Pastor Steven E. Albertin told the following story. He said, in my church secretary's office there hangs a modernistic picture composed of a maze of colors and shapes. I realized these sophisticated, modern, and abstract pictures were supposed to contain some profound artistic or philosophical message, but I never was able to figure it out. It just looked like a jumbled mass of confusion. If there was a message there, I was blind to it.
One day while I was standing in the office, waiting for the copier to warm up, one of the congregation's kindergarten-age boys, Adam, stood beside me and said, “Do you see what I see?”
“Do you see something in that picture? I sure don't.”
Adam looked at me with glee in his eye, “Pastor, can't you see him? It's Jesus hanging on the cross.”
I stared as hard as I could, until my eyes actually hurt from staring. I wanted to believe Adam and that there actually was the image of Jesus hanging on the cross hidden somewhere in that mass of color and shapes, but I couldn't see Jesus anywhere. “Adam, I'm sorry but I must be blind. You will have to help me see.”
Directing his finger to a mass of color in the center of the picture, Adam said, “There, Pastor. Do you see what I see? There is Jesus, his face, his arms outstretched on the cross.”
And then, like an epiphany, the image began to appear. Yes, there hidden somehow “behind” the colors and the shapes was the barely visible image of Jesus, hanging with arms outstretched on the cross.
”It's amazing, Adam. You have helped one blind pastor to see Jesus. Yes, I can see what you see, Adam.”
(Steven E. Albertin, Against the Grain, CSS Publishing Company, Inc.).
We have to admit that we do not know everything; and we do not understand everything either. Many times we do not see things that others can see; and we do not understand things that others can understand; or we do not know things that others know. That means, if we do not know something it does not mean that it doesn’t exist. For example, I do not know anything about your friends, but you do have many friends. Don’t you? I do not know anything about your family background, but your family does have a history, right? If we cannot see something, it doesn’t mean that it is not there. I have never seen the Great Wall of China, but it is there. There is a Great Wall in China. I have never been to Nigeria, but there is a country called Nigeria in Africa, right? And if we do not understand something, it does not mean that it is not true. I do not understand how electricity works, but it works. It gives power and lights. It makes things run. This is the basic lesson of humility. We do not know everything, and we do not see or understand everything.
Jesus is trying to help us to see things that we do not see, to understand things that we do not understand, and to know things that we do not know. He is trying to help us see a reality of life that is waiting for us beyond this world. There is a life beyond this life, and a world that is beyond this world. And Jesus is telling us to do things that will benefit us not in this world but in the other world. “You will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Lk 14:14). There are two pay-days. We get pay now; and we also get pay at a later date.
The patient said to the doctor, “I seem to be getting forgetful. I can never remember where I put the car, or whether I answered a letter, or where I am going. What can I do?”
The doctor answered in his kindest voice, “Please pay me in advance.”
We want to be paid for our services. And we want to make sure we will be paid for our services. Fridays are happy days for many people. It is the day we get our paychecks. We work hard for those paychecks. We look forward to get paid. We get up early in morning to go to work so we can receive these paychecks. Once we receive our payments, we can do a lot with the paychecks. We can cash them and pay our bills. We can go shopping. We can go out to eat. We can buy gifts for our loved ones. We can open a party to invite our friends over to have good time. We can buy appliances for the house. Who doesn’t want to be paid for his or her works? This is the way the world operates; and it is the way people in the world expect. We work and we get pay! And we want to be paid on time. The paychecks are the rewards for our works and performance.
It is difficult, therefore, for us and many other people to hear Jesus saying that we should not expect to be paid now. If we do not understand Jesus’ saying, it does not mean that he is lying to us. We might be so absorbed in the cultures of this world that we do not see what Jesus sees and cannot understand what Jesus is telling us about. Jesus is not telling us that we should not work for our paychecks. Yes we do. And he expects us to do so. He expects employers to pay their employees. And he expects them to be paid fairly. We have families to take care of. We have missions to accomplish. We have a life to live. We need to have monies in order to fulfill our missions and responsibilities. But our mission is not simply in this world and only for this life.
Our ultimate mission is for the salvation of our souls and the souls of others. So Jesus is reminding us not to forget to also work for the paychecks that have values in the Kingdom of God; the paychecks that will benefit our souls. If we are only concentrating on working to get pay now, then we will not be paid later. We need to have paychecks to take care of our bodies; and we also need to work for paychecks that will take care of our souls. Things we can do to get paychecks for our souls are to invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind to our party. These are our works of charity. Recipients of our charity are not able to pay us back. The poor cannot pay us now, but God will pay us on their behalf in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Thus, Jesus’ advice for us today is: “Do not only do things that simply bring us the paychecks and the honor of men in this world; but also do things that God will honor and reward us in the life to come.” Mother Teresa was once asked, “How do you measure the success of your work?” She thought about the question and gave her interviewer a puzzled look, and said, “I don't remember that the Lord ever spoke of success. He spoke only of faithfulness in love. This is the only success that really counts.”
Whatever we do, the author of the book of Sirach tells us, “My child, conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved more than a giver of life.” (Sir 3:17).