Last week, a friend of mine celebrated the forty-second anniversary of his thirtieth birthday. Each year, on that auspicious day, he makes the same comment; he says, “I’ve made another trip around the sun.” I’ve heard the comment numerous times, but it still makes me laugh.
Pithy aphorisms like, “Another trip around the sun” are a common and effective means of communicating a large amount of explanatory and affective content with just a few words. My friend’s annual comment about his birthday is not only about his chronological age but about the challenges of aging, as well.
All cultures have such pithy statements; our culture has some treasured ones. All of us have heard the statement, “What goes round, comes around.” A short statement like this is a very effective means of referring both to the predictable consequences of choices and to the lack of empathy one can expect regarding selfish choices. Examples of pithy aphorisms abound in the Scriptures and other ancient Christian texts.
Today’s Gospel reading is part of a larger collection of Jesus’ teachings arranged topically by the Gospel author. Today’s reading consists of three sets of instructions about discipleship. At the end of each set of instructional material, Jesus provided a short, memorable summary of the content of the teaching. In the first teaching, Jesus told his disciples to spend all their time working to accomplish God’s will and not to worry about their immediate future or temporal needs. Then, he summed up the teaching by saying, “Where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” (Lk 12:34)
The second teaching is about living in hopeful expectation of the fulfillment of God’s promise to recreate the world without the burdens of sin and death. Jesus told a parable that compared a responsible work ethic with faithful discipleship. He summed up this teaching by saying, “You must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” (Lk 12:40)
The third teaching in this short collection is about the necessity of remaining faithful, vigilant, and patient even though the fulfillment of God’s promise of redemption seems to be delayed indefinitely. Jesus told a parable about the cost of losing sight of God’s promises. Then, he summarized the teaching by saying, “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.” (Lk 12:48) Fans of the comic book superhero Spiderman might find these words familiar, but Jesus spoke them long before Uncle Ben passed this bit of wisdom to Peter Parker.
The purpose of summarizing these teachings with pithy statements is obvious. The daily cares and burdens of life can cause us to forget Jesus’ teachings, either temporarily or completely. As the saying goes, “In one ear and out the other.” An aphorism that’s easy to remember can be very handy when we find ourselves in difficult and challenging circumstances.
As I said above, these three teachings and their summaries are part of a larger collection of Jesus’ instructions to his disciples. As the three teachings address similar topics, I’d like to offer a perspective on remembering and practicing them.
Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” (Lk 12:34) Inevitably, there will be events in life that will distract us from attention to matters of faith. Jesus said not to worry about life’s unforeseen events, but if you feel like worrying, worry about what lasts forever. There are two things that last forever (love of God and love of neighbor); attention to either one will accomplish both. Therefore, if you feel like worrying today, worry about the way you treat people.
Jesus said, “You must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” (Lk 12:40) It is fully possible to be prepared for the Lord’s return in glory, but there are unexpected events in life for which you cannot be prepared. These can tempt you to think that worrying is justified. If you really think that you need to worry about something, worry about being found doing good, for example, in the way you treat people.
Jesus said, “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.” (Lk 12:48) God blesses and guides God’s People daily; God’s providence is a compelling reason not to worry about life’s challenges, but some people simply cannot stop worrying. If you are one of those, worry constantly about living up to God’s expectations of you. You have been blessed by God; be a blessing in the way you treat people.
Perhaps, you’ve noticed a recurring theme in my perspective on Jesus’ teachings. To be prepared to greet Jesus when he returns in glory is to learn to greet Jesus present in the people we meet daily. As Mother Teresa of Calcutta said, “People are unrealistic, illogical, and self-centered. Love them anyway.”