August 11, 2013
Today’s gospel seems harsh and demanding. We are said to be servants waiting the return of our master. Of course, the master is Christ who will return at the end of time to establish God’s kingdom. But, until that time when Christ comes, Jesus expects us to be active, to be vigilant, to be busy. Jesus expects us to work.
The gospel seems demanding because its emphasis is on our work, our service, our responsibility to build the kingdom of God. Just as soon as Jesus lowers that obligation upon us, it is easy to flee for cover. We can all look for excuses. “Yes, I know I’m supposed to be loving, generous, forgiving, patient, and kind, but I have only so much energy.” “I’m not feeling all that well today.” “I have other things that I have to do first.” So, there you have it. Christ calls us to build the kingdom of God, and we have all kinds of reasons why we are too busy, too depressed, too tired, too old, or too weak to do it.
So, how do we turn this around? How do we become the servants that Christ asks us to be? How do we motivate ourselves to build God’s kingdom? It might surprise you, but what might be missing in this enterprise is beauty. August Renoir was one of the greatest painters of all time. His paintings are alive with color and beauty. Yet, for the last 20 years of Renoir’s life, he dealt with crippling arthritis. His hands were twisted and gnarled. He actually had to tie his paintbrush onto his hand in order to hold it. The arthritis also inflicted his back so he could not stand while he was painting. He required assistance to move from one position to the next. Every brush stroke, every movement was torture. On one occasion, his friend Matisse asked him, “August, why do you keep torturing yourself in this way? You don’t need the money. Why do you keep painting?” Renoir answered, “The pain passes, but the beauty remains.”
Renoir was able to push through the pain of his arthritis because he saw the beauty in what he was creating. He was able to accomplish what he could not out of obligation but out of the realization that what he was doing was important. We can apply this same attitude to doing the work of the gospel, because the work of Christ is both beautiful and important.
Yes, it is difficult at times to be patient and understanding with our children, with our parents, with our spouse. The fact that Christ commands us to do so doesn’t make it any easier. But, if we could see the beautiful parts of the people in our family, if we could recognize their sincerity, their innocence, their honesty, their energy, we could push through all the frustrating peculiarities and love them.
Yes, it is difficult at times to find the time and energy to help others: to give some time to the elderly neighbor who lives on our street, to work in a soup kitchen, to volunteer to teach a child to read. But, if we could remember the beauty of the people that we help and how important it is to have them fed, literate, and not alone, we could push through all the complications of our schedules and serve them.
When we’re dealing with grief or arthritis or discouragement, it is difficult to remain positive. But, if we could see the beauty of the smile that we could bring to another’s face, and understand the way that our attitude can lift the attitude of others, we can push through the pain and be the presence of Christ to those around us.
Jesus calls us to build God’s kingdom, and that is work. But if we see the beauty of the people in our families, the people in the world, and the importance of the people that we help, we can push through all the excuses and become Christ’s servants. The pain passes, but the beauty remains. Choose today to be a part of the beauty of God’s love.