Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.
– Matthew 13:45-46
The close of one year and beginning of another is always worth marking. We do it with celebrations – quiet dinners, loud parties, toasts, and traditions – precisely because it is an event. The New Year can be a bittersweet time when we look back on happy occasions. Sometimes, it’s a relief to see the year come to an end. More than once in my life as the year closed, I looked back and thought, if it’d been a fish, I’d have thrown it back. Whatever the circumstances of our years, the New Year marks the inexorable passage of time. Somewhere, recently, I read a line that stuck with me, even if its origins did not. “The days pass slowly, but the years fly by.” If we want to see a well-lived life when we look backward, then our days – not our years, but our days – must be spent well. Think about your days and how you spend them. As time rolls on, what are your days building? Where are they leading?
The definition of invest is to “expend money with the expectation of profit or material gain…” True, but there are many ways in which we invest that are not financial. Think of our investment in education, careers, marriages, children, skills, hobbies, art, travel, and more. The list of human investments is nearly inexhaustible. If we want to know how we are investing our lives, all we have to do is look at our days. This summer, it seemed as if the sum of my life would be shorter grass. How did you spend your days last year? For as surely as times passes, the activities of our days reveal what investment we want to payoff.
What is your expectation of profit or gain from the investment of your life? This is a critical question for us to ask ourselves, not just once, but repeatedly over the years. What is it you hope to attain in your investment, what benefit, what gain or outcome? I am not here talking about a career, at least, not entirely. Let’s begin with the assumption that we all need a source of income, a home that protects us from the elements and keeps us safe from harm, and sufficient income to provide food and clothing. What is your goal? Where are you headed? Put succinctly, when death approaches, who do you want to be, and what do you want to have done with the life that you now have? The answers to those two questions will tell you how you should spend your days, how you should invest the life you were given.
Last week, the meditation focused on the Incarnation, the Word of God born of flesh to the Virgin Mary in a manger in Bethlehem. The Apostle John used the language of creation, divine life, and uncreated light to try to convey the (literally) earth-shattering nature of the event and the enormity of the implications for human beings and, indeed, the whole cosmos. If John is correct that the eternal revealed itself in the Incarnation, if that is true, then we should desire that more than anything we find in this world. We ask ourselves how we wish to invest the days given us, but if God in Christ truly has revealed the Kingdom beyond this life and this world, then our only choice is to pursue that life with all that we are and all that we have. From the hymn, Away in a Manger, “Fit us for Heaven, to live with Thee there.” This life is best lived endeavoring to be fit for Heaven. Two thousand years later, we look back and believe, but accepting the significance of Jesus’ birth now is harder to do. It is so much easier to celebrate a Baby in a manger than it is to expect divine life and light to be poured out in our lives and across creation. I suspect, however, that believing what John wrote was not particularly easy for people in his day and age either. Many, many met Jesus Christ, and only a few followed Him. In comparison to the crowds of people He encountered, the number of people with Him following His Resurrection and present at Pentecost is quite small. The testimonies and claims about Jesus Christ were outrageous then, too.
If you desire to be authentically human, you must seek that which is real and true, that is, you must pursue the eternal life and divine light of Jesus Christ. That is our human destiny, the end for which we were created. There is an old saying that Christians “should not be so heavenly minded, we are no earthly good.” I think we’re safe on that point. We don’t think of the Kingdom of Heaven enough. This world with all its glory and all its pain will pass away. The answer to how best to live in this world is found in the reality of the eternal, not here.
Some years ago, after graduating and finishing my internship at a large Houston church, I accepted my first charge of two churches in an isolated, rural area for which I was ill-suited. One night as I made the nineteen-mile journey home from the grocery store to the town I disliked filled with people I found difficult to understand, I wallowed in sanctimonious self-pity for the sacrifice of all my own plans and ambitions. The question came out of the blue, breaking through my morose, internal whining, “What do you want Jesus to say to you when you see Him face-to-face?” One might say (I suspect, correctly) that the Lord posed the question in my soul. What, indeed? “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Master.” (Matt. 25:21) From that day forward, ministry was a privilege, not a burden – not always pleasant or happy, certainly not easy, but a privilege, nonetheless. What I desired at the end of life then determined how I would live every day of my life. Certainly, I have failed repeatedly in the living of my days, but my failure does not alter the desired end toward which my life is aimed.
The same is true for you. The profit or gain you hope to attain in life determines how you live today. Consider, if we want a comfortable retirement, we invest our money wisely before we retire. If you want to be fit for heaven, if you would attain the pearl of great price, then you must invest your days accordingly now. To yearn for the Kingdom – to long for your true home in what is eternally real – changes your priorities and values today. Investing in the Kingdom of Heaven impacts your marriage, the way you parent, and the way you relate to your own parents. It alters how we love our neighbors, deal with our co-workers, and speak to strangers. Investing with the goal of eternal life and divine light affects how we work, the career path we choose, and how we spend our money. In short, who we want to be in the end has everything to with how we live now.
The underlying theme in the meditations for now and the foreseeable future is, “What does it mean to be human?” For all of the possibilities available in our world, I will tell you now that authentic humanity is found in Jesus Christ and in Him alone. In the weeks ahead, we will continue looking at His life, both what He taught and the events that occurred, with the intent of discovering what Jesus Christ’s life means for our humanity. For now, you only have to determine what payoff you want in the end. In what are you investing now, so that you may profit or gain in your life and future? How do you spend the days you have?
In Christ –
© 2017 SFCM