The Two Worlds, as Seen in a Commercial

The commercial below contrasts two worlds. The first is the loud, chaotic world, of which Satan is prince—and he wants all your attention. The second is the quieter, more serene, more beautiful world of the Kingdom, of which Christ is King and Mary is Queen Mother. Choose for yourself.

St Anselm writes:

Insignificant man, escape from your everyday business for a short while, hide for a moment from your restless thoughts. Break off from your cares and troubles and be less concerned about your tasks and labors. Make a little time for God and rest a while in him. Enter into your mind’s inner chamber. Shut out everything but God and whatever helps you to seek him. And when you have shut the door, look for him, speak to God … (Proslogion, Chapter 1).

 

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Two Worlds, as Seen in a Commercial

Working for the Kingdom Despite Human Failures

My father had an expression: “Charlie, people disappoint.” It was his way of saying that even people we think irreproachable, godly, and saintly can let us down, either with sin or simply by being unable to help us in key moments. Something of that comes through in the words of St. Paul from today’s first reading:

Demas, enamored of the present world, deserted me and went to Thessalonica, Crescens to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia. Luke is the only one with me. … At my first defense no one appeared on my behalf, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them! (2 Timothy 4:10-16)

Here were people that St. Paul had thought friends and champions of the gospel, but now some have left him, some have failed to defend him, and still others are just unavailable.

We should all think about how much faith we put in human persons. While we sometimes need to depend on others to help us, there will be times when they cannot do so and times when not only do they not help us, they are against us; perhaps they are too frightened to stand with us or maybe they are just occupied with other things. Yes, people disappoint.

Paul goes on to say,

But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the proclamation might be completed, and all the Gentiles might hear it (2 Timothy 4:17).

This passage reminds us that though we should work with our fellow human beings, we should trust in God. For indeed, He wills us to work with imperfect, limited, and even fickle people, but to trust that He can supply our needs when others fall short; He can stand in the gap when others do not, for whatever reason.

Scripture says, Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the LORD (Jer 17:5).

The fact that human beings are imperfect and can disappoint us should not turn us into isolated cynics. Rather, it should remind us to depend ultimately on the Lord’s strength and permit Him to fill the gaps left by others. We should work to develop good relationships with our fellow human beings because in many situations they can help, but they can never be our ultimate savior.

Yes, God can work to bless us, even through people who disappoint or fall short. No matter the struggles of human agents, with God as a partner we can succeed. All things work together for good, to those who trust in God and are called according to his purpose (Rom 8:23).

St Paul did not stop preaching because others let him down; neither should we stop working for the Kingdom merely because others disappoint.

Party or Perish

The past three Sundays have featured shocking parables about our readiness, fruitfulness, and decision as to whether to accept and enter the Kingdom of God. The Lord has used the image of a vineyard extensively: a vineyard into which workers are dispatched at different times of the day but who have different attitudes about what is due to them at the end of the day; a vineyard into which two sons are sent, one of whom goes and one who does not; a vineyard in which are wicked tenants who refuse to render rightful fruits to the landowner and who abuse and even kill those sent to call for the harvest, including the landowner’s son.

The parables to the great and dramatic decision to which we are all summoned: Will we accept the Kingdom of God, entering into to and accepting its terms or not? It is a decision on which your destiny depends. Jesus is not playing around; he lays out the drama in stark and shocking ways. He is not the harmless hippie or mild-mannered Messiah that many today have recast Him to be. He is the Great Prophet, the Very Son of God, the Lord who authoritative stands before us and tells us to decide.

This Sunday’s Gospel is perhaps the most shocking and dramatic of all. In it, the Lord Jesus issues another urgent summons to the Kingdom. As with past Sundays, there is the warning of hellish destruction for the refusal of the Kingdom. This view must be balanced, however, by the vision of a seeking Lord who wants to fill His banquet and will not stop urging us until the end. You might say the theme of this Gospel is “Party or Perish!”

Let’s look at today’s Gospel in five stages.

I. RICH REPAST – The text says, The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. He dispatched his servants to summon the invited guests to the feast …

Of course the King is God the Father and the wedding feast is that of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. On one level, the wedding feast is the invitation to faith in general. More biblically, the wedding feast is that of the Lamb, which is described in the Book of Revelation (19:7-9). Hence it is also the Liturgy of Heaven in which we share through the Mass.

What a wonderful image of the Kingdom: a wedding feast! Most Jewish people of that time looked forward to weddings all year long. They were usually scheduled between planting and harvest, when things were slower. Weddings often lasted for days and were among the most enjoyable things imaginable. There was feasting, family, and great joy in what God was doing. Now consider the unimaginable joy and honor of being invited to a wedding hosted by a king!

Yes, these were powerful images for the ancient Jews of the Kingdom: A wedding feast, and for a king’s son at that! The joy, the celebration, the feasting, the magnificence, the splendor, the beautiful bride, the handsome groom, the love, the unity; yes, the Kingdom of Heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son.

Who would not want to come? We may well ask, if this is Heaven, who would not want to go?

II. RUDE REJECTION – The text says, … but they refused to come. A second time he sent other servants, saying, “Tell those invited: ‘Behold, I have prepared my banquet, my calves and fattened cattle are killed, and everything is ready; come to the feast.’” Some ignored the invitation and went away, one to his farm, another to his business. The rest laid hold of his servants, mistreated them, and killed them.

Here is a real twist to the story, an unexpected development. Why the rejection of the king’s offer? In our time, why the rejection of what God offers? Are these people crazy? In effect, Jesus explains their rejection in a two-fold way: worldliness and wickedness.

One group of those rejecting the invitation to the Kingdom of Heaven do so for worldly reasons. Jesus describes them as going one to his farm, another to his business. In other words, the things of the world, though not evil in themselves, preoccupy them. They are too busy to accept the invitation; their priorities and passions are elsewhere.

They think, weddings are nice but money is nicer; God and religion have their place, but they don’t pay the bills.

The goal of the worldly, is this world and what it offers, not God or the things awaiting them in Heaven. Things like prayer, holiness, Scripture, and sacraments don’t provide obvious material blessings to the worldly minded so they are low on the priority list. St. Paul speaks of people whose god is their belly and who have their mind set on worldly things (cf Phil 3:19).

So off they go, one to his farm, another to his business; one to watch football, another to detail his car; one to sleep in, another to go golfing; one to make money, another to the mall to spend it.

A second group of those rejecting the Kingdom do so out of some degree of wickedness. Jesus speaks of how they abuse and even kill those who invite them. Why this anger? For many, the kingdom of God is rejected because it is not convenient to their moral life. Many of them rightly understand that in order to enter the wedding feast of the Kingdom, they will need to be “properly dressed.” Of course “proper dress” here refers not to clothes but to holiness and righteousness, to living the moral vision of the Kingdom.

The invitation to the wedding feast of the Kingdom incites anger because it casts a judgment on some of their behaviors and tweaks their conscience. A great deal of the hostility directed toward God, Scripture, the Church, and her servants who speak God’s truth, is explained by the fact that, deep down, they know that what is proclaimed is true.

If their minds have become darkened or their hearts hardened by sin, they simply hate being told what to do or any suggestion that what they are doing is wrong. Being told to live chastely, or to forgive, or to be more generous to the poor, or to welcome all new life (even if there are deformities or disabilities), or that there are priorities higher than money, sex, career, and worldly access; all of this is obnoxious. Yes, the world often treats God and those who speak of Him with contempt. Some are even martyred in certain places and times.

Of course many who reject the Kingdom do so for multiple reasons, but Jesus focuses on these two broad categories, under which a lot of those reasons fall.

III. RESULTING RUIN – The text says, The king was enraged and sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city.

As with last week’s Gospel, there is a shocking detail to the story that is somewhat mysterious. How can such a violent punishment be squared with a vision of God who loves us?

It is not an easy thing to answer, but to respond by pretending that this is not taught or that this will never happen, is to reject the loving urgency with which Jesus speaks. He is not simply using scare tactics or hyperbole; He is teaching us what is true for our salvation.

Historically, this destruction happened to ancient Israel in 70 A.D., forty years after Jesus’ resurrection. After forty years the no of the invited guests (in this case, the Ancient Jews) became definitive and led to their ruin and the end of the temple.

It is the same for us. The Lord invites us all to accept His Kingdom as long as we live. If we are slow to respond, He repeats his offer again and again. In the end, though, if we don’t want to have the Kingdom of God, we don’t have to have it. Upon our death, our choice is fixed. If our answer is no, our ruin is certain, for outside the Kingdom there is nothing but ruins. We will either accept the invitation to live in the Kingdom of God and by its values or we will reject it and make “other arrangements.” Those other arrangements are ruinous.

Be sure of this: God wants to save everyone (cf Ez 18:23, 32, 33:1; 1 Tim 2:4). If Hell exists, it is only because of God’s reverence for our freedom to choose. Mind you, there are not just a few who reject the Kingdom. They live showing that they do not want a thing to do with many of the values of the Kingdom of Heaven: chastity, forgiveness, love of enemies, generosity to the poor, and detachment from the world. God will not force them to accept these things or to be surrounded by those who live them perfectly in Heaven. They are free to make other arrangements and to build their eternal home elsewhere. Compared to Heaven, everything else is a smoldering ruin.

IV. RELENTLESS RESOLVE – The text says, Then he said to his servants, ‘The feast is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy to come. Go out, therefore, into the main roads and invite to the feast whomever you find.’

When some reject the invitation, God merely widens the invitation. He wants His Son’s wedding feast to be full, so He keeps on inviting and widening the invitation. Here is an extravagant God who does not give up. When rejected, He just keeps calling.

V. REMAINING REQUIREMENT – The text says, The servants went out into the streets and gathered all they found, bad and good alike, and the hall was filled with guests. But when the king came in to meet the guests, he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment. The king said to him, ‘My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?’ But he was reduced to silence. Then the king said to his attendants, ‘Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’ Many are invited, but few are chosen.

Here, then, is a warning, even for those of us who do accept the invitation and enter the Kingdom: We must wear the proper wedding garment.

As we have already remarked, the garment referred to is not one of cloth but of righteousness. This righteousness in which we are to be clothed can come only from God. God supplies the garment. The book of Revelation says that the saints were each given a white robe to wear (Rev 6:10). The text also speaks of the Church in a corporate sense as being clothed in righteousness: Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure”—for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints (Rev 19:7-8). Hence righteousness is imaged by clothing, and that clothing is given by God. At our baptism the priest makes mention of our white garment as an outward sign of our dignity, which we are to bring unstained to the judgment seat of Christ. At our funeral, too, the white pall placed upon the casket recalls the white robe of righteousness given to us by God.

Scripture speaks elsewhere of our righteousness as a kind of clothing that we “put on”:

  • Let us then cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light (Rom 13:12).
  • But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires (Rom 13:14).
  • And be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Eph 4:23).
  • Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. (Eph 6:11).
  • Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness (Eph 6:14).
  • You have put on the new nature, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator (Col 3:10).
  • Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. (Col 3:12).
  • But, since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. (1 Thess 5:8).

Hence, when the king comes upon a man “not properly dressed,” he confronts him. The man has no response and so is cast out. Recall two things. First, this is not about a dress code, but a holiness code. The clothes symbolize righteousness. Second, the garment is provided. We have no righteousness of our own, only what God gives us. Hence, the refusal to wear the proper clothes is not about poverty or ignorance of the rules; it is an outright refusal to accept the values of the Kingdom and to “wear” them as a gift from God.

Scripture says of Heaven, Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful (Rev 21:27). Scripture also warns us, without holiness no one will see the Lord (Heb 12:14b). An old spiritual says, “None can walk up there, but the pure in heart.” Consider that Heaven would not be Heaven if sin and unrighteousness were allowed to exist there.

Only God can make us pure enough to enter Heaven, but He offers this gift of purity to everyone. Yet not everyone chooses to accept the garment of righteousness He offers. Not all will agree to undergo the purification necessary to enter Heaven.

The Lord concludes by saying that many are called, but few are chosen. Indeed, the Lord calls many (likely, all), but far fewer are chosen, for they themselves do not choose the Kingdom and the garment of righteousness. God ratifies their own choice.

Understand the urgency with which Jesus speaks and teaches. Our choices have consequences and, at some point, our choices become fixed. At that point, God will ratify what we have chosen. Notions of judgment, fixed choices, and Hell may be obnoxious to some; surely these teachings are sobering and even frightening to all. We may have legitimate questions as to how to reconcile the existence of Hell with God’s mercy, however judgment and the reality of Hell are all still taught—and they are taught by the Lord Jesus who loves us. No one loves you more than Jesus Christ, yet no one spoke of Hell more than He did.

The Lord is solemnly urging us to be sober and serious about our spiritual destiny and that of those whom we love. Hear the Lord’s urgency in this vivid parable, told in shocking detail. Realize that it is told in love and heed its message.

In the Gospel of Luke, the Lord told the parable of the Prodigal Son. In it, the sinful son returned to his father, who, joyful and moved, threw a great feast. The older son sulked, refusing to enter. Incredibly, his father came out and pleaded with him to come in. “We must rejoice,” he said. Oddly, the parable ends there. We never learn if the sulking son entered. The story does not end because we must finish it. Each of us is the son. What is our answer? Will we accept all the Kingdom values and enter, or will we remain outside? And what are we doing to ensure that our loved ones give the proper answer? The Father is pleading with us to enter the feast. What is our answer?

Sinner Please Don’t Let This Harvest Pass

credit: Roland.h.bueb,wikimedia

There is an urgency and clarity about Sunday’s Gospel that is often lacking in modern Christians, including the clergy. The message is urgent, provocative, and clear: there is a day of judgment coming for every one of us and we must be ready for it. The message is a sobering one for a modern world that is often dismissive of judgment—and certainly of Hell. Jesus clearly says that the Kingdom of God can be taken from us for our refusal to accept its fruits in our life.

The parables that Jesus related to teach about judgment and the reality of Hell are often quite vivid, even shocking in their harsh imagery; they are certainly not stories for the easily offended. They are also difficult to take for those who have tried to refashion Jesus into a pleasant, affirming sort of fellow rather than the uncompromising prophet and Lord that He is.

No one spoke of Hell more often than Jesus did. Attempting to reconcile these bluntly presented teachings with the God who loves us so much points to the deeper mysteries of justice and mercy and their interaction with human freedom. This point must be clear, however: no one loves us more than Jesus does and yet no one spoke of Hell and its certainty more often than Jesus did. No one warned us of judgment and its inescapable consequences more often than did Jesus. Out of love for us, Jesus spoke of death, judgment, Heaven, and Hell. As one who loves us, He wants none of us to be lost. So He warns us; He speaks the truth in love.

Historically, this parable had meaning for the ancient Jews that had already come to pass. God had established and cared for his vine, Israel. He had given them every blessing; He had led them out of slavery and established them in the Promised Land. Yet when searching for the fruits of righteousness He found little. God sent many prophets to warn them and to call forth those fruits, but they were persecuted, rejected, and even murdered. Finally, God sent His Son, but He too was murdered. There comes forth a sentence: He will put those wretched men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the proper times … Therefore, I say to you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit. By 70 A.D., Jerusalem was destroyed; the Temple was never to be rebuilt.

The Jewish people are not singled out in the Scriptures., All of us, like them, are a vineyard. If we are not careful, their story will be ours. Like the ancients, we have a decision to make. Either we accept the offer of the Kingdom and thereby yield to the Lord’s work and bring forth a harvest, or we face judgment for rejecting that offer. God will not force us to accept His Kingship or His Kingdom. We have a choice to make and that choice will be at the heart of the judgment we will face.

Let’s take a closer look at today’s Gospel and apply it to the vineyard of our lives.

I.  THE SOWING – The text says, There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a hedge around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a tower. Then he leased it to tenants and went on a journey.

Note the care and providence of the landowner (God), who has given each of us life and every kind of grace. The image of the vineyard indicates that we have the capacity to bear fruit. This signifies the many gifts, talents, and abilities that we have been given by God.

The hedge calls to mind the protection of His grace and mercy. Though the world can be a tempting place, God has put a hedge of protection around us that is sufficient to keep us safe from serious sin, if we accept its power.

But a hedge implies limits. Although God’s protective graces are sufficient, we must live within limits, within the hedge that keeps the wild animals of temptation from devouring the fruits of our vine.

The tower is symbolic of the Church, which stands guard like a watchman warning those who live within the boundaries of the hedge of dangers. The tower (the Church) is stands as a sign of contradiction to the hostile world outside, which seeks to devour the fruit of the vineyard.

That the landowner leases the vineyard is a reminder that we are not our own; we have been purchased at great cost. God and God alone created all these things we call ours. We are but stewards, even of our own lives. We belong to God; we must render an account to Him and show forth fruits.

This point must be emphasized: God has given us great care. He has given us His grace and mercy—His very self. As the text from Isaiah says, What more was there to do for my vineyard that I had not done? God loves us and does not want us to be lost. He gives us every grace and mercy we need. The Lord says, As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel? (Ez 33:11) This must be emphasized because we grumble too quickly about the coming judgment. God offers every possible grace to save us. It is up to us to accept or reject His help.

II.  THE SEEKING – The text says, When vintage time drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to obtain his produce.

There come moments in our lives when God looks for fruits. Remember that He is the owner and the fruits are rightfully His. He has done everything to bring forth the fruit and now deserves to see the produce of His grace in the vineyard of our life, which is His own.

What fruits does the Lord seek? The values and fruits of the Kingdom: faith, justice, mercy, peace, forgiveness, chastity, faithfulness, generosity, love of the poor, love of one’s family and friends—even love of one’s enemy—kindness, truth, sincerity, courage to speak the truth and witness to the faith, and an evangelical spirit.

The text says that the owner sent his servants to obtain the produce. Here also is evidence of God’s mercy. Historically, God’s “servants” were the prophets. God sent them not only to bring forth the harvest of justice, but also to clarify and apply His Word, and to remind and warn sinners. God patiently sent many generations of prophets to help Israel.

It is the same for us. God sends us many “prophets.” Perhaps they are priests or religious, parents, catechists, teachers, or role models; but they are all part of God’s plan to warn us to bear fruit and to help call forth and obtain some of those fruits. Each in his own way says, as St. Paul did in today’s second reading, Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me (Phil 4:8-9).

Yes, God seeks fruits, and rightfully so. He sends His servants, the prophets, to help call them forth in us.

III. THE SINNING – The text says, But the tenants seized the servants and one they beat, another they killed, and a third they stoned. Again he sent other servants, more numerous than the first ones, but they treated them in the same way. Finally, he sent his son to them, thinking, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and acquire his inheritance.’ They seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.

Despite all that the owner has done by sending His servants, the tenants reject them all, and with increasing vehemence; their hearts grow harder. The landowner even goes so far to demonstrate his love and his will to save that he sends his own son, but they drag him outside the vineyard and kill him. Yes, Jesus died outside the city gates, murdered for seeking the fruit of faith from the tenants of the vineyard.

What of us? There are too many who reject God’s prophets. They do so with growing vehemence and abusive treatment. Many people today despise the Church, the Scriptures, parents, friends, and Christians in general who seek to clarify and apply God’s Word and to warn of the need to be ready. Repeated resistance can cause a hardening of the heart to set in. In the end, there are some—in fact many according to Jesus—who effectively kill the life of God within them and utterly reject the Kingdom of God and its values. They do not want to live lives that show forth forgiveness, mercy, love of enemies, chastity, justice, love of the poor, generosity, kindness, and witness to the Lord and the truth.

We ought to be very sober because there are many, many people today who are like this. Some have merely drifted away and are indifferent. (Some have been hurt or are struggling to believe, but at least they remain open.) Still others are passionate in their hatred for the Church, Scripture, and anything to do with God, explicitly rejecting many of the values of His kingdom. We must continue in our attempts to reach them.

IV. THE SENTENCE – The text says, What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes? They answered him, ‘He will put those wretched men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the proper times.’ Therefore, I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.

Here, then, is the sentence: If you don’t want the Kingdom, you don’t have to have it. On one level, it would seem everyone wants the Kingdom. In other words, everyone who has any faith in God at all wants to go to Heaven. But what is Heaven? It is the fullness of the Kingdom of God. It is not just a place of our making. It is that place where the will of God, the Kingdom’s values, are in full flower. Many, however, do not want to live chastely, do not want to forgive, do not want to be generous, do not want to love the poor, do not want God or anyone else at the center, do not want to worship God.

Self exclusion – Having rejected the Kingdom’s values, and having rejected the prophets who warned them, many simply exclude themselves from the Kingdom. God will not force the Kingdom on anyone. If, even after God’s grace and mercy and His pleading through the prophets, you don’t want it, you don’t have to have it. It will be taken from you and given to those who do.

The existence of Hell is rooted in God’s respect for our freedom, for we have been called to love. Love must be free, not compelled. Therefore, Hell has to be a reality. It is the “alternative arrangement” that others make for themselves in their rejection of the Kingdom of God. At our death, our decision is forever fixed.

Yes, Hell and the judgment that precedes it are clearly taught in today’s Gospel and in many other places (e.g., Matt 23:33; Lk 16:23; Mk 43:47; Matt 5:29; Matt 10:28; Matt 18:9; Matt 5:22; Matt 11:23; Matt 7:23; Matt 25:41; Mk 9:48; Luke 13:23; Rev 22:15). These teachings come from a Lord who loves us and wants to save us, but who is also well aware of our stubborn and stiff-necked ways.

What is a healthy response to this teaching? To work earnestly for the salvation of souls, beginning with our own. Nothing has destroyed evangelization and missionary activity more than the modern notion that everyone goes to Heaven. Nothing has so destroyed zeal for the moral life and hunger for the Sacraments, prayer, and Scripture. And nothing is so contrary to Scripture as the dismissal of Hell with the false notion that all are going to Heaven.

But rather than panic or despair, we must get to work and be more urgent in our quest to win souls for Christ. Whom does the Lord want you to work with to draw back to Him? Pray and ask Him: “Who, Lord?” The Lord does not want any to be lost. He still sends His prophets (this means you) to draw back anyone who will listen. Will you work for the Lord? Will you work for souls?

There is a day of judgment looming and we must be made ready for it by the Lord. Will you be urgent about it, for yourself and others?

If You Truly Want to Have Something, Lose It – A Mediation on the Economics of the Kingdom

St. Lawrence Distributing Alms, Fra Angelico

The Feast of St. Lawrence, deacon and martyr, contains an important teaching on the economics of the Kingdom of God. As you might guess, they are quite paradoxical. The teachings come to us both through St. Lawrence’s life and the particular readings selected for his feast.

When a persecution broke out in Rome in 257 A.D. (under Valerian), the Prefect of Rome suspected that the Church had a great fortune hidden away. He ordered Lawrence to bring the Church’s treasure to him. Lawrence promised to do so in three days’ time. Then, going through the city, he gathered together all the poor and sick supported by the Church.

When the Prefect arrived, Lawrence presented them, saying, “This is the Church’s treasure.” In great anger, the Prefect condemned Lawrence to a cruel death: He was tied to an iron grill and gradually roasted over a slow fire. The Lord gave Lawrence so much strength that he is said to have quipped, “Turn me over; I’m done on this side.”

The first economics lesson comes from Lawrence’s response to the Prefect of Rome’s demand: In the Kingdom of God, the most important things aren’t things at all. People—especially the poor, afflicted, and needy—are precious to God. It is our awareness of our own poverty, neediness, and sickness that unlocks the mercy and grace of God.

The second lesson comes from the reading for the Feast of St. Lawrence: If you want to truly have something, give it away.

St. Paul writes,

Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. … As it is written: “He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” The one who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed and increase the harvest of your righteousness (2 Cor. 9:6, 9-10).

Note the promise that if we are generous in sowing the seed of alms to the poor, we will have more, not less. In effect, the Lord teaches that if He can trust us with a small matter like money, He can trust us with larger ones such as the graces that lead to righteousness.

Further, the implied reasoning is that if God can count on us to use something like money well (in accordance with His call to generosity), then He will entrust us with even more money (often giving us more). If we give, God will multiply what we have so that we can give even more. This applies to both money and holiness.

This is also taught in both Luke’s and Matthew’s Gospels:

  • Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. (Luke 6:38)
  • Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Mat 6:20-21)

We may wonder how we can store treasure in Heaven. Do we send it up in a balloon or a rocket? Surely not. No, we put it in the hands of the poor! In this way, it is stored up in Heaven. Thus Jesus advises,

And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings (Luke 16:9).

Worldly wealth will fail us. When it does and our judgment day comes, the needy and poor whom we have assisted will welcome us and tell the Lord to be merciful in judging us. The Lord hears the cries, prayers, and recommendations of the poor. In this world, the poor need us, but in the next (especially on judgment day), we will need them. We are well advised to be generous to the poor, for God rewards us not merely with more money, but with righteousness, which is the only wealth that matters on judgment day.

The Lord also warns,

One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? (Luke 16:10-12)

Do you want to really have something? Give it away in love; if you are faithful unto the end, it will be yours for eternity. Indeed, it will multiply your fruitfulness. It is what we give away that we truly have. This is what Jesus means when He says, Whoever has will be given more, but whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has will be taken away from him (Lk 8:18).

How different and paradoxical all this is to our worldly thinking, which too easily thinks of wealth as a zero-sum game: if I give something away, I no longer have it. The Lord, however, refutes that. He says that if you give something away, then you truly have it. Doing so shows that He can trust us; He will respond by multiplying our life, perhaps with grater abundance, but surely with righteousness.

The third lesson comes from the Gospel for the Feast of St. Lawrence: What is true with our wealth is also true regarding our very life.

Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life (Jn 12:24-25).

Here is another paradox. Do you really want your life? Is so, then lose it. Die to your present self so that you can become your true self. Stop clinging to your worldly notions about what your life should be about: wealth, power, beauty, popularity. Die to that and rise to something far greater than you could ever ask for or imagine yourself to be. Your greatness is in knowing God and inn being caught up in a deep union with Him.

To attain this, however, you must be as willing to fall to the earth like a seed and die to your current self; then you can rise to something far more glorious. Consider the tiny acorn: It can only become a mighty oak if it falls to the earth and dies to being a mere acorn. This is even more the case with us!

Each of us is a seed of glory, but for the glory to be unlocked we must lose and die to what is. This is not something that waits until the day we physically die. Rather, it refers to a spiritual dying, to self and the priorities of this world, that occurs throughout our life. Only in this way can the Kingdom of God begin bearing true and lasting fruit. Our physical death is only the end of a lifelong process. If we die to this world by detesting its mere trinkets, we attain to the treasure of eternal life. The word “eternal” refers not merely to the length of life, but to its fullness. Lose what is merely passing and partial and gain what is glorious and godly, better and beautiful.

These are the economics of the Kingdom of God. They are paradoxical to be sure, but true and glorious!

Heaven is an Acquired Taste

There is a tendency today to forget that Heaven is an acquired taste; not everyone wants what God offers. While everyone wants to be happy, often happiness is conceived of in an egocentric way. Heaven is thought of as a personally designed paradise where we will be happy on our own terms.

But that is not what Heaven is. Heaven is the Kingdom of God in all its fullness. Its values and qualities are manifold but include many things that are not immediately desirable to those who live with hearts and minds that are worldly and sinful. The Kingdom of God features ideas that are often unpopular: love of one’s enemies, generosity, love of the poor, and chastity. Heaven features God and His teachings at the center, not me and what I think. Yes, Heaven is a place where every aspect of God’s law is perfectly manifested. Yet many find some of these things not only undesirable but downright obnoxious; some even call them hateful and intolerant. To those in darkness, the light seems harsh.

Yes, Heaven is an acquired taste. This helps to explain that the existence of Hell is not due to a “mean” God trying to remove people whom He doesn’t like from His presence. It is a respectful acceptance by God of the free decision made by those who do not want what He is offering. They do not want to think differently or even be told what to think. They do not want to give up their favorite sins or have their hearts purified of unruly or disordered appetites. In the end, God will not force us to love what and whom He loves. He will not force us to live in His Kingdom.

In his book The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis makes this very point. In it, many people come to “tour” Heaven, some of whom do not like what they find. Some struggle to adjust, others are resentful and say, in effect, “No thanks.” If you have not read it, I strongly encourage you to do so; it is an important book to read and ponder.

In yesterday’s Gospel, the Lord inquires after our hearts by giving us the images of buried treasure and a pearl of great price. The one who finds them goes and sells all he has in order to obtain them. Does this describe your heart? Does it describe the hearts of our family, friends, and compatriots? Often, the answer is no. Most people are not will to give up everything for the Kingdom of Heaven. Our hearts are disordered. We easily desire things that are sinful and harmful, and not so much those that are good, holy, and lasting. We prefer apparent goods to true goods. If we are faithful, the Lord can get us to that disposition of heart—but it takes time. At least grant Him your willingness to get to that place!

In yesterday’s Gospel the Lord also speaks of a dragnet. While he uses it as an image for the final judgment, that final judgement ultimately depends on the myriad judgments we make in our daily life. As you haul the net of your life ashore, what do you keep, finding it valuable, and what do you discard? Do you value what God is offering and retain it or do you more highly value other things in the net? What do you keep and what do you discard? The answers to questions like these points to your place in the net at the last judgment. God will gather into His Kingdom those who have desired it, not those who have rejected it.

Give the Lord your heart. Open when He knocks. Let Him create a desire in you for the very things He is offering. In the end, Heaven is an acquired taste, more so than we commonly imagine. Let God give you a taste for better and higher things.

This song says, “I’m trying to make heaven my home!”

Give Me Jesus – A Sermon for the 17th Sunday of the Year

Scots’ Church, Melbourne

The Gospel today asks a fundamental question: “What is it that you value most?” In other words, He’s asking us what we want most. We tend to answer questions like this the way we think we should, rather than genuinely. When we’re with the doctor (and Jesus is our doctor) our best bet is to answer honestly so that we can begin a true healing process. The fact is, we all need a heart transplant; we need a new heart, one that desires God and the things awaiting us in Heaven more so than any earthly thing.

Let’s take a look at this Gospel, which sets forth in three fundamental movements the picture and price of the Kingdom of God along with a peril that reminds us that we must make a choice.

I. The Picture – The Gospel uses three images for the kingdom, two of which we will look at here (a buried treasure and a pearl), and the third of which (a net) we will examine later. Both the treasure and pearl symbols are used elsewhere in Scripture. Studying those other passages can be helpful in fine-tuning our understanding of the gift of the Kingdom, which Jesus is discussing in today’s Gospel.

Buried Treasure – The concept of treasure (buried in the case of today’s Gospel) is mentioned elsewhere by Jesus:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matt 6:19-21).

Although we tend to think of treasure as a bunch of “stuff,” the image of treasure that Jesus uses in today’s Gospel is more a symbol for the heart and for our deepest desires, because our treasure is linked to our heart. One of the greatest gifts that God offers us is the gift a new heart, one that values most what He offers: holiness and Himself. One of the most fundamental prophetic texts of the Old Testament announces what Jesus has fulfilled:

Oh, my people, I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws (Ezekiel 36:25-27).

The great treasure of the Kingdom of God gives us a new heart, by choosing it our heart is changed. To have a new heart is to experience our desires changing. We become less focused on passing, worldly things and more interested in the lasting treasure of the Kingdom of Heaven. We begin to love what and whom God loves. We begin to love holiness, justice, chastity, goodness, righteousness, and truth. We begin to love our spouse, family, the poor, and even our enemies the way God loves them. Our heart becomes alive with joy and zeal for the Kingdom of God and an evangelical spirit impels us to speak what we know to be true.

Yes, the buried, hidden treasure of the Kingdom of God unlocks our heart, bringing new life coursing through our veins, through our very soul. In choosing this treasure we get a new heart, for where our treasure is, there also will be our heart.

A Pearl – The second image comes from the Wisdom tradition, in which holy Wisdom is likened to a pearl. Here, too, is described one of the most precious gifts of the Kingdom of God: a new mind through holy Wisdom. What is this new mind? It is one that begins to think more and more as God does, one that shares His priorities and vision, one that sees as He does; it is the mind of Christ (cf 1 Cor 2:16). With this new mind we see through and reject worldly thinking, priorities, and agendas. We come to rejoice in God’s truth and to grasp more deeply its beauty and sensibility. What a precious gift the new mind is, thinking with God and having the mind of Christ!

So here are two precious manifestations of the Kingdom of God: a new heart and a new mind, which is really another way of saying, “a whole new self.” God is offering us a new life, a new self, a complete transformation.

II. The Price – What are these offerings of the Kingdom worth and what do they ultimately cost? The answer is clear in today’s Gospel: they cost, and are worth, everything. Regarding the hidden treasure and the pearl, the text says that both men went and sold all they had for them. They were willing to forsake everything for these precious items.

Be careful not to reduce this Gospel to a moralism. Notice that these men were eager to go and sell, to forsake, everything else. They did this not so much because they had to, but because they wanted to. They wanted to pay the price and did so with eagerness because they were so enamored of the glory they had found. Here is the gift to seek from the Lord: a willing and eager heart for the Kingdom of God, so eager that we are willing to forsake anything and everything for it.

For ultimately the Kingdom of God does cost everything and we will not fully inherit it until we are fully done with this world and its claims on our heart.

The gift to seek from the Lord is not that we forsake the world with sullen faces and depressed spirits, as if we were paying taxes. No! The gift to seek is that we, like these men, be so taken by the glory of God and His kingdom that we are more than willing to set aside anything that gets in our way, that we are so eager for the things of the Kingdom that loss of the world’s intoxicating trinkets means almost nothing.

Do you see? This is the gift: a heart that appreciates the true worth of the Kingdom of God such that no price is too high. Scripture says elsewhere,

  What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ (Phil 3:8).

  For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison (2 Cor 4:17).

  I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us (Rom 8:18).

  No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him (1 Cor 2:9).

  But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus (Phil 3:13-14).

Yes, the Kingdom of God is more than worth any price we must pay, and ultimately we will pay all for it. Pray for an eager and willing spirit that comes from appreciating the unsurpassed worth of the Kingdom!

III. The Peril – The final movement contains a warning about our upcoming judgment. Ultimately, we either want the Kingdom of God or we don’t. Hence the Lord speaks of a net that captures everything (referring to our summons to the judgment). Those who want the Kingdom and have accepted its value and price will be gathered in; those who do not want the Kingdom of God and do not accept its value will be cast aside.

There are clearly some who do not value the Kingdom. They may desire “heaven,” but it is one of their own making, not the real Heaven. The true Heaven is the Kingdom of God in all its fullness. The Kingdom of God includes things like forgiveness, mercy, justice, chastity, love of the poor, love of one’s enemies, and the celebration of what is good, true, and beautiful. The Kingdom of God has God, not man, at its center.

Yes, there are many who neither want nor value some or even most of these things. When the net is drawn in, our decision is made final. Though we may wish for a fairy tale ending, one in which opponents of the Kingdom suddenly love it, God quite clearly says that at the judgment one’s decision for or against the Kingdom becomes final; it is fixed forever.

An old song says, “Better choose the Lord today, for tomorrow very well might be too late.” Thus we are warned that the judgment looms and that we ought to be earnest in seeking a heart from the Lord that eagerly desires the Kingdom and appreciates its worth above all people and all things. In the end, we get what we want. Either we will have chosen the Kingdom or not.

Pray for a new heart, one that values the Kingdom of Heaven above all else. We ought to consider ourselves warned.

The Gospel today is about what we truly value, and is presented in three movements.

This song says, “You can have all this world, just give me Jesus.”

Practical Principles for Proclaiming the Kingdom

July2-blogIn the Gospel today, Jesus gives a number of practical principles for those who would proclaim the Kingdom. Let’s look at each of them in turn.

I. Serious – The text says, At that time the Lord appointed seventy-two others whom he sent ahead of him in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit. He said to them, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.”

The Lord describes here a very serious situation. There is an abundant harvest, but there are few willing to work at it. Consider the harvest in our own day. Look at the whole human race and think about how many don’t yet know the Lord. There are over 7 billion people on the planet; 1.1 billion are Catholics (many of them lukewarm) and about 750 million are other Christians. This means that more than 2/3 of people on this planet don’t know and worship the Lord Jesus. Here in the U.S., 75% of Catholics don’t even go to Mass.

There are many people today who shrug at this, presuming it’s no big deal because nearly everyone will be saved anyway. Never mind that Jesus said the opposite quite explicitly: many if not most are heading down the road of loss and damnation (e.g. Matt 7:13; Luke 13:24). This myopic presumption and false optimism is unbiblical and, frankly, slothful.

The Second Vatican Council has this to say:

Those can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience. Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life. Whatever good or truth is found amongst them is looked upon by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel. She knows that it is given by Him who enlightens all men so that they may finally have life. But very often men, deceived by the Evil One, have become vain in their reasoning and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator. Wherefore to promote the glory of God and procure the salvation of all of these, and mindful of the command of the Lord, “Preach the Gospel to every creature”, the Church fosters the missions with care and attention (Lumen Gentium 16).

Note that the council Fathers say that very often people are deceived by the Evil One. Did you notice those words, “very often”? The great mass of “ignorant” humanity is not walking into Heaven. Rather, they are deceived and have let themselves be deceived.

Jesus himself said, This is the judgment: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil (John 3:19).

Yes, the need is urgent. We need to be serious about this. There are many even among our own families and friends who have left the practice of the faith and who are somewhere on the continuum from indifference to outright hostility toward the Holy Faith. We must work to restore them to the Church and to the Lord; otherwise, they are likely to be lost.

Scripture also speaks of many who walk in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed (Eph 4:17-19).

There is work to do, and we must get serious about it. Sadly, too many have not. The decline of the West has happened on our watch. Too many have thought that evangelization is a job for someone else. Welcome to what the silence of the saints has produced.

Note, too, that while this translation says, ask the Lord of the Harvest, the Greek is more emphatic and personal. The Greek word is δεήθητε (deethete, from deomai), which means to beg as if binding oneself. In other words, we are so urgent in this request that we are willing to involve our very self in the solution. This is not a problem just for the Lord or for other people; it is so serious that I am willing to go myself! Do you feel this way about evangelization? It’s time to get serious; many are being lost!

II. Sobriety – The text says, Go on your way; behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves.

We must be cognizant that we are being sent into a word that is hostile to the faith. We should not despair or be dismissive of this hostility; we must be sober and clear about it.

Yes, there is an enemy. He is organized, influential, and powerful. Nevertheless, we are not counseled to fear, but to sobriety. We must be aware, but unafraid. Scripture says,

  1. And this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.  Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world (1 John 4:3 -4).
  2. Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.  Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over (Ps 23:4-5).
  3. But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. This will be a time for you to bear testimony. Settle it therefore in your minds, not to meditate beforehand how to answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict (Luke 21:12-15).
  4. For the accuser (Satan) of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night (Rev 12:10).

Therefore, we must be sober without being afraid or discouraged. There is an enemy and the conflict is real, but the victory is already ours.

And old song says,

Harder yet may be the fight,
Right may often yield to might,
Wickedness awhile may reign,
Satan’s cause may seem to gain;
There is a God that rules above,
With hand of power and heart of love,
If I am right He’ll fight my battle,
I shall have peace some day.

III. Serenity – The text says, Into whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this household.” If a peaceful person lives there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you. … Whatever town you enter and they do not receive you, go out into the streets and say, “The dust of your town that clings to our feet, even that we shake off against you.” Yet know this: the kingdom of God is at hand. I tell you, it will be more tolerable for Sodom on that day than for that town.

Note how the Lord counsels us to shake off the dust in the face of rejection. We ought not to take it personally. We ought to remember that it is Jesus they are rejecting, not us. Further, we ought to be serene in the knowledge that just because someone is angry at us, it does not mean that we have done anything wrong.

Yes, we are to be serene and secure in the truth of the message and not consumed with how people react. We need not be strident or argumentative, we don’t have to raise our voices, we don’t need to be fearful, angry, or resentful. All we need to do is to preach the truth serenely and leave the judgment up to God.

IV. Simplicity – The text says, Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals; and greet no one along the way.

One of the things that keeps many of us from fully preaching the Kingdom is that we are encumber by so many things and so many activities. The Lord tells us to travel light, for then we shall be unencumbered, available, and free. Too often today, spiritual truths are neglected and crowded out by worldly concerns. Parents will make sure to get their kids to the soccer game, but Sunday school and Mass are neglected. Likewise, many of us are too wealthy, too invested in this world. As a result, we are not free to preach because we feel we have too much to lose.

The Lord calls us to simplicity in three areas:

  1. Purse – The Lord says to carry no moneybag. Riches root us in this world and make us slaves of its ways. Riches are bondage; poverty (freedom from greed) is a kind of freedom, because those who are poorer have less to lose. Scripture says, But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and hurtful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evils; it is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs (1 Timothy 6:9-10).
  2. Possessions – The Lord says to carry no sack, no extra sandals. We are encouraged to resist the tendency to accumulate possessions. These things weigh us down. On account of them we are forever caught up with acquiring the latest fashions, the most recent upgrades, and the most deluxe models. And then all this stuff requires insurance and maintenance. Too much stuff roots us in the world and distracts us from more essential things. Too much stuff, will wear you out. Don’t carry around too much stuff. The Lord advises: travel light; simplify. Scripture says, Better is a little with the fear of the LORD than great treasure and trouble with it (Proverbs 15:16).
  3. People – The text says to greet no one along the way. We have to admit that some folks in our life do not help us in our Christian walk or duty. Instead, they hinder us, tempt us, or simply get us to focus on foolish and passing things. In the Gospel passage, the Lord has something for the seventy-two to do and He wants them to get there and do it. This is not a time to stop along the way and chat with every passerby. The same is true for us. We ought to be careful of the company we keep and ponder if our friends and acquaintances help us or hinder us in our task of proclaiming the Kingdom. Scripture warns, Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals” (1 Cor 15:33). And again, I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with immoral men … I wrote to you not to associate with any one who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber—not even to eat with such a one (1 Cor 5:9).

Thus the Lord counsels us to travel light, to simplify. Our many possessions weigh us down and make life difficult. Look at the opulence of today, yet notice all the stress. Simplify; travel light. Also, avoid complicating and compromising relationships.

V. Stability – The Lord says, Stay in the same house and eat and drink what is offered to you, for the laborer deserves his payment. Do not move about from one house to another.

In other words, find out where home is, where the Lord wants you, and then stay there. Stop all this modern running around. Develop in-depth relationships and stability. In the old days, long-term relationships served as the basis for the communication of the truths of the faith, not just between individuals, but across generations and in close-knit communities.  In today’s mobile society, things tend to be more shallow.

The Lord counsels that we stay close to home, that we frequent holy places. We ought to do everything we can to find stability and roots. It is in stable contexts and deep roots, deep relationships, that the Gospel is best preached. Many parents today seldom have dinner with their children. Indeed, with all the running around there is little time left to teach or preach the faith!

Scripture warns,

  1. She is loud and wayward, for her feet do not stay at home; now in the street, now in the market (Proverbs 7:11-12).
  2. Like a bird that strays from its nest, is a man who strays from his home (Proverbs 27:8).
  3. Sensitivity – Jesus says, Whatever town you enter and they welcome you, eat what is set before you, cure the sick in it and say to them, “The kingdom of God is at hand for you.”

Be gracious and kind. Simple human kindness and a gracious demeanor go a long way toward opening doors for the Gospel. Eat what is set before you. In other words, wherever possible reverence the local culture; build on common ground; find and affirm what is right. Don’t just be the critic. Even a broken clock is right twice a day. Sure there are ways we can be gracious. Little kindnesses are long remembered and pave the way for trust and openness.

That the sick should be cured is clear in itself. But in a more extended sense, we see how kindness, patience, and understanding are also healing. We must speak the truth, but we must learn to speak it in love, not merely in confrontation or harsh criticism.

Simple kindness and sensitivity are counseled here: eat what is set before you.

VII. Soul Saving Joy – The text says, The seventy-two returned rejoicing, and said, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us because of your name.” Jesus said, “I have observed Satan fall like lightning from the sky. Behold, I have given you the power to ‘tread upon serpents’ and scorpions and upon the full force of the enemy and nothing will harm you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”

They have the joy of success that day. There will be other days of rejection and even martyrdom. That’s why Jesus counsels us to have a deeper source of joy: merely that they have been called and have their names written in Heaven.

There is no greater evidence to the truth of our faith than joyful and transformed Christians. Mother Theresa said, “Joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls.”

Thus the Lord counsels that we cultivate joy at what He is doing for us, how He is delivering us and giving us power over the demons in our life. There is no greater joy than to remember what the Lord has done for us, that He has saved us and written our names in Heaven. Yes, remember! Have so present in your mind and heart what the Lord has done for you so that you are grateful, joyful, and different! This is soul-saving joy, a joy that will save your soul and the souls of others as well.

Here, then, are seven principles for proclaiming the Kingdom. Now let’s get serious; there’s work to be done; many are being lost. It’s time to cast our nets!