What's worth our efforts?
5 Aug 2012
“‘Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life …’” (Jn. 6:27)
In the name …
After hearing these words from Jesus I guess it’s a fair question to ask, just what is it that we work for in our lives? What does the society in which we live value as worth our efforts? A fellow Brandeis graduate has written a book recently entitled What Money Can’t Buy. Michael Sandel is now one of the most popular professors at Harvard. Students line up and beg to get into his class. His basic question in that political science class on Justice is how do we do the right thing. His new book is based on the dialogue of that classroom. He argues that our attention as a society has shifted from the shortage of good in the world to the shortage of goods. Ideals have been replaced by deals. We are becoming primarily defined by our consumption, what we buy, not by what we think or believe in, not by what we dream. We are consumers first and foremost. Everything else lines-up behind this priority.
And that’s a pretty dangerous diagnosis when we also realize that the poverty level in our United States of America is now at its highest point in the past 50 years. We’re laying the groundwork for trouble down the road. We’re setting expectations and reality farther and farther apart for an increasing number of Americans. There are now some 47 million poor people in our country. That’s about 1 of every 6 Americans. The disparity between the rich and the poor is steadily increasing too. Does it matter to us if that number reaches 1 in 5, a full 20% of the population? Or are we more narrowly concerned only about making sure we’re not part of that 20%? What if it hits 25%, a quarter of our population being poor? I’m not saying this is going to happen, but when does the number shock us into action to do something so that we don’t only think about our goods, but about The Good? Is 47 million people not enough to make us act? Does it have to reach 70 million people, 25% of all Americans before poverty affects us even if we’re not among the poor? What do we work for? What’s worth our efforts? Jesus wants to know.
Anyone with $180 to spare can go to the Shizuka New York Day Spa in Midtown Manhattan for a facial treatment. And for $180 they will plaster bird dung on your face to make you look younger. Bird dung. For the kids out there, bird poop. It’s their money. They can do what they want with it. But can you see why extremely intelligent Harvard students are fighting to get into Professor Sandel’s class on Justice and talk about the good versus goods, or why a publisher decided there was a market out there for his book among the general population? This bird dung facial is the kind of thing that can be done if you have money to blow, but maybe the more important question is, should it? Is this the kind of thing we’re willing to work for? Again, Jesus just wants to know.
I read a magazine article about these talent agencies that play on young people’s desire to be the next star on the Disney Channel. It reported that UCLA researchers found out that fame has become the most important of the values communicated by the television shows most popular with tweens, those who are between about 8 and 12 years old, those very formative years. Values like community and service, even family, poll behind fame, the desire to be famous and to have all the perks that go with it. It’s not about why someone becomes famous, like the President or something. It’s just about being famous for the sake of being famous, like Paris Hilton. This is what we fill our young people’s minds with today.
My daughters are now driving me around, and that means I sometimes have to listen to their radio stations, and for the first time I heard a group called Nickleback singing I Want to Be a Rock Star. I’m not going to rant on about the lyrics, that’s a theme already played out, but if you watch the video that accompanies this song, at one point they sing something about “every bleach blond Playboy bunny,” and on the video they have two little girls who can’t be more than six years old dancing in the street. What kind of message is that? Who comes up with this stuff and why do the millions of people who have watched the video not get upset? What kind of parents signed the consent papers for these little girls to dance to these lyrics? Now I don’t want to come off like the pastor in the movie Footloose, but something’s wrong here. What’s important to us any more? What are we willing to invest ourselves in? Is it this kind of stuff? Jesus wants to know.
By combining today’s Lesson and Gospel, the church is pointing out to us that we have this unfortunate tendency to complain to God when we feel that He has not done enough for us. Today though Jesus asks in turn what are we willing to work for? Not what is God going to do for us? Not how is God going to solve all of these problems we have allowed and created. Rather, what are we going to do to make this life better? This is Jesus treating us like adults. Asking us to work with Him for the good rather than only asking Him for more goods. This is a Jesus who trusts us, who has faith in us, and who is challenging us to make a difference. The world is chock full of messages about money and fame right down to bird dung facials and six year olds dancing to bleach blond Playboy bunny lyrics, but this, right here, is where we still have the chance to hear Jesus point us away from these things that perish and are rather silly, and point us to the kinds of things that last, that have meaning, that make a difference for the good. I know church is becoming less and less a part of people’s lives and of society in general, but in exactly this kind of a world, I believe we need church more than ever. So what are we willing to work for? That’s Jesus’ question to us as people of faith today, as the church of today. May we find in ourselves and in this community a way to answer that question that makes Jesus proud, and that makes us proud. For this we pray in His name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo