The Tyranny of Our Past

October 1st Sunday Readings.

My local hardware store needs more cart corrals. You know, the metal structures placed express-cart-dual-cart-corral.pngin the parking lot rows where one returns a cart after one has used it. Pushed up on medians and wedged between parked cars are loose shopping carts because if one parks in certain rows there isn’t a place to return one’s cart to with in 75 feet.

But my mom didn’t raise the kind of kid that feels even remotely okay with leaving a cart to freely blow around a parking lot. Thus after I’ve emptied my hardware store type materials into my car, I walk my cart all the way back into the store like modern super hero. I rightly accept your adulation and affirmations of my virtue.

Next time I go to that store I could just as easily just leave my cart in the parking lot. I could choose the other path. I could change my mind. There is nothing that keeping me from breaking with my current habit.

Far too often we submit ourself to the tyranny of our past. What I mean by that is that we like to be consistent, even when presented with other options. We tend to think of ourselves as this or that kind of a person and thus we continue in this or that way. I think of myself at the kind of person that puts a cart back no matter what, and that guides my behavior.

Sometimes that kind of thing limits our behavior. In fact, sometimes this tyranny of our past keeps us in cycles of sin and self destruction. Sometimes people justify habitual sin by saying this is just who I am or the classic, “Well, I’m only human.”

The gospel this week presents a totally different understanding of our decisions. Jesus sets us free from the tyranny of our past. Jesus tells the story of two sons. One who says he won’t obey, but does, and one who says he will obey, but doesn’t  I don’t know the heart of either son, but scripture says that the first one “changed his mind.”

Part of the message is that every single one of us has an opportunity and the capacity to change our minds. If you have told God no in the past, you don’t have to today. You can change your mind. If you have turned away from God again and again, you can change your mind and turn back. If you have heard a call from God to do or to stop doing something and have ignored it, you can still change your mind. Conversely if, in your past, you’ve chosen to follow God, obey, pray, serve others, etc., it doesn’t mean you can coast the rest of your life. We can change.

Jesus can set you free form the tyranny of your past. In fact, this is the spiritual journey, that tomorrow we let Jesus make us a little more free than we were today.

Live It: No later than tonight before bed, kneel and pray, “Jesus free from my past and give my the grace to say yes to you tomorrow.” Level 2 – Go to Confession and be totally freed from the tyranny of your past.

The Cookie Split and the Gospel

September 24th Sunday Readings.

Have you ever had to split a cookie or a piece of cake with a sibling? If you did, when youChocolate_chip_cookiewere a kid, then you may have heard what I heard as a kid, “Honey, you can split the cookie, but then your sister has the first pick of which half she wants.”

The precision to break that cookie perfectly in half so that I didn’t get cheated and my sister didn’t get more was off the charts. If I had access to a jeweler’s scale, I would have broken it out to make sure that the cookie halves were exactly even, down to the nanogram. May it was just me, but I thought even = fair.

Nobody likes to get cheated. We have a natural, God given, desire that justice is done. It’s why we get perturbed at the the guy who cuts up in the traffic back up. It’s why we can never seem to pick the right grocery store checkout line. It’s why we ask the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Life should be fair.

It’s why the people who work all day in Jesus’ parable get frustrated when the group that only works for a little while gets the same pay. The parable goes against our sense of fairness. So what exactly is Jesus getting at?

Jesus starts the parable by saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner…” Stop right there. Jesus is comparing the kingdom to a person. the kingdom of heaven is intimate lived relationship with Jesus. The kingdom of heaven is full communion and intimacy with the Trinity. So when someone works for the kingdom, the usual daily wage isn’t gold or power or a perfectly split cookie. No, the usually daily wage is unconditional love, perfect joy, and total fulfillment. Everyone gets paid the same because everyone gets paid more than they could even want or need.

When it comes to the cookie, there is a finite amount of cookie. The more my sister got; the less I got. But when it comes to God’s love there is no limit. I can have limitless unconditional love and you can have limitless unconditional love.

With that in mind the objections of the people who worked all day isn’t justice, but jealously. They are jealous of those who received what they received but for less sacrifice.

Does being jealous make you joyful?

Of course not. God is never out done in his generosity. We will only be joyful if we are willing to accept and celebrate God’s generosity and mercy to others.

Live It:
Celebrate someone else’s victory, even if it is a small one. Send a note, buy a coffee, or say a prayer of thanks giving on their behalf – whatever will honor them.

Don’t Keep Score.

September 17th Sunday Readings.

233 Fenway Park - Scoreboard (June 2, 2007)-L-2During my marriage preparation our mentor couple told us a beautiful piece of advice – don’t keep score. Despite not yet being married, we knew exactly what that meant. If your married or have a deep friendship, than you probably know what that means too. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of seeking to “earn points” by doing things our spouse wants us to do. It feels natural to take away points when our spouse disappoints or hurts us. Keep score comes so naturally to us in so many areas of our life that we just naturally apply it to our relationships.

The truth is that relationships are not a competitive endeavor. No seriously. I know it’s funny to joke around about it – I certainly do that with my wife. But the reality is when we treat our spouse as our competition, as our adversary, we both loose.

In the gospel Jesus is trying to teach us that our relationships with God and with others are not competitive endeavors. No matter how many times someone else hurts us, they aren’t loosing. No matter how deeply we harm God, we aren’t down for the count. Why? Because God isn’t the divine referee. God is our Father and wants, not to have a point system with us, but instead, an intimate, lived relationship. God desires to be closer to us than we can ever imagine and keeping score just gets in the way.

God forgives you. He does. He wants to, because he wants you. We don’t go to Confession to have the score reset or to reset the clock. He go to have a conversion of heart. To turn away from keeping score and turn to acting, responding to God’s love with love. We do that by worshiping God and serving others.

The wicked servant in the story does the exact opposite. He keeps score and thus is judged by his score. Don’t keep score, love unconditionally, because God loves you first.

Live It: Do something nice for your spouse. Doesn’t matter what it is – get their car washed for them, bring them flowers, empty the dishwasher, let them pick the movie. Whatever it is, pray that you don’t do it for points, but out of love.

It Hurts.

September 3rd Sunday Readings.

hammer-thumb-ouch.jpgI’m not good at pain. When I get a cold, either I’m laid up at home and can’t do anything or I complain to my coworkers till the point they tell me to go home. My wife gently and lovingly mocks me for my over the top reactions to stubbing my toe or pinching a finger. I’m a little dramatic and I don’t handle pain very well.

The worst thing I do when I am hurt is to be upset that no one is helping me and, at the same time, tell people to stay away from me. I’ve been known to even yell at someone who is just trying to help. I know a number of people who struggle to let others help when they are hurting. Is that you too?

In our gospel this Sunday, after Jesus tells his disciples about the cross, Peter, with much gusto, tells Jesus, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” Jesus rebukes him and we learn that to follow Jesus means that we too must pick up our cross. It was as if Peter was telling Jesus not to try and fulfill his mission. It was as if Peter was telling Jesus to not help while humanity was hurting.

Before we judge Peter too harshly, I think we do this too. How often do we not let God help? How often do we try to manage our pain on our own? How often do we want to control everything around us?

More than all of that, unless we fully admit that we need Jesus’ death and resurrection, we denying Jesus’ cross just as much as Peter. By admitting that we are sinners in need of a savior, we are asking for God’s grace exactly when we need it the most.

So how do we do this? When we sin, instead of running away and figuratively yelling at God to “Leave me alone!”, turn to God in prayer. Go to confession right away. Admit that you need God, especially when you are hurting.

Live It: Pray this prayer, right now, “Lord, I need you.” Say it as many times as it takes to believe it.