"It is the work that grows from grace that will be a testimony to how we have lived our lives. For Christians true success is measured in the way we use our assets in service to others this is how we lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven."
One of the most difficult things for us to do is to maintain a certain detachment from the world we live in. Popular culture is increasingly secular and Christian morals and values are frequently dismissed or even openly attacked. Our attitude toward wealth and success is one of those dividing points that separate us from the rest of the world.
What does it mean to be in the world but not of the world? Jesus warns us not to confuse who we are with what we have. Our mission and purpose in life is not measured by the amount we have accumulated. At the end of all things, when each of us stands in judgment, it is not our material wealth that will weigh in our favor, but rather, the actions we have taken.
The Businessman and the Fisherman
There is a classic story that illustrates how important it is to recognize what is truly important in our lives.
A vacationing American businessman standing on the pier of a quaint coastal fishing village in southern Mexico watched as a small boat with just one young Mexican fisherman pulled into the dock. Inside the small boat were several large yellowfin tuna. Enjoying the warmth of the early afternoon sun, the American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish.
"How long did it take you to catch them?" the American casually asked.
"Oh, a few hours," the Mexican fisherman replied.
"Why don't you stay out longer and catch more fish?" the American businessman then asked.
The Mexican warmly replied, "With this I have more than enough to meet my family's needs."
The businessman then became serious, "But what do you do with the rest of your time?"
Responding with a smile, the Mexican fisherman answered, "I sleep late, play with my children, watch ball games, and take siesta with my wife. Sometimes in the evenings I take a stroll into the village to see my friends, play the guitar, sing a few songs..."
The American businessman impatiently interrupted, "Look, I have an MBA from Harvard, and I can help you to be more profitable. You can start by fishing several hours longer every day. You can then sell the extra fish you catch. With the extra money, you can buy a bigger boat. With the additional income that larger boat will bring, before long you can buy a second boat, then a third one, and so on, until you have an entire fleet of fishing boats."
Proud of his own sharp thinking, he excitedly elaborated a grand scheme which could bring even bigger profits, "Then, instead of selling your catch to a middleman you'll be able to sell your fish directly to the processor, or even open your own cannery. Eventually, you could control the product, processing and distribution. You could leave this tiny coastal village and move to Mexico City, or possibly even Los Angeles or New York City, where you could even further expand your enterprise."
Having never thought of such things, the Mexican fisherman asked, "But how long will all this take?"
After a rapid mental calculation, the Harvard MBA pronounced, "Probably about 15-20 years, maybe less if you work really hard."
"And then what, señor?" asked the fisherman.
"Why, that's the best part!" answered the businessman with a laugh. "When the time is right, you would sell your company stock to the public and become very rich. You would make millions."
"Millions? Really? What would I do with it all?" asked the young fisherman in disbelief.
The businessman boasted, "Then you could happily retire with all the money you've made. You could move to a quaint coastal fishing village where you could sleep late, play with your grandchildren, watch ball games, and take siesta with your wife. You could stroll to the village in the evenings where you could play the guitar and sing with your friends all you want."
In the sight of God it is not the quantity of our assets that is important but the quality of our being. This attitude is at odds with a world that measures success by the size of the house you live in and the type of car you drive.
How We Work and How We Live
Artists, especially less experienced ones, seem to rely on their tools more than their talent. While brushes, paper, software, computers, and so on can certainly help but they only go so far. Even the techniques, short-cuts, and “tricks” we have learned along the way only get us so far. In the end it is the work that matters above all.
Robert Bateman is one of the most successful wildlife painters. His work is a testimony to his natural gifts and talents. Many young students, seeking to emulate his success are surprised to learn that he uses very inexpensive materials, canvas, acrylic paints, and cheap brushes that he buys new for each painting. The materials serve the work.
It is the work that grows from grace that will be a testimony to how we have lived our lives. For Christians true success is measured in the way we use our assets in service to others this is how we lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven.
Matthew tells us “where your treasure is, there your will your heart be also.” (6:21) What is our treasure? What do we value most in our lives? Is it what we have in the way of material things, or is it what we have in the way of friendships and relationships we have built with others? Where is our heart?
18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Pontifex University is an online university offering a Master’s Degree in Sacred Arts. For more information visit the website at www.pontifex.university
Lawrence Klimecki, MSA, is a deacon in the Diocese of Sacramento. He is a public speaker, writer, and artist, reflecting on the intersection of art and faith and the spiritual “hero’s journey” that is part of every person’s life. He maintains a blog at www.DeaconLawrence.organd can be reached at Lawrence@deaconlawrence.com