Delayed gratification is hard. Maybe you are a more evolved creature, but for me, I struggle to wait for my reward. I learned about delayed gratification when I took a psychology class in which we watched a video where 6 and 7 year olds were offered 1 marshmallow now or 2 marshmallows if they could wait 20 minutes. The researcher then left the child in a room with a single marshmallow. If the kid lasted 20 minutes, they got 2. Most did not. Watching kids do mental (and sometimes physical) gymnastics in order to avoid being tempted by the marshmallow in front of them was quite entertaining.
Most people think that being a person of faith, a religious person, a church person is an exercise in delayed gratification. In someways they are right. We do await eternal glory and perfect joy and peace in God’s presence forever. I mean heaven is better than this mess, right?
However, to think that being a person of faith means that all the rewards will only come in the afterlife isn’t what Jesus taught or what we believe.
The gospel story this Sunday is Jesus preaching the Beatitudes. We are all familiar with these even if we don’t fully understand or live them. In each beatitude Jesus mentions a particular attitude or way of suffering and then explains how people with that attitude or affliction will be blessed. For example the second beatitude in Matthew’s gospel says, “Blessed are they who morn, for they will be comforted.” And indeed beatitudes 2-6 and 8 are written in the future tense. Do this and that will happen.
The promises in Beatitudes 1 and 7 are written in the present tense. In other words, if you are or do this, then you have this NOW! The reward is the same in these two Beatitudes – The kingdom of heaven. What is Jesus trying to say?
Heaven can’t wait. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Jesus brought with him the beginning of the Kingdom of heaven. Heaven has come and is yet to come. Jesus is trying to say that we can begin to experience the joys and delights of heaven now. Because Jesus came to earth, died and rose, we can experience a taste of heaven in this life. We can live the good life, not because everything is perfect and all of our desires are perfectly met, but because we can be in intimate relationship with God now. Jesus came to rescue us from death and sin and to bridge the divide we created through our sin. Jesus opens the gates of heaven for us even here on earth.
In heaven we will be perfectly united in perfect communion with the perfect Trinity. And we don’t have to wait until then to begin to experience that perfect joy. Get close to God, be a saint and you can begin to experience heaven on earth.
Live it: DON’T WAIT! Stop whatever you are doing (reading?) and say this prayer, “Jesus I want to be near to you. Jesus I want heaven. Jesus I want to be a saint. Help me.”