Sunday, August 05, 2007

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Readings: Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:21-23; Psalm 90:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 14, 17; Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11; Luke 12:13-21

Sisters and brothers, I recently found myself jogging along the beach at East Coast Park, when I came upon a fascinating sight, something I’d never seen before, at least not close-up. Just a short distance from the shore, a man was kitesurfing – or I believe another name for it is kiteboarding. His feet were fastened to a small surfboard or wakeboard with which he used to skim across the surface of the water. And in his hands he held a bar connected by several lines to a large kite or sail, which caught the wind and propelled him along. The breeze was strong and the man was obviously quite skillful. It was a joy simply to watch him glide gracefully across the surface of the water at a good speed.

As I watched him, I couldn’t help but marvel at the skill that was needed to do what he was doing. His body was the only thing connecting the kite to the surfboard. Not only did he have to pay attention to the conditions on the water and to keep an eye on where he was going, but he also had to be sensitive to what was going on in the air. He had to be alert and responsive to the subtle changes in both wind and water currents so that he could translate the power of the wind into a force for motion. He had to know when to flex and when to relax the different muscles of his body in ways that enabled him to get to where he wanted to go. If, for some reason, he were to let go of the bar, or fail to catch the wind, not only would he stop moving, he might even begin to sink. And if, on the other hand, he didn’t pay attention to where he was going, he could crash into something or someone, or be carried out to sea. Quite clearly, to be able to kitesurf well, the man had somehow to remain in close touch with both wind and water.

Isn’t this a good image of the skill that is needed to live a good Christian life? As Christians, not only must we pay careful attention to what goes on in the often tumultuous waters of earthly living, we are also called to do what we heard in the second reading today. We must look for the things in heaven, where Christ is. We must let our thoughts be on heavenly things. Just as a good kitesurfer must be sensitive to both wind and water, a Christian is called to remain in close touch with both earth and heaven.

This is quite a challenge. It’s not easy to maintain the balance. There are constant temptations to focus too much on the things that are happening either on the water or in the air, either on the things of earth or on the things of heaven. In the midst of the constant stresses and strains of life, for example, don’t we sometimes wish we could fly off to some faraway land, to escape from it all? Some actually find such escapes in alcohol or drugs or the internet. Others may even resort to religion. They may, for example, spend plenty of time in church, but only in order to avoid having to see and deal with difficult members of the family. Then there are those who find themselves drawn to the ultimate escape. Perhaps they take too much to heart the words of the first reading today. The disappointments of life have led them to see the vanity, the illusory nature, of our endless strivings. Why not be gone forever? Why not succumb to despair and lose oneself in the jaws of death?

If these people think too much of death, there are those, on the other hand, who tend to forget all about it. Often these will be people who have done well for themselves, people who are apparently very skillful at navigating the waters of life. But their earthly skills and successes tend to blind them to the things of heaven. Like a kitesurfer who loses hold of his kite, they fail to get to where they need to go and may even find themselves sinking in life’s treacherous waters.

Isn’t this what Jesus is warning us about in the gospel today, when he tells us to be on your guard against avarice of any kind, for a man’s life is not made secure by what he owns, even when he has more than he needs? Isn’t Jesus telling us not to be too embroiled in the things of this earth in such a way that we lose sight of our final heavenly destination?

And isn’t this a warning that we need very much to hear, especially in these days? Consider the report in today’s Straits Times telling of how the buoyant property market is resulting in more people bringing members of their own family to court over property disputes. A father is suing his daughter and her siblings, a mother is suing her son, another mother her daughter and son-in-law, and someone else his cousin. Aren’t these clear signs that something is amiss? Isn’t it obvious that there are those among us who are drowning in the avarice that Jesus is warning us against today? In the midst of an economic boom, aren’t some of us forgetting the vanity, the illusory nature, of material possessions? Aren’t we forgetting that, rich or poor, there will come a day when we all have to die? And what will become of our million- and billion-dollar properties then? Isn’t what we heard in the first reading all too true? Don’t we all have to leave what is our own to someone who has not toiled for it at all?

Sisters and brothers, to live a good Christian life, we must learn to avoid both pitfalls. We must learn to resist the twin temptations of avarice and escape. We must somehow acquire the skill of the kitesurfer. We must somehow learn to simultaneously be fully engaged in all the intricate details of our earthly life while continually focusing our thoughts on heavenly things. Granted, this is not easy to do. But doesn’t our second reading point us the way forward when it encourages us to look to Christ?

For just as the body of the kitesurfer is the only thing connecting wind and water, so too is the mystery of the Body of Christ our privileged connection between earth and heaven. We learn to kitesurf only to the extent that we look to Christ and follow his example. Isn’t this what we are doing here at this Eucharist this evening? We are here as the Body of Christ contemplating and celebrating Christ’s presence among us in Word and Sacrament, in people and presider. We are here to acquire the skills of Christ our consummate kitesurfer.

Sisters and brothers, shall we all go kitesurfing today?


  1. Dear Father,

    How does one 'put to death...the parts of (us) that are earthly' (2nd reading of today) without having to dedicate one's life to the services of God? As you say, it is easier said than done, but the only way that we can consciously put away all our 'earthly' bits is if we dedicate our everyday lives to religious teachings. Our lives at work (and sometimes at home) require us to be shrewd in our ways and occasionally adopt our 'earthly' features in order to survive, let alone to succeed. You mention 'balance'... does that mean that God will turn a blind eye to some of our 'earthly' behaviours? Does God recognise balance? He seems to only condone one way of doing things in today's reading and most of his teachings - which is the God-like ways.

  2. It's important to note that the word "earth" has several meanings in the bible. In the letter to the Colossians, it has a negative connotation, referring to "things carnal in contrast to things heavenly" (Easton's Bible Dictionary (online)), which is also the meaning you quite rightly picked up. However, in the homily, the word "earthly" is used to refer to our lives in this world in general, and not just to the negative aspects. I'm sorry for the confusion, but I thought it was important to highlight the fact that we do live on "earth", even though we are called to set our sights on heavenly things. It is true that we are called to 'put to death' the carnal parts of ourselves. But don't we also pray in the "Our Father" that the Father's will be done, and that God's kingdom might come "on earth as in heaven"? Hope this helps...

  3. You have mentioned religion, alcohol or drugs and ultimately, death, as an escape. You forgot about the office aka paid work - I find that many of us use work as an excuse to avoid being with our family, or rather "drown" ourselves in something that we can control and also which rewards us in more tangible ways. I'm guilty of this too - I often don't receive any validation in my role as wife and mum, hence I go out to work as my role in the office makes me feel more valued.

    As my husband works longer hours and travels sometimes, I think we sometimes use work as an "escape". We're too busy between work and the kids and too tired when we're done.

  4. Dear Father,

    Your response helped, thank you. It's a long-standing issue, this one I've had, in trying to understand whether God advocates "balanced" lives, where the word "balanced" itself connotates an in-between of good and bad, or in this case, both heavenly and earthly things.