Trinity 8: Riches in heaven
Have you been following the Commonwealth Games? There seems to be little else on television, so I am sure you have been almost unable to avoid them. If like me you live with someone who doesn’t like any sports this can make life difficult. It is amazing the value that the athletes place on their performance – I think it must take a particular mindset to train as much as is necessary to be able to achieve what they do. I can see that there must be a thrill in winning, but for me it would not be worth the effort needed to possibly get there. Fortunately, we can’t all be the same! We have also been watching this week Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak competing for something that they both very much want although they may only find out whether it is a treasure or not when they have won (or not won) it. It could be said that they are in competition for power, whilst for the athletes it is glory. I am very glad that I don’t particularly want either.
In our following of the story of Abraham, we are learning interesting things about how to pray. Two weeks ago we heard Abraham negotiating with God over the destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. The passage we heard today comes a little earlier in Abraham’s story when he seems to be downright angry with God, and is telling Him so in no uncertain terms. And yet, God gives him the most wonderful promise – that not only will he and Sarah have a son, but that through that son his descendants will one day be too numerous to count. I have on one occasion seen a 1988 edition of the BBC That’s Life programme which told of the work of Nicholas Winton with the Kindertransport bringing Jewish children from Czechoslovakia who had fled there from Nazi Germany to safety. The programme particularly moving, as not only was Nicholas Winton present in the theatre, but unknown to him, the rest of the audience was made up entirely of people he had rescued and their descendants and this was revealed to him at the end. The sheer number of people showing their gratitude was very moving. I believe that there is a similar scene at the end of the film Schindler’s List and they give us an idea of the scale of God’s promise to Abraham.
Our theme from the two readings seems to be value, and we are being asked to think about what we most value in life. It is clear that Abraham placed the highest value on having a son. Jesus is telling us that things on earth will lose their value over time and that we should look for something of heavenly value that will last. This goes very much against the current thinking, when individual rights seem to be valued above almost anything. Advertisements constantly tell us that we should have something because it is the best, and ‘we are worth it’, and aspiring for things to own drives much of our economy. On the day I wrote this, the Bank of England released figures forecasting increasing inflation and economic gloom for this country for the next year or more, which makes Jesus promise of treasure in heaven much more attractive as any money we may have in the bank loses value constantly by the rate of inflation.
Jesus’ teaching seems to fall into three sections in our gospel reading today – in the first part he is talking about considering what we value, and to an extent seems to be advising an earthly decluttering of our lives. The teaching that we have just heard follows immediately after the better-known passage reminding us that God knows what we need, and cares for us much more that the wild birds or the wild flowers and grasses. And yet his followers still seem to be worried. He then goes on to remind us that we must learn to trust and allow things to happen at the right time, giving the two illustrations of slaves awaiting the return of their master from a wedding feast – an occasion that in those days could last for several days, and of a householder whose home is broken into. The theme of these two analogies seems to be that we need to be ready as the timing will not be made known to us in advance. I am sure you remember many stories of people who have thought that they had calculated the timing of Jesus’ return, and have sold all that they possess in order to be waiting at the proper place and time. So far, as far as I am aware, nobody has got the sums right for that one yet, so we need to continue to keep ourselves in a state of readiness for when our Lord and Master comes. This is hard teaching for those of us who would always rather put off doing things until they become urgent!
There is a promise in Jesus’ teaching here which must have horrified those who heard it, and which I had not noticed before. Jesus says that the householder who finds his slaves alert and ready at whatever hour he returns will himself wait on those slaves. And yet Jesus is perhaps prefiguring for the disciples the time to come when he will wash their feet. Jesus is not asking us to do anything that he himself was not prepared to do.
We are being told three things in today’s readings – that we can and should be honest with God, and tell Him what we are really thinking – and let’s face it, He does already know, so there is little point in trying to hide things. That we must live simply – and any excess that we have needs to be shared, but above all, we must be watchful and ready because we will not know when he will return and bring measurable time to an end.