Lectionary Passages for Feb. 28: Isaiah 55:1-9, Psalm 63:1-8, 1 Cor. 10:1-13, Luke 13:1-9
"Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which does not satisfy?" (Isaiah 55:2)
What a great question for a people with too much stuff and too little time! The constant pursuit of money and things and experiences expresses a deep longing of the soul. While we mentally acknowledge that more stuff or another trip won't make us "happy" many people feel driven to keep searching, sometimes looking futilely in the same places again and again and coming up less than satisfied. Our spirits remain thirsty for meaning, do why do we keep searching with the desires of our bodies?
Verse 6 goes on to advise; "Seek the Lord while he may be found, let the wicked forsake their way and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them return to the Lord...he will abundantly pardon."
Somehow, I doubt that seeking the Lord involves buying a vacation home, swimming at a beach I've never visited before, working so hard I have no time for anything else, seeing every movie that titillates, trying every new restaurant, or escaping reality with alcohol. Yet these are so often the things that keep us busy.
I'm not advocating the ascetic life, denying all pleasure for the sake of righteousness, but simply noting that we often swing the pendulum the other way. Our culture is ridiculously self indulgent! There is a desperate thirst for meaning and purpose everywhere, but finding fulfilment is an elusive thing.
I always ask people in marriage preparation sessions to tell me what gives their lives purpose. I'm often saddened that they struggle to answer, or that the answers are tenuous and flimsy. If life is just a pursuit of certain accomplishments, prestigious jobs, the chance to buy fancy cars, why bother? Those people do not stay happy for long. Those who can say that love of family and friends gives them meaning are a little better off, but what happens when family and friends die or betray us? Then where is meaning? The people able to extend that love concept beyond family and friends to encompass their neighbours have a desire to make the world a better place-those are the ones who seem the most content, the happiest. Love beyond ourselves is to acknowledge God. Love beyond ourselves makes it possible to repent, to be humble, to be satisfied.
Verse 8; "my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways..." is sometimes used to say that God is mysterious and beyond human understanding. It can be misquoted to people who are suffering-sort of minimizing their trauma or dismissing it. I don't think that's the point here. God isn't being described as beyond us, but as something we are invited to join. God's ways are different, and we are invited in to them, to partake in the everlasting covenant, the eating of that which is good, and the listening to words that speak of life.
God invites repentance, a turning away from being constantly distracted from real meaning and purpose. God invites us to care for the poor (or be cared for), to feed the hungry (or be fed), to comfort the sorrowful (or be comforted.) A world that does those things participates in God's ways and will "go out in joy, be led forth in peace..."
The 1 Corinthians passage is amazing. It starts by reminding the people that their ancestors all ate the same food, and drank the same drink. (Reminds me of being a kid and realizing that movie stars, and royalty, and my school teachers were actually human too. They had to eat and go to the bathroom just like me!) This is a reality check-a way to remind the people they are no better than their ancestors, but that they have an opportunity to learn from them. Immorality, testing God, and complaining separated our predecessors from God, and these continue to plague our relationship with the Divine. (Isn't it interesting that complaining is listed alongside sins that seem so much more serious?)
"If you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall." (1 Cor. 10:12) This verse is a clear warning against self-righteousness. A warning that should make us humble, cause us to hold on to our opinions lightly, and help us realize the need to always learn. Why is it, that even with examples (from history, from others, from our own lives) that it is so hard to avoid making the same mistakes?
Pushing on to verse 24; "Do not seek your own advantage, but that of the other."
Question: How would you describe the meaning and purpose of your life? What satisfies your
spiritual hunger and thirst?
For a "relief" from the longing and searching, read Psalm 63 and participate in the Psalmist's discovery of longing fulfilled.
P.S. I'm not quite sure how the story of the barren fig tree fits with these others, but it is encouraging to me that even as messed up as that useless tree is, it still gets another chance!