I once heard a sports commentator explain why American croquet teams rarely defeat their British counterparts. "The British," he claimed, "have a habit of changing the rules in their favor just when we're about to win the match."
Some of us employ the same "British" strategy in areas other than croquet.
The most exacting task we followers of God face is structuring our world and life according to God's rules rather than the rules we artificially and subjectively "play by."
Finding God
As a proponent of wisdom, Sirach the teacher spent a lifetime discovering God's presence in the world -- a presence which reveals God's plan for him (Sir 3:17-18, 20, 28-29). As he points out in Sunday's first reading, some of God's actions are above our understanding, `too sublime' for us, "things beyond (our) strength.'
Yet Sirach knows God also is responsible for other actions, actions we can understand. It's with those actions that he and his students are concerned. And it's in the quest of the meaning of those actions that he gives the following two directives:

  • First, God's actions can be understood only by those individuals who are honest about themselves. "Conduct your affairs in humility," he writes. "Humble yourselves the more, the greater you are." If we don't make honest attempts to understand who we are, how can we possibly understand what God wants of us?
  • Second, in order to appreciate God's design for us and our world, our lives must revolve around others. "Water quenches a flaming fire," Sirach observes, "and alms atone for sin." Along with all our sacred authors, Sirach believes that we primarily discover God in relationships.
    Unless we're honest about ourselves and concentrate on our relations with others, Sirach is certain that we're not even in Yahweh's ballpark.
    Jesus tries to lead His followers to the same insight. In the Gospel (Lk 14:1, 7-14), He first tells them not to engage life according to the world's rules. "Don't even try," he advises, and gives an example: "What you should do when you have been invited to a gathering is to go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host approaches you he will say, `My friends, come up higher.'"
    In other words, let the person who creates the rules for the "society game" tell you where you fit into the game. Such games and their rules are artificial and arbitrary anyway.
    But then Jesus gives His rules. "Don't worry," He says, "about where people put you. Worry about where you put others."
    Invitations
    "Whenever you give a lunch or dinner," Jesus commands, "do not invite your friends or brothers or relatives or wealthy neighbors. They might invite you in return and thus repay you. No, when you have a reception, invite beggars and the crippled, the lame and the blind. You should be pleased that they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid in the resurrection of the just."
    Jesus gives us a new "game" and creates its rules. The resurrection -- His and ours -- is now the focus point, not worldly honors. Because we believe Jesus is alive among us, the poor and helpless are the most important people in the world, not the rich and famous. It's especially in our relationship with the world's most helpless that we come upon the risen Jesus.
    The author of the Letter to the Hebrews (Heb 12:18-19, 22-24) reflects on the same rule change, but from a different angle. No longer is our life a pilgrimage to an untouchable Mt. Sinai, he writes, to a mountain that makes us recoil in terror. "No," he reminds his community, "you have drawn near to Mt. Zion,...to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant."
    Once Jesus becomes the significant other in our lives, our lives change totally. Now we're constantly on the road to Jesus -- to the Jesus we've discovered in those whom the world regard as insignificant.
    Brand new game, brand new rules; no longer our rules, but God's, so unique and binding that not even the British can change them.

    (08-27-98)