All Saints Sunday
Many who are first now will be last and many who are last now will be first
Matthew 19: 30.
There is a consistent, golden-thread-like message in the gospel narrative that repeats itself, hopefully that we recognize its importance by its prominence. Our Lord teaches us today that it is possible to be what the world considers a winner and still be an abject loser. We certainly can gain the whole world, so to speak, and actually lose our soul. The Lord continually tells us it is a much wiser to "lose" our lives for his sake, for then we discover real life here and in eternity.
In short, our Lord speaks to us that self-denial for his cause is equal to self-fulfillment for ourselves. When we subtract the hedonistic and unimportant from our lifestyle, we find our lives being added to in terms of soul-satisfaction, contentment of body and joy of soul.
As in all things, we have a choice. We can be greedy grabbers and end up in misery or we can be sharing servants of Christ and end up joyous recipients of the grace imparted by a loving God who gives abundantly to those who sincerely and seriously follow after the Master.
If you wish to engage the attention of someone quickly, tell them they have the distinct possibility of being a certain winner. After all, we do like to entertain the thought we can be winners, don't we? A winner of what? A winner of almost everything. A winner of a fulfilling and happy life; a winner of a loving mate, a winner in business or at work; a winner of enough of the material goods of life so as not to have to worry; a winner of whatever will bring joy to us.
So often, however, we come across people who feel they do not know how to win. These are they who often say something like, "I can't win for losing. Every time I think I am going to be a winner, circumstances conspire against me and I lose again." Such persons remind us of the story of a man who won a trip to Mexico. The story has it he is still down there, waiting to win a trip back home. Such people recall for us the man who was told he would be granted one wish. Excited at the prospect, he wised for a foreign car agency and was granted a Chrysler Plymouth dealership in downtown Tokyo.
Everyone will agree it is a strange statement, winning by losing. How can this be so? When one thinks about it, people win by losing in many avenues of life. The physician wins his or her skill and expertise by "losing" long years in classrooms, laboratories and hospitals. The musician wins mastery over an instrument by "losing" years in practice. Astronauts and pilots win the ability to handle their crafts by "losing" years in training. Painters and sculptors win skill with brushes, knives and chisels by years of practice and much time with teachers. The faithful believer in Christ wins the objective of sainthood by "losing" his own lifestyle and investing and fulfilling it with that of Christ our Saviour.
Obviously, there is a cost to everything of value. Before we can win, we have to lose, at least in terms of time, money, perspiration or dedication, not spent, but invested in what we consider to be the most important value in our lives. Often all of these are combined in such a way that we give in order to get. We sacrifice of ourselves that we become more Christ-like. We give up our own stubbornness, our own greed, our own limitations that we can assume the generosity of soul, the goodness of heart and openness of man that characterized our Saviour. We strip away at our own limitations that we can assume the generosity of our Saviour God. We remove the limitations of our sinful physical humanity and assume the unrestrained treasure of our soul.
Christ insists today this is true for finding wholeness in life. If one tries to find meaning and joy and fulfillment without the proper investment, one will find nothing but frustration and ashes. If, on the other hand, one invests in commitment to Christ and the eternal never-ending kingdom of God our Father, putting these first and foremost, one will find that the by-product of such an investment is a sense of well-being and meaning and living and reigning with the Holy Trinity for all eternity.
The prodigal son in the story our Lord told us thought he would find excitement and fulfillment and happiness in squandering his father's money in loose living. Too late did he learn after throwing away his inheritance on all sorts of foolish activities, that all he had was wasted, not invested. Then when a famine came, he was destitute and in dire need. He was reduced to feeding pigs, hoping the owner would also give him something to eat. Imagine a Jewish young man feeding unclean animals his religious faith taught him to avoid. He was in the depths of degradation and tried to gain what he thought was life, real authentic life. What he bought for himself was painful misery. He though that in his freedom from the restraints of home and parents, in grasping the thrills and physical goods of the world, happiness would be his. Instead, he lost everything, even his self respect. He is living proof that "whoever would save his life must lose it."
The way we have life and have it abundantly, our Lord teaches us, is to put one's worldly and seemingly glamorous desires aside to seek the will of the Lord. As Jesus put it, "whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it." When we put the will of God first, everything else will find its proper place; all of our needs will be taken care of.