I’ll tell you a story about a man I knew. He grew up in a poor neighborhood, a rough neighborhood. His parents were immigrants. They were poor, yet they worked hard and sent him to the best schools they could afford, often making great sacrifices for his education. This man worked very hard. He did all the things he was supposed to do. He went into the army, and when he came out, he got a job with an insurance company. In time, he was their best salesman. He made good money.
He took that money and started his own insurance company. He started small. For a long time, it was just he and one employee, his office manager. He had his struggles, but in time, he grew successful. He got married, had a son, and bought a nice house in a very upscale part of town. Soon, he had many employees. He got a bigger office, and his business grew. He began to specialize in health care insurance at just the right time. He developed a way for smaller companies to offer decent health care benefits to their people. Things went well.
For many years, he prospered. He bought a better house and then a better house. In time, he was living in a house of his dreams right on the beach. He oversaw the design and building of his dream home. The floors were of the finest imported tiles. Skilled craftsmen did the woodwork. It was beautiful. He had a beautiful life. He paid his employees well. They worked hard and prospered. He moved his offices to a fine building and commanded the entire seventh floor!
But then, the health care insurance industry began to sour. His profits began to shrink. Times got hard. Soon, the creditors began to knock on his door. He was forced to lease out half of his office space. He did the best he could. He went back out on the road to bring in new business, but it was no use. He was forced to lay off some of his long-time employees. Finally, he was forced to let his first employee, his office manager, go. He filed for bankruptcy. Within a year, he developed lung cancer and inside of three months, he was dead. And then the creditors went after his wife. She was forced to sell their dream house. The tiles, the beautiful view, the fine paintings, were all gone.
It had all seemed so indestructible. He seemed indestructible. It’s amazing how quickly everything you work so hard to build can be torn down. But that seems to be the nature of life. We like to think we are powerful. We like to think we can take on the world. From time to time, we win. But, as the great Paul Simon says, “You can’t be forever blessed (American Tune).” That’s the yin and yang of it, the great ultimate, the tai chi. Just look at our own country.
The United States has been the powerhouse in the world for the past fifty years, ever since the end of world war two. We were the standard of the world. We had the best schools, the best health care, and the highest standard of living. But it isn’t that way anymore. It hasn’t been for years. And today, with this new administration, we are the laughing stock of the world. Anybody watching and paying attention would have to be able to see that there must be more to life than just acquiring wealth and power, at least most people. You can spend your whole life working, building, just to have forces beyond your control take it all away. I should know. I’ve lost everything I had in this world—twice. This phenomenon is nothing new. It is as old as humankind.
The story of Job, in the bible, is one of the oldest stories in the book. It far predates any of the written accounts. It is almost certainly fiction, a myth. But it still illustrates the truth of our place in the grand scheme of things. For those who don’t know the story, Job is a hard-working, righteous man, with a wonderful life. God is impressed by his piety. The Devil, in an attempt to show God how wrong S/He is about Job, suggests that Job’s righteousness will soon fall away as soon as his life turns sour, so God allows Satan to fuck with Job. Job, however, remains firm in his faith. Here is a portion:
Job spoke, saying:
Is not man's life on earth a drudgery?
Are not his days those of hirelings?
He is a slave who longs for the shade,
a hireling who waits for his wages.
So I have been assigned months of misery,
and troubled nights have been allotted to me.
If in bed I say, "When shall I arise?"
then the night drags on;
I am filled with restlessness until the dawn.
My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle;
they come to an end without hope.
Remember that my life is like the wind;
I shall not see happiness again.
Job comes to understand that we are just people. We are not in charge. We have no control over our lives, not really. We like to think we do, but we don’t. Everything we have can be lost. Rather than weep over his losses for very long, he stays firm in his faith. As a result, the Devil is proven wrong, and God blesses Job with a new home and a new family. Sadly enough, this doesn’t help Job’s first family much. Of course, it’s easy to poke holes in any story. What is important is to take the meaning out of the story and see it for what it is. Jesus knew this. He understood the truth.
No matter what your opinion of Jesus, whether or not you believe he was the son of God, or the Christ, or even a prophet, or even non-fictional, you have to admit that he is the model for how we are to live our lives. We look at the life and teachings of Jesus and recognize that this is what a human ought to be, loving and forgiving. As much as we might poke fun at the religious right, and there is good reason to do so, we cannot fault them for their slogan, “what would Jesus do.” Yes, they use it for all the wrong reasons and purposes, but most of us still find it good advice. When faced with a choice on how to respond to any given situation, we can ask ourselves what Jesus would do, and know that the answer to that question will show us a clear path to follow. Let’s see what Mark has to show us this week.
On leaving the synagogue
Jesus entered the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John.
Simon's mother-in-law lay sick with a fever.
They immediately told him about her.
He approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up.
Then the fever left her and she waited on them.
When it was evening, after sunset,
they brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons.
The whole town was gathered at the door.
He cured many who were sick with various diseases,
and he drove out many demons,
not permitting them to speak because they knew him.
Rising very early before dawn, he left
and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.
Simon and those who were with him pursued him
and on finding him said, "Everyone is looking for you."
He told them, "Let us go on to the nearby villages
that I may preach there also.
For this purpose have I come."
So he went into their synagogues,
preaching and driving out demons throughout the whole of Galilee. (Mark, Chapter One, 29-39)
Don’t be distracted by the miracle stories. I can hear the skeptics now, laughing at the stories of miracle healing and demons. That isn’t the important part of the story. Mark was simply trying to impress his audience, the pagan gentiles, with the authority, divinity, and power of Jesus the Christ. Rather, pay attention to how Jesus responded to this situation.
Jesus heals the mother in law of Simon Peter, if only so she can wait make him something to eat. News got around, and soon there are throngs of people at the house, as soon as the Sabbath was officially over, to see the miracle man. He did not fail to impress them, according to the story. Early in the morning, Jesus goes off to pray, and upon his return, his pals tell him that the crowds are looking for him. That’s easy to believe. Look what happens today. Some fool sees the Virgin Mary in the condensation on a bathroom mirror, and soon thirty thousand people are in the street outside chanting “hail Marys.” A few words in the synagogue, a few healed cripples, and Jesus is a rock star. Can you imagine how tempting it would be for any of us to hang around and let the crowd marvel at us?
Most of us would hang around that town and let the people treat us like royalty. We would speak at the local chamber of commerce, take the key to the city, and let them declare a holiday in our honor. We would take the honorary degrees from the universities and life achievement award at the annual Aramaic Oscars. But Jesus didn’t.
Jesus tells his homies that it is time to leave. Let’s go to the other towns so I can spread the message there. It is for this reason that I came, to spread the message of love and service. Jesus came to bring a message of hope. He came to tell the people to change their way of thinking. He came to turn the known world upside-down. Jesus understood that fame and fortune are fleeting things. They cannot last. With his abilities, assuming for the moment they were real, he could have written his own ticket. He could have been rich and powerful. Satan wasn’t kidding when he offered Jesus all the wealth of the world back in the wilderness. Jesus could have had it. He chose to bring us a message of love instead. He understood what was really important.
Many of us are hurting now. Many more of us will be hurting soon enough. Some of us will see all we have worked so hard to build swept away. At times like these, it is important to remember that you don’t measure a person’s worth by the kind of house s/he owns or the type of car s/he drives. We don’t measure a person by how much money s/he has in the bank, but in how much love s/he has in his/her heart.
Jesus came into this world, whether you believe in his divinity or not, whether you believe in his real existence or not, to bring a message of love, hope, forgiveness, and redemption. And we are called to do the same, to follow him in his path. In the end, it will be our ability to love and serve one another that will bring us through these hard times. We just have to believe in our own ability to come through this valley of the shadow of Trump [sic]. These are the real gifts we have all be given, faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love. With these, all things are possible. It has always been thus. Believe.