth and as the story goes . . . So throwing off his cloak (the only thing he owns – his only protection against the elements), Bartimaeus, a blind man, sprang up and came to Jesus.
What this story tries to instill in us is how to pray when we really, desperately need something and how God responds to us when we pray. I am no expert on this subject but as a guy with a lot of gray hair and a few years on me, I’ll tell you what I think. I think God is quite different from us in many ways. We may have been created in God’s image but because of the fall I doubt very much we think in quite the same way. Jesus gives us a lot of clues as to the way God thinks in his stories.
You may remember the story of the unrighteous judge, who after finally getting tired of hearing the complaint of the woman day after day, finally grants her request, just to be rid of her. Not a very nice story . . . but a story with a point.
Or the story about the man who finds a pearl in a field and then goes and sells everything he owns to buy that field . . .
Or how about the untrustworthy manager who make deals with his employer’s creditors before he is fired so that someone might hire him after his job loss.
These stories and the story of Bartimaeus this morning show us that it takes more than just asking to have prayers answered . . . it really takes three things – faith, hope and charity.
God rewards faith without limit. He also rewards charity, as much as ten fold. And he especially rewards hope as we struggle against all the obstacles we encounter in the world, in the flesh, and from the devil.
But you may ask . . . what if I am lacking in faith? Or what if I lack charity? And what if I am a coward at heart and lack hope? Then find someone who has the traits that God respects . . . someone who you know loves God and ask his help to pray for you. And if you can’t find some one like that in particular, then find a group, a community that shares a common conviction and have them pray for you. This works . . . I know it does because it has happened in my life.
We all know deep down what our lives should be like . . . that we are supposed to be fair. It’s one of the reasons we patiently wait in lines at the bank, at the market check out and at the airport. It is one of the reasons traffic lights are timed and ordered and we all agree to drive on the same side of the road. It is one of the reasons we keep schedules in our work and school life and we all agree to the same standards of measurement and time. If things were not somewhat ordered, life would be far more chaotic than it already is.
But on the same token, we know that Utopia is only a pleasant thought for philosophers and that communism will not work in this world. There is always someone or some group who will desire power and assume control over the masses, and there is always the tendency of the masses to relinquish the power they hold to a false hope or an unrealized dream.
The universe is well ordered and set into motion like a gigantic clockwork. But within the rules of universal order there is always the possibility of collision and of chaos. But upon collision, even though it may be devastating, the rules of order (gravitation, thermodynamics and physics) continue to take precedence until equilibrium is again achieved.
Faith, hope and Charity are the unchangeable rules in the spiritual world. God has set them as the standard for our existence. In our own lives, collision with others will occur and chaos may rule temporarily making life seem terribly unfair. But through our troubles the laws of the spirit continue to bring order out of the chaos, to bring light out of darkness and to bring life out of death.
The reason for the existence of the Universal Church of Jesus Christ is to bring order into the lives of people within the chaos and hardship they experience in their earthly walk. The church holds the greatest gift to mankind, for within it resides the salt of the earth. And as long as we as a church continue to resist the world; yet remain in the world, we will remain salt and will retain great value as the agent of God’s will. But as Jesus warns, once the saltiness is lost (i.e. should the church succumb to the world) its value will be diminished and its continued existence will be in doubt.
The number one rule of life that we, as Americans, have all come to believe and accept in this world is that Life is Not Fair; but the number one rule that Jesus came to teach us about everlasting life is: Do unto others as we would have them do unto us. These two statements are at odds with each other, just as we may at times be at odds with each other through random collisions between us in life. One person, Winston Churchill, resolves this with a statement that I think is profound when he said . . .
We make a living by what we get,
we make a life by what we give.