The Gospel from today’s Mass sets for the healing by Jesus of a man who had been paralyzed some 38 years. The Lord found him lying by the sheep gate of the Temple at the pools called Bethesda (A Hebrew word meaning “House of Mercy”). Having healed him the Lord says something unusual, Look, you are well; do not sin any more, so that nothing worse may happen to you (Jn 5:13). Now, to us who often think in worldly ways, the thought may occur: “What could possibly be worse than to be paralyzed for 38 years?”
The Spirit answers with our faith, “To die and go to Hell is far worse.” But I wonder how seriously we take this insight at a practical, daily level. Do we really see our sins as our most serious problem? Or, are we more likely to obsess over things like our finances, our physical health, our job, who is in political power, etc?
Note how the Lord says in effect: Your paralysis was far from your most serious issue. Right now you face far bigger issues in your life that you ought to be thinking about (like greed, lust, anger, worldliness, and a host of other sinful and disordered drives that can destroy you).
Here of course is a kind of paradigm (or example) of a common human problem, and that is, that we often get all worked up about the less essential things and pay little attention to things that matter far more. Consider a few examples:
I. In listening to people pray, including myself, at public gatherings it is interesting how most of the prayers (almost 100%) deal with worldly matters. “O Lord, fix my finances, fix my health, fix my spouse, fix this or that situation so I am more comfortable and better situated, help me get a promotion at work.” None of these things are wrong to pray about, but notice the worldly and passing quality of most of it. It is almost as if we were saying to God, “Just make this world a better and comfortable place for me. Give me enough health, friends, money and creature comforts, and that’s all I need, I’ll just stay here forever!” In a way it’s a terrible thing to say to God, and surely there are things for which we should ask that matter more to God.
I am sure God waits for the day when we will finally say from our heart, “Lord give me a closer walk with you….help me hunger for your justice, righteousness, truth and holiness. Help me repent of my sins and desire greater holiness. Help me yearn for the day when I can come and live with you and grant me the grace to be prepared to enter your presence. Take away my sinful attachments to this world, and make my heart’s truest desire to be You and the joys waiting for me in heaven with you.” I am sure God’s waits for the day, for these are things that matter to God.
In the end, nothing matters more to God than you, and that you be made ready to be with him forever. Money, who cares? Health? That passes anyway, as does the body, and worldly glories. But the soul? Now here is something that matters particularly to God. But we go one praying for money, health, greater comforts, etc. Not wrong per se, but not the true priority, a priority which is often wholly neglected by us.
II. What then is our greatest problem? Lack of money, health or resources? No! Our greatest problem is our sin. Jesus says, If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better to loose part of your body than to have it all cast into hell (Matt 5:30).
What is Jesus saying? He is saying that it is more serious to sin than to lose your hand, or your eye, or your foot.
Now we don’t think like this. If I were to lose my hand in some terrible accident, I would hate this day for the rest of my life. Indeed, it would be terrible. But why don’t I think this way about my sin? To God my sin is a far greater problem than a financial shortfall, or even bodily loss.
My sin matters to God, because he sees what it does to me, and that it is a far greater danger for me than any other worldly danger or problem. And yet, most of us pay little heed to this and are unalarmed by it. But we sure know how to hit the panic button if we lose our job or get a diagnosis of cancer.
Our priorities are wrong and we are not rich in what matters to God. That is, we are not rich in repentance, cries for mercy, and a sober understanding of our truest and deepest problem, our sin.
III. And look how we too often raise our children. Almost all the focus is on worldly success. Johnny might know little or nothing about God, the Mass, Scripture or Sacraments, but let Johnny bring home a bad report card, and the reaction is quick. Here is a problem to get to the bottom of, because if Johnny doesn’t get better grades, he might not get into the premier local High School, and then, might not get into the best college, so he can make a killing, (oops, I mean a living).
So, the parents go into action. Perhaps a tutor is hired to help with math etc. Meanwhile Johnny barely knows the Our Father, doesn’t have a clue at Mass, his moral life is heading south, and all he knows about Adam and Eve is that they were “in the Bible or something.” Finally Johnny’s scores are better and he proceeds apace to the finest local High School.
One day his father proudly says to the Catholic pastor, “Great news! John has gotten a full scholarship to Princeton.” And the pastor says “Great!” When what he should say to the father is “OK fine. Now let’s find out who is going to preach the gospel to him up there. You know that it will be, (like most college campuses), a moral cesspool of fornication and drinking. So, if we’re not serious about John’s spiritual life, he may go in there, come out a big-wig lawyer, and yet be heading straight for Hell. So what’s the plan for his spiritual welfare and growth?”
But do the pastor or parents really give any thought to this? Usually not.
And so John climbs the ladder of success but it’s leaning up against the the wrong wall.
Too often parents, pastors, families and parishes are not rich in what matters to God. Our children hear that they should study hard, get good grades etc., to make it in this world. Of itself this is not wrong. But their souls are more important, and matter more to God. How well do we teach and equip them to care for the vineyard of their own soul? How does this compare to worldly preparations? And do we conform to what matters more to God?
Well, perhaps this is enough. But the point here is that too often, too many of us are not rich in what matters to God. We too need to occasionally hear Jesus say after he has blessed us in some worldly way, Look, you are well; do not sin any more, so that nothing worse may happen to you. If we are irritated by this sort of exhortation we ought to see it as the disclosing of a basic human tendency of caring more about passing worldly things, than eternal lasting things or God himself. Too easily we store up riches for ourselves but are not rich in what matters to God.
Help Lord! We need a new mind, but even more, a new heart.
In this sermon snippet I try to set forth that there are many ways we think, and many philosophies around today that do not reflect the mind of God, his priorities or his plans for us. In this world there are many false messiahs and false visions that vie our attention and loyalty. In the midst of all these, we must come to discover more of how God thinks, and what His priorities for us are.