9 Trinity 2008

The Ninth Sunday After Trinity
July 19, 2008
Verses 18 & 19 of St Luke 15:11-32
“Don’t Squander It!”

A fable, as one of Aesop’s fables for instance, of its very nature is not factual, but fictitious and fanciful, usually whimsical, and it almost always conveys a moral teaching. A parable, like a fable, can tell us some-thing about real life, in a way that captures not only the attention and not simply one’s imagination, but more importantly speaks to the heart, the mind, the will of the hearer.

The parable Jesus told about the man who had the two sons was not told to entertain, but to teach, to inspire and to motivate those who heard Jesus speak that day. It was a parable about the behavior of two young people toward their father. About the younger who demanded his inheritance up front, got it, and then went off and squandered it. And about the elder brother who was filled with resentment toward his brother and his father, because he forgave, welcomed home and seemingly rewarded the younger when he returned home empty-handed, and because the elder felt that his father had taken his own faithfulness and loyalty for granted, lo those many years!

Occasionally, young people have been known to disappoint, even to break the hearts of their parents. (Jesus’ parable, in that respect, was telling us nothing new). Although the apple does not fall far from the tree; some parents are truly shocked at the behavior of their children – and will exclaim, ‘Well, they certainly did not learn such behavior from us!’ On the other hand, often times young people are not given an even chance to prove their worth and end up being judged unfairly by parents and by others including their peers.

We’ve pretty much done what we have done to set an example for them to imitate, perhaps even to blaze a trail for them to follow. We’ve invested in them enormously of our love, our time and our treasure. We’ve borne them, loved them and nurtured them, comforted them, fed them, sheltered them, clothed them, and saved and sacrificed for them. We’ve seen to their proper schooling and education to give them a good start in life.

We’ve disciplined them and tried to guide them, imparting to them our wisdom, sharing with them our knowledge and expertise, encouraging them to discover their potential and to realize their own hopes and dreams for the future. And hopefully, we’ve brought them up to love and serve the Lord and others for His sake.

The fact is whether parents and other adults approve or disapprove of young peoples’ choice in friends, fashion, food, music, amusements or career choices – one day those same young people are going to rule the world! Young people are going to carry on what we have started. They will not only assume control of the family inheritance, but also assume control of the government and the direction and policies of our nation. Today’s young people are going to take over control of our schools and universities, our banks and securities institutions, our companies and corporations.

While we still have the time we may adopt all of the policies we please, but lets face it: how those policies are carried out or modified or perhaps scuttled depends on them! Your future, advancing years and your social security check, and the extent to which you are going to comfortably enjoy them, is going to depend greatly on them. So it might be well for us to pay young people due respect and some careful attention.

This past week, Sydney, Australia has been host to thousands of Roman Catholic young people who have gathered in that great city to join Pope Benedict XVI for World Youth Day. They’re comprised a goodly portion of young people from many respective countries of the world, and who are the very future of the Christian world. It is most encouraging to see so many thousands, yes thousands of young people from so many different countries join together in joyous worship to show their loyalty to Jesus Christ as the Lord of their lives and to their Catholic Faith as the Center of their lives. To their added credit, many of them earned their own way to get themselves over to Australia. They went there to share in the Joy of Jesus! And because they want to make the world a better place for all to live in, a world where peace and brotherhood prevail.

Their attitude is so different from the selfish attitude that is solely interested in getting rich, living well and dying happy. The story is told of a country pastor who with Bible tucked under his arm, called on a lady, talking with her on her doorstep. Suddenly her teenage son rudely ran between them. The pastor – a little agitated by the boy’s rudeness – taking Bible in hand called after the youngster, ‘You need to read this book!’ ‘No thanks, Reverend,’ hollered the boy over his shoulder, ‘What I want is to get rich, live a long life and die happy!’ He wants money, time to enjoy its comforts and finally, a reasonably comfortable end.

But that attitude is not to be found simply amongst many young people. I’m sorry to say, it enlists many of us oldsters too! I think we all want to live a long life, or at least a reasonably healthy one. Don’t we all want to die happy? Or at least peaceably, in our sleep! I don’t think many of us really expect to get rich! Though for some reason, some continue to play the Lotto each week!

The initial comment by that boy rudely rushing by is understandable. He had seen those attitudes reflected in his parents, and he was simply imitating, mimicking what he had seen and heard. And if before the distraction of video games, he was like many adults and watched all those television game shows that award substantial amounts of cash and dazzling prizes, small wonder that the temptation for easy money influences and motivates so many.

For thousands of years the truly wise have been warning the foolish about seeking quick riches. So, what is wrong with getting rich quick? It is wrong because it is misleading. There are better things to enrich our lives! King Solomon wanted only WISDOM. Wisdom so that he could rule the Children of Israel justly and with righteousness. That is what he prayed for and it pleased the Lord. He did not ask for fortune or for fame: only for wisdom. And his prayer pleased the Lord. And the Lord said, ‘I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for, both riches and honor, so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings.’ Because Solomon asked for the better thing, God blessed him with those other things as well.

Much of the world thinks that happiness consists in having and getting, and some think it at whatever the cost! The Prodigal thought having and getting would make for his happiness. Never mind that it would bring his father great unhappiness! Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, most people still believe foolishly that money brings happiness. Yet, the wealthy are never truly happy because they will never have enough to make themselves truly happy. Those who crave riches get caught up in an endless cycle that often in the end results in ruin and destruction.

The person who is truly happy is the person who has God as the center of his life, and is content with what God is doing in his life, and who has learned to be content with what he has. Someone once said, ‘The happiest people don’t necessarily have the best of everything; they just make the best of everything they have!’

Throughout the centuries mankind has sought true happiness; some think it is to be found in longevity! The youngster who rudely ran past the minister wanted to live a long life. Happiness is to be found not in the quantity of one’s years, but in the quality of one’s years. Jesus Christ and many of the world’s ‘greats’ are not remembered for their length of days; but for what they did for the world within the shortness of the days they lived. It truly is ‘the good’ that die young! They lay down their lives for others.

Consider if you will the most powerful in our world. How many of them got where there are by being humble, self-effacing, gentle and considerate of others? Not many! Yet, Jesus says in the life to come, the last will be first, and the first last. The last will be first if they got in ‘last place’ by choosing to follow Jesus in this life – that is, if they experienced the world’s disapproval, because they knew that they had God’s approval. For them, the true reward is eternal. Hence Jesus tried to warn us not to forfeit eternal reward for the sake of temporary, transitory benefits.

True happiness is to be found in the credo that it is in sharing of ourselves that we will gain the greatest reward, and therefore lasting happiness. It is only through sharing compassion and love that we will make this planet happy and truly habitable. That perhaps is what those young people who traveled to Australia for the World Youth Day are hoping to do with their lives: to share compassion and love with others.

Yes, throughout the centuries mankind has sought true happiness. Many have failed to find it. Perhaps because they were looking in the wrong places to find it: if not in life, then in death. Some think that happi-ness is to die happy! To a few, that means to die from a drug overdose. To others, it means, simply not to wake up one morning, and that life’s pulse is simply ended. To others it means to die with no regrets! To others it means that one’s presence will surely be missed! To others, to the believer in Jesus Christ, to die happy means to die a death that is peaceful and holy. It means to die in the state of Grace. To die prepared to enter into the presence of thy Lord.

You see happiness is ultimately measured by our relationship with God. Solomon’s prayer tests our own faith, challenging us to find the true and lasting meaning and purpose of our lives. As we take a hard look at our life, as Solomon did his, we will see how important serving God is over all the other options, especially options which are self-serving. Who knows, perhaps God is calling us to rethink our purpose and direction in life. And if that is true, perhaps we too need earnestly to pray for WISDOM.

The rich man in one of Jesus’ parables died unhappily before he could begin to use what he had stored up in the bigger barns he had built to hold his substantial wealth. ‘Thou fool, this night shall thy soul be required of thee.’ Sure it is wise to plan for one’s retirement. As it is wise to pre-plan and pre-pay for one’s funeral and burial. But to fail to plan for life after death is worse than unwise, it will prove disastrous.

So why do you try to save money? Is it in order to retire comfortably? Is it in order to buy and have more stuff in life? Is it in order to be secure? Jesus, like Wendy’s, challenges us to think ‘outside the box.’ Think beyond our earthbound goals, and to use what we have been given to further God’s kingdom. If we accumulate wealth only to enrich ourselves, with no concern for helping others, we may enter eternity empty-handed. Returning to home in much the condition the Prodigal found himself in, having simply squandered the Father’s inheritance on oneself. True wealth, true happiness, true life is to be found in faith and service and obedience, for these are the ways to become rich toward God.

Perhaps the vast majority of people, young or old, have not forsaken God, they just don’t know how or where to find Him. In their life long pursuit of wealth, longevity and happiness they have mistakenly gotten themselves lost by taking the broad road that leads to perdition. Pray, brethren, that they may instead find and follow the Narrow Way that leads to Life Eternal through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.