08 February 2015

So that I may share in the Gospel

5th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Dom/Carmelite Laity/OLR, NOLA

Job is not a happy man right now. He's lost everything. His life is drudgery. He's a like a slave who works away his days in the sun, longing for shade. All his nights are troubled. He's soaked in months of misery. Restlessness while trying to sleep; hopeless while he's awake. He says, “. . .my life is like the wind; I shall not see happiness again.” We know all too well why Job is having such a tough time. He's lost everything. His wealth. His health. His family. All of it. He might be able to suffer well under his material losses, but he's lost one thing that all of us need most. He's lost his purpose. He's lost his end, his reason for living. If he had a purpose, he could look forward and place his losses within a bigger plan to reach that goal. But without a goal, Job has no way to give his suffering meaning. Jesus has a purpose. Paul has a purpose. And they know happiness in knowing their purpose. What purpose do you serve? Can you name the happiness that gives all of your suffering a meaning?

What's the point of having a pupose? Isn’t it easier getting out of bed in the morning knowing you have a purpose, knowing you have a goal to achieve, a To Do List for your life that needs some work? Isn't it easier making it to work or class or the next thing on the list knowing that your attention, energy, labor, and time will be focused on completing a mission, on getting something done? With the time we have and the talents we're given, don’t we prefer to see constructive and profitable outcomes? Even when we’re being a bit lazy, wasting a little time doing much of nothing, we have it in the back of our mind to get busy, to get going on something, checking that next thing on the list and moving toward a goal. It’s how we are made to live in this world. Not merely to live for a daily To Do List, but to move toward some sort of perfection, some sort of completion. 
For example, Paul writes to the Corinthians: “If I preach the gospel, this is no reason for me to boast, for an obligation have been imposed on me, and woe to me if I do not preach it!” Paul is given a goal, a purpose beyond mere survival, beyond merely getting along. Having been smacked around by the Lord for persecuting the Church, Paul finds himself ordered to a regime of holiness, a kingdom of righteousness, that demands more than rule-following, more than simply showing up and breathing in the temple's atmosphere. Paul must preach. He must travel city to city, province to province, publicly witnessing to his repentance, to the power of Christ’s mercy accomplished on the Cross.

Paul’s sleep is restful. His work exhausts him. He is a slave whose labor is never drudgery, never pointless. His end, his purpose is Jesus Christ; the telling again and again of his story; his bruising encounter with the man of love. And offering to anyone who will open their eyes to see and their ears to hear; offering to them the same restfulness; the same pleasing exhaustion; the same intense, purposeful focus that the need to proclaim the Good News compels.
Jesus, exhausted by his purpose, is doing his best to find a little time away from the crowds. When Simon and other disciples find him and say, “Everyone is looking for you.” Jesus, pursued, literally, by his purpose responds responsibly, “Let us go to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come.” Soon he will look out over the vast crowd and, moved by compassion, teach them many things. Now, exhausted himself, he takes his students out again to preach and teach the Good News. It is his purpose – to show those hungry for God that God does indeed rule, that He holds dominion here, over all creation – heaven and earth, man and the devil – and that healing flows from faith, light always overcomes darkness, and that evil, no matter how far ahead in the worldly race, has already lost.

Job has lost his purpose and dwells in an anxious darkness. Paul is driven by his need to witness. Jesus reveals His Father’s kingdom—healing, driving out demons, preaching. Job recovers his purpose when the Lord dramatically reminds him who is God and who is creature, Who Is Purpose Himself and who has a purpose. Paul runs his preaching into every town he crosses, proclaiming the Word, setting up houses of prayer, and leaving behind men and women strong in the faith. Jesus moves inexorably toward the Cross, his work for the Way along the way reveals again and again the always, already present victory of Life over Death, freedom over slavery, final success over endless failure.

What goals do you serve? Why do you get up in the morning? What meaning does your work, your play have for you? Who are you in light of what you have promised to be and do? What makes you happy? Where do you find joy? Lots of questions! But all of these are really just one question: what is your purpose?

You have a given purpose and a chosen purpose. Your given purpose is dyed into your flesh, pressed through into your bones; it is a God-placed hook in your heart, a hook that tugs you relentlessly back to Him, back to His perfecting goodness. Your chosen purpose is how you choose to live out day-to-day your given purpose, how you have figured out how to make it back to God. Student, mother, professor, virgin, priest, monk, artist, poet, engineer, athlete, clerk, scientist, father, nurse, dentist. When your chosen purpose best reveals your given purpose, when what you have chosen to do helps who you are given to be flourish, your anxiety finds trust, your sleeplessness finds rest, your despair finds joy. And you can say with Paul: “All this I do for the sake of the gospel,” – heal, study, pray, minister, write, research, teach, drive, build, all this I do for the gospel – “so that I too may have a share in it.”

What Purpose do you serve? I mean, when you work, when you study and teach and play, toward what end do you reach? What goal seduces you forward, pulls you to the finish line? Surely for us, all of us here, that purpose is Jesus Christ. Our goal is his friendship, his love. And our goal is his witness, our telling of his Good News. We can waddle around in the darkness of sin, bumping around blind, reaching for what’s never there. We can wail into the wind like Job, moaning about the meaninglessness of life, the pointlessness of our daily striving. We can even refuse happiness, refuse to see that we have a given purpose. But you will find your release and your license, your freedom and your choice when you make yourself a slave to all, when you make yourself all things to all, to help save at least some.

Like Paul, a trusted steward, a faithful child, preach the gospel. Live it right where you are. Make it your reason for getting out of bed, for going to work, for making it to class. Make it who you are, what you do, and everything you ever will become.

Everyone is looking for you. For what purpose do you live?


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