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Posts Tagged ‘Mdina Malta’

img_3433The Reward of Discipleship

Several days ago I preached on Luke 8: 16-18, and it’s a passage that ends with some words that some might find disturbing.  It reads thus:  “Then pay attention to how you listen; for to those who have, more will be given; and from those who do not have, even what they seem to have will be taken away.”

There you have it — just the sort of thing that would make a six-year-old scream that “it’s just not fair!”  And in my own jaded reading, I’m tempted to agree.   This verse suggests that Jesus too believed that life was unfair.  Worse still, if this is what Jesus really believed, then it puts the lie to the Beatitudes, where Jesus offered at least some shred of hope to those who have so little.  So what exactly is Jesus trying to do here?  Does he mean to drive the poor into despair, while the rich cry all the way to the bank?

An appreciation of this passage depends a lot on whether you take a materialistic approach to its interpretation.  Thankfully, most experts believe that Jesus was speaking about neither capitalism nor matters of social justice.  Rather, he was talking about the spirit in which people approach life.  If they are generous with their gifts and talents, then they very likely will discover a personal capacity that they had scarcely imagined about themselves.  Conversely, those who are afraid to test the limits of their gifts and talents run the risk of having little or nothing to show for their lives.

img_3468That’s how I developed the sermon, and I concluded with this note.  Life is filled with risk, but perhaps the biggest risk is to give without any assurance that our efforts will make a bit of difference to anyone.  That’s the most challenging thing in the world to do, and I think that’s what Jesus had in mind when he offered this bit of wisdom.

At the end of Mass one woman came up to thank me for my thoughts.  She and her husband had recently completed ten years of service in a project that had demanded a great deal of time and energy.  Appearances to the contrary, it had required not a little grit as they butted up against a culture that ran counter to what inspired them.  Had any of their efforts mattered?  Had they accomplished anything in the course of ten  years?  Would their contribution of time and talent evaporate the minute they left the property?

These issues confront us all, and not just those who commit themselves to some major charitable projects.  Parents realize this instinctively as they raise their children.  Who knows what kids will turn out to be when they grow up?  What teachers don’t worry about what will become of the students sitting in front of them?  What mentors don’t wonder whether their efforts will make any sort of difference?

img_3469These anxieties trouble all of us, and we wonder whether we should have bothered to do anything in the first place.  Worse still, the instances when our efforts accomplished little or nothing sow further doubts.  Should we ever risk anything again?

These questions now haunted this woman and her husband, and they had become almost depressed about the whole thing.  But my words had suggested a way out of their emotional conundrum.

I’d not fashioned my sermon to deal with such practical experiences, but this woman made real to me the challenges that all of us face in the course of life.  How many times do we have the chance to give of ourselves and yet shrink back because we’re not sure of the results?  What if people take advantage of our generosity?  What if people remain unchanged, and our efforts go for naught?  These questions confront all thoughtful people as they risk stepping out of their comfort zone for the sake of others.

img_3524These are the moments when we need to recall to mind the suddenly sensible words of Jesus.  Self-giving can never be reduced to a contractual relationship with the people we help.  Service can never involve a quid pro quo in which we demand specific results from our kids or our students or anybody else whom we help.  All we really have a right to ask is that someday these people will make the right choices in life, just as we’ve been given that same chance.

Two things strike me as good takeaways from all of this.  First of all, giving of ourselves makes the world a better place.  That’s true whether our efforts yield no results at all or spectacular results.  If we don’t risk ourselves, then we can rest assured that nothing will ever happen.  If we do risk something, then there’s at least some chance of a good outcome, even if it isn’t exactly what we had in mind.

Second, in Luke 8 Jesus did not promise that our efforts would  transform the world.  He promised nothing of the sort.  All Jesus promised was that our efforts would transform us. That, after all, is both the cost and the reward of discipleship.

img_3519Notes

+On September 26th I attended the annual meeting of the Friends of the Malta Center at the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library at Saint John’s University.  The Center has been involved in the preservation of documents relating to the history of the Order of Malta, and today HMML has more of such material than any repository outside of Malta.  The Center has been involved in this work for 40+ years and continues to digitize various collections as well as build its own collections of resources.  Among other topics, we discussed current work of the Center at the Cathedral library and museum in Mdina, on the island of Malta.  Since the middle ages Mdina has been the seat of the archbishops of Malta.  It was the medieval capital of Malta, and was only eclipsed with the construction of the Knights’ capital of Valletta in the  17th century.  The city and cathedral in Mdina have a wonderful charm, as this gallery link suggests.

img_3422+On September 27th I hosted my friends John and Jack during a brief visit to Saint John’s University.  Together, John and Jack and I have been working to establish a scholarship program at Saint John’s for graduates of Immokalee High School, which is located outside of Naples, FL.  The photo shows John and Jack with the first four students at Saint John’s from Immokalee.  If you care to learn more about this project and how you could help, please email me at the blog  email address in the box marked “Contact the author.”

+On September 29th I gave three talks on The Saint John’s Bible at Xavier University in Cincinnati.  I had a delightful time, not least because I got to page through one of my favorite books, The Nuremberg Chronicles, printed in the late 15th century.  It is housed in the special collections department in the University library.

+This last weekend in Minnesota it was absolutely stunning weather-wise, and I enjoyed daily walks around campus.  As the enclosed photos illustrate the autumn colors have been slow to arrive.  Included among the photos is one of the new footbridge, which was blessed by Abbot John last week.  It was also a great weekend to contemplate the beauty of Lake Sagatagan, over which the Abbey looks.

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