My mother used to point to a man in church whom she’d known since they were both children. “He was such a pious boy,” my mother always said approvingly. “He’d be in that same third pew each morning earlier than any of us, and he’d stay later.
Exploring the Word
Some of the great cathedrals of the world took centuries to build. The architects who drew up the plans, the artists who contributed their craft, the patrons who put up the money, and the workers who quarried the stone and laid the foundation knew they would never worship in the building they were helping to construct.
How can any of us adequately say thanks for all that we’ve been given? We’d have to begin with the mother-of-all-thank-yous to God that we are here at all, that here is here, that creation was ever called into being.
The apostles ask Jesus for a favor that seems pious and fitting. Jesus has been exhorting them with teachings about what is expected of disciples—the renunciation of material wealth, unconditional forgiveness, mindfulness of the poor—and we can imagine these demands weigh heavily on those still quite attached to the world and its value system.
The injustice of the world is an inescapable reality. Inescapable, that is, if you are on the nasty side of the equation as one of the have-nots. Those who do not experience the downside of injustice are often not aware that there is a problem, because it’s not a problem for them.
When you think about it, there is no commandment specifically against cheating. We’re not supposed to lie, steal, covet, or commit adultery; that much is spelled out. But cheating is not only not expressly forbidden, it is also more or less a biblical tradition.
I like the story about Moses talking God out of smiting the people of Israel off the face of the planet. At what other point in history does a human being hold the moral high ground and teach God how to be compassionate?
I had a friend who did everything right. Heidi kept the weight off, joined the gym, ate smart, drank little, and lived free of stress. And still she died of cancer at the age of 40. At her funeral, there was universal agreement that Heidi shouldn’t have died, that she’d earned the right to more years.
I know people sometimes think that I make this stuff up. But life is so full of potential parables, as Jesus himself observed, that I don’t have to. Once I arrived at a meeting at which lots of important church people were expected. Some of the attendees were well known in the diocese and a few around the country. Being the neurotic type, I arrived first and wandered the room in search of a good seat.
Being an insider appeals to some aspect of our psychology that loves to be recognized as special. But it’s also highly practical. If you know the password, for example, your call will be answered by a live person instead of a machine.