Monday, April 23, 2007

Monday in the 3rd Week of Easter
Shopping for Eternal Life

Readings: Acts 6:8-15; Psalm 119:23-24, 26-27, 29-30; John 6:22-29

We often laugh when we hear people say that their hobby is shopping. It’s funny because who really takes shopping seriously? How can we really consider it a proper hobby? A means to while away the time, or an antidote for boredom, or even a bad habit, perhaps, but not quite a hobby. Yet, is it really so easy to shop? I don’t mean the kind of mindless and impulsive buying that we sometimes indulge in; the kind where we come home with a whole bag – or even a carload – of stuff we don’t really need. I mean the kind where you set out purposefully to get the best possible bargain on something truly essential. That’s not easy. It’s not just a matter of picking something off the shelf in the first shop that one enters. To do that kind of shopping, one must know not only what one really needs, but also what’s on offer. And then, with that knowledge in hand, one must also be willing to pay the price.

Isn’t this why Jesus seems to unexpectedly upset in the gospel today? We might think that if Jesus were a shopkeeper, he’d be very happy to see so many prospective customers flocking to his store. But he’s very well aware that these people neither know what they really need, nor do they know what’s on offer. They are looking for food that cannot last, even when the divine shopkeeper is offering them food that endures to eternal life. So Jesus tries to enlighten them. And in his sales pitch Jesus even goes on to tell them the cost of what’s on offer – this is working for God: you must believe in the one he has sent. Are they willing to pay this price?

Quite clearly, the people in the first reading are not. The message that Stephen preaches is simply too much for them. To believe in the Crucified and Risen Jesus and to hand over total control of their lives to him is simply too much to ask. The transformation that is required of them is too great, such that they react not just by walking away, but by arguing with Stephen and finally by persecuting him to death. It’s almost as though they have to remove him completely from their sight so that they will not be reminded of what might have been.

In contrast, both Jesus and Stephen are proud and powerful possessors of the very life that they are offering to others. They are both filled with grace and power that are the gifts of the Spirit. They continue to do the will and to speak the words of God even when people misunderstand, even when they are verbally abused and treated badly, even to the point of death. As we heard in the psalm, God’s will is their delight, and they have chosen the way of truth. Filled with a profound knowledge of the eternal life that God offers, they willingly pay the price to purchase it. Consummate shoppers are they.

Are we?

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