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Common Sense

Thirteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)

Scriptural Readings: 2 Kings 4:8-11, 14-16a; Psalms 89:2-3, 16-17, 18-19; Roman 6:3-4, 8-11; Matthew 10:37-42

My dear encountered couples:

There was a charming little village in the middle of one of the finest wine producing areas in the world. One year, at the end of an especially bountiful harvest, the villagers decided to have a great festival to which everyone was invited. Each villager was asked to bring a bottle of his own wine and to pour it into a giant barrel from which everyone would fill their glasses.

One of the villagers had the inspiration, “If I pour a bottle of water in that giant barrel, no one will notice the difference, and I'll save the wine for myself later.” So that’s what he did: poured in his bottle of water when no one was watching too closely. And then he waited to drink the wine that everybody else had brought. There was just one catch: Every single person in the village had thought no one would notice if they did the same thing. So, when the banquet began and the giant barrel was tapped, what came out was water.

Today’s Gospel is very confusing and not at all happy. It seems to declare war on the family: If you love father or mother too much, you can't be Jesus’ friend. It seems to go looking for pain and suffering: Pick up your cross and follow Jesus. And it seems to be hostile to self-esteem and success: Bring yourself to naught.

Well, fortunately, that's not at all what Jesus is saying. Though it doesn't sound like it, he is telling us how to have a happy life, now and always. And he's is saying that the price for the kind of happiness we want is everything we've got. Nothing less than the investment of our whole selves will do. Why? For two reasons!

The first is common sense: You don't get fat dividends from a skinny investment, right? If I want to be a concert pianist, I must practice twelve hours a day for years. A weekend won't do it. If I want a good sermon, I must start thinking and writing a long time before the congregation arrives. If I want a gourmet meal, I must buy the best ingredients and take no shortcuts.

Now we all know this principle very well, but look at how many lousy pianists, bad preachers, and rotten cooks there are. And think of how many parts of our lives are littered with the wreckage of failures and mediocrities which didn't have to happen, but were the inevitable result of our half-baked commitment and halfhearted effort. We do keep trying to buy a beautiful future on the cheap, and we're oh so surprised when it never works out.

There's another more complicated reason why happiness can't be had for anything less than all we've got. And this reason is built inside us. Remember the villager who decided not to put his share of the wine into the barrel. He said, “No one will notice, anyway.”

Well, he was wrong because nothing in this world goes unnoticed. It's not that there's an angel accountant keeping a careful record somewhere. In fact, there is need of an accountant to check on us – because a perfect record of our every choice is kept inside us, in our heart.

Just as we are what we eat, we become what we do. And when any of our choices begin with a question like, “What's the least I can do and get away with it?”, we can be sure that major damage is being done to our hearts at that very moment.

With each half-hearted or mean-spirited choice, our hearts are being shriveled and hardened before our very eyes. And as the heart shrinks and shrivels, it has less and less capacity for receiving and experiencing the joy it craves. There's no room for the joy it thought it somehow could secure by holding onto as much and investing as little as possible.

Jesus knows we have this trouble this endless temptation to try to get by on the cheap. So, his formula for happiness goes right to the heart of the matter. He says, “Love the Lord with your whole heart, whole soul, and your whole mind. And love your neighbor as you love yourself.” Hold nothing back. Set no limits on what you're willing to expend on life. The heart that has withheld nothing, that has given its all, will be huge indeed, ready at each moment to take in the vast amounts of happiness we crave. That's not an arbitrary rule. That's just the way it works.

So, listen to Jesus. He knows what he's talking about and he was willing to die to make certain you got the message


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