4 Sunday C - Homily and Illustrations

Michel de Verteuil
General Comments 

The incident related in today’s gospel story is a precious moment of grace for the people of Nazareth, one that we too experience from time to time – Jesus invites them to stop hiding behind their false identity and come to the truth of themselves.
We all need to feel special; the problem is how we go about fulfilling that need. The easy – but false – way is to take the short cut of finding our “specialness” in belonging to a group that considers itself superior to others. We find our “specialness” in our sex, race, colour, ethnic origin, nationality, or from the fact that we are married, are “old boys” or “old girls” of some school, university graduates, have a job, or own our homes.

Today’s reading reminds us that the same happens with religious groups. The people of Nazara, like the Jews in general, like members of churches, or of groups within them such as priests, religious and leaders of prayer groups, look on themselves as “the chosen people”.
The basic fault in all these situations is to  forget that being part of a group says nothing about our personal worth. If we settle for the group-identity we become complacent and stop facing the truth about ourselves.

The moment of grace comes when someone from our group sees through the cover up, starts mixing with outsiders, and declares that some of them are every bit as good as we are, perhaps even better. A good Catholic boy marries a girl from a different faith, and comes back to say that his in-laws are just as holy as members of his church. One of our own children, perhaps in a moment of anger, shows up our double standards and compares us unfavourably with our neighbours.

We think of those who refuse to play the racial game in politics, business or sport, and criticise members of their own religious or ethnic group. At the world level, Pope John Paul asks forgiveness for the sins of the church, Gandhi refers to the dalits as God’s special children, Nelson Mandela forgives the former rulers of South Africa.

Our spontaneous reaction may be to be angry with those who break ranks. We brand them “traitors.” Our anger is understandable. We are suddenly faced with the reality that we are not “a master race”, “born to rule”, “chosen people”; we must take our place alongside people that we considered inferior, admit our failings, work hard for success.
In the church, all of us – priests, religious, laity – realise that we must “work for our salvation with fear and trembling”.

The person moves on and leaves us to ponder this painful but very important moment of truth. Very gradually, over a period of months perhaps, the truth sets us free. Our anger turns to gratitude, we thank God that the Jesus-person he sent us did not flinch before our anger, but slipped away quietly leaving us to move from a false identity and find our true selves.
 

John Littleton

Gospel Reflection

A prophet’s task is never easy. When prophetic people are serious about their task they inevitably become unpopular with other people. Jesus experienced this early in his ministry when he was rejected by the people from his home town. That was why he said: ‘No prophet is ever accepted in his own country’ (Luke 4:24).

Contrary to much popular opinion, prophets — at least in the biblical understanding of the term — do not foretell the future or speak on their own authority. Throughout Judeo-Christian history, prophets have been first and foremost God’s spokespersons, literally people who speak for God. But prophets have also interceded with God on behalf of their people, thereby exercising a dual role in divine-human relationships. 

Thus the role of prophets has been, and continues to be, tremendously important and necessary in the lives of God’s people. Without prophets, and more particularly without people heeding their teaching, believers in God cannot be knowledgeable about the authentic meaning of his revelation (that is, self-communication). 

It is important to realise that prophets emerge from ordinary people, people like us. They do not drop from the sky and they are usually relatively normal people. Indeed, they are reluctant recruits who merely do what is necessary. 

This is significant because we tend to dismiss the possibility that we ourselves, or family members friends or colleagues could be called by God to be prophets in our Church and in the world. The call to be prophetic is part of our baptismal commitment whereby we decide to bear witness to the teaching of Christ and his Church. The fact is that, through the commitment we make in baptism and confirmation we are obliged to speak the truth, especially when confronted with evil and sinful situations. A question worth answering is: do we accept God’s invitation and speak the truth with conviction and true compassion 

Prophets are holy people. They are uncompromising in their faithfulness to the word of God. They always speak the truth, regardless of the consequences, offering encouragement and hope to people who have no sense of meaning or purpose in life. They challenge people to repent for their sins and to seek God’s mercy. That is true compassion. 

There is still a need for prophets in our society, men and women who are faithful to their baptismal commitment. We need to listen to them and learn from them. Also, we need to remember that every Christian has to exercise the prophetic vocation in the world of work, leisure and family life, praying for the grace to fulfil this important part of our Christian vocation.
 

 Thomas O’Loughlin
Homily Notes 

1. It is amazing how quickly people can turn from praising Sol1leone or something to reviling them or rejecting their ideas. One little word that touches something that is close to us in our selfishness is all it takes. We might talk about the environment and ecology for years, but one little curtailment of our enjoyment – a few extra pennies of tax – and suddenly as the talk about climate change gets forgotten and is dis­ttlissed as just more ‘theory’. We see this phenomenon in the gospel: at the start they are all amazed and filled with won­der and praise for a great prophet has arisen and he is one of their own, they even know the family! Then, in a moment, all changes: they are enraged by him, they reject him, and they even want to kill him. But what can get people so annoyed?

2. It is deep within us that our group is the gathering of nice people. We represent civilisation, modernity, and all that is best in the world. We might not be smug as individuals, but group smugness is rarely far away. It is confirmed by the fact that people want to be like us or emigrate to be with us. They recognise that our way of life, our school system, our hospi­tals, our ways of enjoying ourselves all represent a peak of human achievement.

3. However, there are others in this world. Indeed, when we compare them with ourselves we are shocked at the contrast: we are even brighter and more enlightened than we thought we were, and they are darker, dimmer, and more dangerous. Indeed, the very fact that they are different shows that they are bad and a threat to us and our values. And, if they were to oppose us they are opposing civilisation itself.

4. This sort of reasoning is close to nearly every war that is fought and people who wish to lead by fear rather than by vision always need the wicked other. Once war has broken out, then we are usually fighting for nothing less than civilis­ation itself! What a burden is laid on us amidst such dangers!

5. We even get smug about religion: if one is in the right camp, then one is OK And, being in the right camp becomes more im­portant than seeking the truth, working for justice, and acting with integrity and mercy. Religious slogans replace wisdom.

6. This is the blind spot that Jesus irritates in this gospel. He has told them the time of God’s justice has come, but they are more interested in seeing will he perform miracles. God’s servants are not confined to any pre-packaged group. Sidonians and Syrians – foreigners – maybe as much in God’s plan as we are. This is not a nice message. It is not a message that comforts us, but one that asks us to examine some of the dangerous ideas of exclusion we harbour. It is a message that asks us to begin building the kingdom of justice, peace and love, rather than simply thinking that we belong to it because of a label we sometimes wear. 

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Prayer reflection

Lord, we thank you that every once in a way you send us people like Jesus
who shock us by showing us that we have been hiding
behind the identity of the group we belong to.

They remind us of people who don’t belong to our group, whom you have blessed,
a humble widow who was visited by a great prophet,
the leader of a different religious group whom you healed miraculously
while we were left with our diseases.
It is a painful lesson, especially when it comes from someone within our own household,
and we exclaim, ‘This is Joseph’s son, surely, what right has he to be teaching us?’
But it is a moment of grace;
we realise that we must stop looking down on people of other ethnic groups,
of lesser education than ourselves;
we must join members of other churches, religions and faiths, and unbelievers too,
in asking for your mercy and forgiveness.

Lord, you know that our first response is to become enraged
with those who tell us these home truths,
spring to our feet, hustle them out of our town,
take them up to the brow of the hill our church is built on,
intending to throw them down the cliff.

We thank you that the Jesus you sent us slipped out of our grasp and walked away,
leaving us to ponder on the truth,
experience that the Bible was being fulfilled even as we listened,
and we eventually found life from the gracious words that came from his lips.
 

ILLUSTRATIONS: 

1. Liberation for Dalits through Jesus: 

High castes represent a small minority in India, some 10-15% of the population, yet dominated Indian society in much the same way whites ruled South Africa during the official period of Apartheid. For centuries, Indian society has lived under a rigid caste system imposed by the high caste Hindus in which each person was born into a set social group. People who were born into the highest social group, or caste, used to receive the benefits of honor respect and privileges. Then, there are different levels, or castes, below this. A person's caste at birth determined what job he could have, whom he could marry, and what rights he had in his society. On the very lowest rungs of society were the Dalits, whose name actually means "broken, crushed." The Dalits were the targets of violence and discrimination in Indian society for a long time. Fortunately they are no more discriminated under the new law. But now, the Dalits face persecution for another reason: their faith. Nearly 70% of Indian Christians are Dalits. Reservation of 22.5 percent of all government and semi government jobs including seats in Parliament and state legislatures is available only to Dalits who follow Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism, but Dalit Christians and Muslims are not protected as castes under Indian Reservation policy. The legal reason is that there is no caste system in Christianity and Islam. The Christian faith was quite attractive to the Dalits. They chose to follow Christ even when they knew the consequences they might face including the denial of free education and job reservation given to Hindu Dalits. Why would the Hindu  Dalits, who were targets of discrimination and abuse, invite more such treatment by becoming Christians? Because in Christ, they meet a God of liberation who loves and lifts up those whom others would tear down. His heart is with those who suffer. He cares about those who are hurting, who are helpless, who are brokenhearted, who are in bondage. They consider Jesus as their divine liberator, and God of justice. (Timothy Merrill, "Giving Flesh to the Word," Homiletics, July-August 1999).

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2: "We hold it to be self-evident, that all people are created equal."

Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream that one day, on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners would be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. He had a dream that one day his four children would not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. With this faith he believed people could turn the mountain of despair into the mountain of hope, and transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony. Americans are better people because Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream. In his preaching for liberation he did not say anything new. His message was 2000 years old -- as old as Jesus’ synagogue speech at Nazareth. He said, "We hold it to be self-evident, that all people are created equal." Dr. King looked out and saw people who were not treated as equals. He perceived others for whom this truth was not self-evident. So he went from city to city and said, "Today is the day when we will take seriously our own Declaration of Independence." Gunshots rang out and cut him down. Why? What radical act did he commit which took his life? In the tradition of the Bible's prophets, he reminded people of what they already knew and said, "Today is the day." He drew inspiration from the message of total liberation preached by Jesus in his inaugural address at Nazareth and met with the same fate as Jesus did. The theology of liberation, when courageously preached can be costly, costing one his very life itself.

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3:  The prophetic call and fear of rejection:

John Quincy Adams, the sixth President of the United States and the son of a former President, reportedly said that he would rather clean filth from the streets than be President. Scripture tells us that most of the prophets shared John Quincy Adams’ feeling of inadequacy to their calling. Moses tried to convince God that he didn’t speak well enough, and Jeremiah complained to God that he was too young. The prophets trembled at the trials ahead of them – and with good reason. Israel had a long history of rejecting prophets (2 Chron 36:16; Jer 2: 30; Amos 2: 12; Matt 23: 37; Luke 13: 34; I Thess 2: 15; Heb 11: 32ff.). Jeremiah was threatened with death several times, thrown into an empty and muddy cistern, imprisoned, dragged off to exile in Egypt, and, perhaps, most painful of all, was forced to watch the destruction of Jerusalem because its inhabitants would not listen to his message. At least twice in his lifetime, the prophet Elijah spoke the truth of God to king Ahab concerning the king’s promotion of idolatry. As a result, he was forced to flee into the wilderness where he suffered great privation (I Kg 16-29-17: 3 and I Kg 18: 16-19: 4). Today’s gospel story is another example of why the prophets did not jump for joy at their career prospects. In the space of five verses, we see the people of Jerusalem because its inhabitants would not listen to his message. At least twice in his lifetime, the prophet Elijah spoke the truth of God to king Ahab concerning the king’s promotion of idolatry. As a result, he was forced to flee into the wilderness where he suffered great privation (I Kg 16-29-17: 3 and I Kg 18: 16-19: 4). Today’s gospel story is another example of why the prophets did not jump for joy at their career prospects. In the space of five verses, we see the people of Nazareth turn from amazement to such fury at Jesus’ words they seized Him and dragged him off to the cliff to murder him. Speaking God’s truth by word or by deed is a risky business even today. Hundreds of missionaries have been martyred since 1990. Thousands of Christians have been killed this past year in Moslem countries and Communist countries. Christians are subjected to the white martyrdom of mental torture in advanced countries, including the U.S., by the agnostic and atheistic media and liberal politicians and judges, forms of the media constantly ridiculing and insulting Christians with unprecedented vengeance.  
 

4. Rejection at the Pearly Gate: 

A cab driver reaches the Pearly Gates and announces his presence to St. Peter, who looks him up in his Big Book. Upon reading the entry for the cabby, St. Peter invites him to grab a silk robe and a golden staff and to proceed into Heaven. A preacher is next in line behind the cabby and has been watching these proceedings with interest. He announces himself to St. Peter. Upon scanning the preacher's entry in the Big Book, St. Peter furrows his brow and says, "Okay, we'll let you in, but you will have only a cotton robe and wooden staff." The preacher is astonished and replies, "But I am a man of the cloth. You gave that cab driver a gold staff and a silk robe. Surely, I rate higher than a cabby." St. Peter responded matter-of-factly: "Here we are interested in results. When you preached, people slept. When the cabby drove his taxi, people prayed."
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5: Rejection resulting in the resignation of the pastor:

There was a feud between the Pastor and the Choir Director of a Baptist church. It seems the first hint of trouble came when the Pastor preached on “Dedicating oneself to service” and the Choir Director chose to sing: "I Shall Not Be Moved." Trying to believe it was a coincidence, the Pastor put the incident behind him. The next Sunday he preached on “giving”. Afterwards, the choir squirmed as the director led them in the hymn: "Jesus Paid It All." By this time, the Pastor was losing his temper. Sunday morning attendance swelled as the tension between the two built. A large crowd showed up the next week to hear his sermon on the “sin of gossiping." Would you believe the Choir Director selected, "I Love to Tell the Story.” There was no turning back. The following Sunday the Pastor told the congregation that unless something changed he was considering resignation. The entire church gasped when the Choir Director led them in: “Why Not Tonight?” Truthfully, no one was surprised when the Pastor resigned a week later, explaining that Jesus had led him there and Jesus was leading him away. The Choir Director could not resist singing, "What A Friend We Have In Jesus."

6: Tell the Cats to Turn Around 

We despise people who challenge our cherished myths and kick us out of our comfort zones. The truth is that when Jesus sets about the task of saving us, he has to heal us of any myth or prejudice that is contrary to the spirit of Christ. Billy Sunday was the Billy Graham of a previous generation. He was conducting a crusade in a particular city. In one of his sermons he said something critical of the labor conditions for workers in that area. After the service, several prominent businessmen sent a message to him by one of the local pastors. The message was this---Billy, leave labor matters alone. Concentrate on getting people saved. Stay away from political issues. You're rubbing the fur the wrong way." Billy Sunday sent this message back to them: "If I'm rubbing the fur the wrong way, tell the cats to turn around."  

Bill Bouknight
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7. Moving the Margins

Jesus lived on the margins and moved the margins to include all people, and hence invited hostile crowds to want to edge him out of existence. Today the church wants to edge Jesus out of our worship anytime the margins are made too wide and include too many who are not like us. Recently I was sitting at my computer, contemplating the way Jesus offended so many people so quickly in his ministry. I asked, "Why?" The answer was at the top of my screen. My word processing instructions at the top read: "Drag the margin boundaries on the rulers." That is why he upset people so much: in his life he dragged the margin boundaries of race, creed, and color to include all people. He dragged the margin boundaries when he gave a common meal, which we have made a holy meal symbolic of his inclusive love for all people. Jesus is dragged to the edge of a cliff to be put out of the lives of his townspeople because no one wants the margins of daily living to be inclusive of strangers.

Richard W. Wing, Deep Joy for a Shallow World
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8. Preaching at Home 

I want to let you in on an industry secret. Ready? Most preachers have a difficult time preaching in the congregations where they grew up. It is true for me. I was recently invited to preach in the church where I grew up. My mixed feelings about the invitation were justified. Before anybody heard a word I said, they remembered little Billy Carter, who made paper airplanes out of worship bulletins and dropped them from the balcony when nobody was looking. Even the newcomers who joined long after I moved away had been indoctrinated. They knew members of my family, and that became the filter through which they heard the content of my sermon. Before that congregation heard me, they already knew me....

It is difficult for a preacher to go back home. Everybody knows you. That is the problem. Of all the sayings of Jesus, one of the few things he said that appears in all four gospels is that a prophet gets no respect in a prophet's hometown. To put it another way, "You become an expert only after you move more than ten miles from home."

William G. Carter, Praying for a Whole New World
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9. Joseph's Kid? 

Based on verse 22, it appears there was immediately a double-reaction: some were amazed and part of their amazement at his "gracious" speech gets expressed in the line "Isn't this Joseph's son?" But that question seems to cut two ways, and Jesus' subsequent words indicate his awareness of this. The question "Isn't this Joseph's son" CAN be a source of genuine wonder and appreciation-look how far our local boy has come! But it's not difficult to see that the same question could be asked with a real edge to it, with a sneer, with derision. "Joseph's kid? Good grief. He was a nobody back in the day and he's a nobody from a no-account family now. Forget him!"

Jesus then goes on to suggest that maybe those very detractors in the crowd that day would be asking him shortly for an authenticating sign. Although we have not as of yet been told directly by Luke of any particular work Jesus did in Capernaum, apparently he's been there and done some amazing things. But Jesus is no trained dog or dancing bear and he makes clear he's not going to do any such thing in Nazareth. Worse, he inflames people still more by saying that with the attitudes some were harboring in their hearts at that very moment, the Nazareth populace was not worthy of a divine working. Instead, as in the feckless, sub-spiritual days of Elijah and Elisha, God would work his wonders elsewhere, outside Israel.

Scott Hoezee
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 10. On the Way to the Cross

When God's light shines on the way of the cross, you and I are invited to see both the stretch of God's grace and the truth of our own disobedience. Here so early in Luke's Gospel, the Lord's encounter with humanity's self righteousness and preoccupation with the hometown attitude, it is already driving him to the cross. Before the healings and the teaching and the miraculous catch of fish, before Mary and Martha, and the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son and Zacchaeus, before the rich man who was told to sell everything and give it to the poor and the poor widow who put in everything she had, before all of that, Jesus was on his way to the cross. Before Luke makes it abundantly clear that the Gospel of Jesus Christ would reach into "all the living that you have", Jesus was well on his way.

It's that reach that causes us to squirm, or to keep a safe distance, or to run away. The Canadian theologian Douglas John Hall remembers that Paul Scherer, a great preacher of the past, used to point out that in the New Testament the kingdom of heaven and the life of discipleship is so often described as a great feast, a bounteous banquet. But then that preacher reminds the hearers of the irony that everyone was trying stay away from that feast. Or as Hall himself then wonders, how is it that the theology of "megachurchianity" in our culture assumes that everyone has this strong compulsion to "get as close to Jesus as possible?" To draw near to this Jesus is to encounter the Gospel that confronts and convicts and threatens. And you and I find our place somewhere in Luke's crowd, because if we're honest, the Gospel of Jesus Christ hits too close to home, to the hometown crowd. "They got up, drove him out of town and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff....but Jesus went on his way."

David Davis
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11. Reminding Us of What We Already Know

When I began my work as a preacher, I spent a lot of time poking around the pages of Scripture for something unusual. My only objective was to find something that would prompt me to say, "This will get them." I would find something in the book of Obadiah and preach on it, murmuring, "I'll bet they have never heard this before." I was right; they had never heard it before. As a result, it had no power. No authority. No sense of importance or urgency.

Once in a while, I would give in and turn to a text that everybody had heard before. At coffee hour, folks would say, "Whew! You really gave it to us today!" Little by little, it began to dawn on me: The power of the prophetic word does not come from roaming a far country where no one has gone before. The real power of the gospel comes from reminding the people of God of what they already know.

William G. Carter, Praying for a Whole New World
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12. The Word 

The Sanford Hotel in San Francisco reports that it never lost a single Bible in the 15 years it placed them at the bedside as a service to the guests. But, in one month after it started putting dictionaries in the rooms as well, 41 dictionaries disappeared. Now, I don't know whether you can draw a solid conclusion from that, but on the surface, it seems obvious that persons apparently place a greater value on human words than they do the Word of God.
So, there are words and The Word. Of course, the Bible is the Word above all other words. But we go even further than that in the Christian faith. Jesus is the Word -- the Word become flesh -- and by the Word that He is, we assess all other words including the Bible.

We could have spent the entire sermon talking about the message that Jesus read from Isaiah when He took up the book in the temple.

Maxie Dunnam
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13. Fear of the Cure

In order for Jesus to heal us, He must first expose our sins, prejudices, and myths. That process is not pleasant. It made the folks in Nazareth fighting mad. In order for Jesus to heal them, he had to challenge some of their cherished myths and prejudices.  

When I was a boy of 7 or 8, I was running through a neighbor's yard one day and stepped on a sling blade. Today's children don't know what a sling blade is, but it was an ancient grass-cutting instrument. My foot was cut rather deeply. I ran and hid. Why? Because I had heard that in such cases a doctor would stitch up the wound, and nothing sounded more dreadful to me than having somebody sticking a needle and thread into me repeatedly like I was a piece of cloth...
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Homily on: 1 Corinthians 12,31-13:13
Some years ago a popular song told us, "What the world needs now is love, love, love." Perhaps the composer of this song was inspired by St Paul's letter to the Corinthians. At any rate, Paul of Tarsus would totally agree with the main lines of the song.

Only one person in the history of the United States has had the good fortune or, if you prefer, the misfortune to be inaugurated four times as President. He was the remarkable Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

As his biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin will attest, the man from Hyde Park, New York was not an especially religious person. Yet, he knew his St Paul. At each of his inaugurations, the Roosevelt family Bible was held by the Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court. And each time it was open to today's superb second reading on love. The President was as much impressed by the thirteenth chapter of Paul's letter to the small Christian colony at Corinth in Greece as we are.

This chapter has been correctly called a hymn of love. I suppose too we might name it a hymn to love. Many would argue that the thirteenth chapter of first Corinthians is not merely the finest prose in St Paul's letters but also in the entire New Testament. Authors of whatever stripe would consider their oeuvre complete if they could run off such a sublime message on their word processors. The Holy Spirit had full burners working when He inspired Paul of Tarsus on this passage.

I recall as a boy listening to the late actor, James Mason, with his marvelous voice recite this chapter from memory.  As young as I was, I felt goosepimples moving swiftly around my skin. I can well understand how Beethoven's audience must have felt that night he first conducted his Ninth Symphony.

All of us at some time have asked in one form or another, "What is love?" There are of course many answers to the query. The one offered by mystics is the one I find most satisfying. They would say simply that love is a person. His name is Jesus. And, if you want to be an authentic lover, become that Jesus. To paraphrase Nobel Prize laureate Seamus Heaney, He is the "lure let down to tempt the soul to rise."

One author further suggest a strategem for our instruction. Wherever Paul mentions the word "love," we should substitute the word "Jesus."

Listen! Jesus is always patient and kind. He is never jealous. He is never boastful or conceited. He is never rude or selfish. He does not take offense and is not resentful. He takes no pleasure in other people's sins but delights in the truth. He is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope, and to endure whatever comes.

The glorious language does fit our Leader well, does it not? But suppose that wherever St Paul mentions love, we substitute our own names. Is there anyone here who thinks the language fits us? If anything, we should grow red in the face - all of us - and hopefully sigh our regrets. Yet, the exercise does tell us the direction we Christ followers should be heading.

However, we might better be able to substitute our own names with more confidence if we were to begin to practice what someone has called the Golden Rules for Living. If you open it, close it. If you turn it on, turn it off. If you unlock it, lock it up. If you break it, admit it. If you can't fix it, call in someone who can. If you borrow it, return it. If you value it, take care of it.  If you make a mess, clean it up. If you move it, put it back. If it belongs to someone else, get permission to use it. If you don't know how to operate it, leave it alone. If it's none of your business, don't ask questions.

Aldous Huxley spent some time as professor of the Humanities at the celebrated Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was a world-class intellectual. There he told a friend, "...it's rather embarrassing to have spent one's entire lifetime pondering the human condition and to come toward its close and find that I really don't have anything more profound to pass on by way of advice than, 'Try to be a little kinder.'" St Paul would say, "Amen to that!"                            
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