The great theologian Paul Tillich once wrote, “Man’s ultimate concern must be expressed symbolically, because symbolic language alone is able to express the ultimate.” The “true” Christian is not an appropriate kind of terminology. Truth defines Jesus and not the rest of us. Jesus always point toward the “ultimate.” He daily communed with the “Father,” taught his apostles to pray to the “Father” in an intimate way, he said he only did what the “Father” did. It was a simple profound communication with the “ultimate.”
I think people worry a lot about the ultimate in their life. Folks don’t talk about it much. They don’t discuss it at dinner parties. Instead they think about it in the shower or the basement workshop or in that deer stand when you are alone and cold. Maybe you think about it at the bedside of a dying parent or child. Then the ultimate can’t be avoided. Does my life matter – does my existence matter? The thing that matters for the Christian is Christ. Life in Christ.
As we approach Holy Week we who follow Jesus hear his voice forgiving his executioners, the thief on the cross next to him, loving his mother, feeling alone and desperately human, and resigning to the death he willing lived for. What did Jesus have in the end? No home, no closet of clothes, no status – what little he had soldiers tossed dice to take. Maybe they would have sold it or worn it – after all the sign above his head said, “King of the Jews.” Maybe it was worth something this seamless robe. It didn’t say, “He said he was King of the Jews.It said he was King of the Jews.”
I think when people start to follow Jesus, I mean really follow him, possessions take on a different meaning. They see them as a means to bless others. You know, “If you have two coats, give one to someone who needs it,” that sort of thing. Perhaps,”If you have some fish and some biscuits in your sack lunch, feed some people who need it.” If you don’t have much it doesn’t matter. What matters is the “ultimate.” In the end communication with the Ultimate makes a big difference – mostly the listening part and then doing something about what you hear.
I always liked this story that Jesus told as it’s recorded in Matthew’s Gospel during that time Christians call the holiest of weeks:
“But what do you think about this? A man with two sons told the older boy, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ The son answered, ‘No, I won’t go,’ but later he changed his mind and went anyway. Then the father told the other son, ‘You go,’ and he said, ‘Yes, sir, I will.’ But he didn’t go.
“Which of the two obeyed his father?”
They replied, “The first.”
Then Jesus explained his meaning: “I tell you the truth, corrupt tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the Kingdom of God before you do. For John the Baptist came and showed you the right way to live, but you didn’t believe him, while tax collectors and prostitutes did. And even when you saw this happening, you refused to believe him and repent of your sins.”
Jesus cares about a living faith. Believing is faith in action. It is realizing what the Father means to you – even though your default reaction is rebellion your love overcomes it. When you are forgiven much you learn to forgive much.