Some Christians seem particularly fascinated by the signs and portents in the Book of Revelation. The end of the world seems to hold much more attraction for them, than does our present time, with its rather ordinary everyday challenges. Sometimes, if such people want to ask me questions about the Apocalypse, I am tempted to remark disparagingly, “Anything but the Gospel!” But then, in the Gospel itself, Jesus speaks of the Last Days and the troubles that will come, so is it not a legitimate concern? It is, but a closer examination of the teaching of the Lord about the End of Time shows that his main concern is not so much about the future, but is pointing to the present time and how to evaluate the things of our world. For instance, Luke 21:5 tells us that people were remarking to the Lord how beautiful the Temple was, but in reply he told them that the time would come when it would all be destroyed. His point, however, was not to denigrate the beauty of the Temple, but to point out that it was of only passing value – and was not one of those things which would last forever.
A few days ago, I was trying to think of a way of explaining that point and I asked the Lord for a story to illustrate the point and there came to my mind something that happened, some years ago, when I worked in India. I lived and worked there in a hostel for street children and I was able to make one or two much-needed improvements to the place with the money that had been given to me by my parish back in England. I repaired, for instance, the toilets and a leaking water tank and managed to do one or two other things. Then, I had to leave India and return to England.
Some five years later, I went back for a visit and while there a boy, who was about 13 years of age, came to talk to me and said, “Father, I would like to thank you – when I was sick you came and sat with me and gave me a sweetie!” I had completely forgotten that incident, but he hadn’t, even though he would have only have been eight years old at the time; for five years, he had treasured the memory of me sitting talking with him and of the sweetie I gave him – but there was no mention of the refurbished toilets or water tank!
In the same way, during that same visit, a boy came up, put his hand in mine and walked along with me and when I asked him whether I knew him he answered, “No, but you are the Father who tells stories”. That reminded me of how, in the evenings, when the twenty five smaller boys had gone to bed, I would sometimes go to the hut where they slept and tell them a story. I would ask one of the older boys to translate for me, because I could not speak Telugu, and I tried to help the translation along by acting it out a little. That seemed to have meant so much to those boys that not only did they remember, but they had passed on that memory – “we once had a Father here, who told us stories at bedtime!”. Interestingly, they did not mention the other things I did, only that I told them stories – but then, that is the Gospel, the Good News.
We sometimes get a little mixed up about what the Good News is. We know that the Lord sends us all out to preach the Good News, but we tend to think of it in terms of doctrines or laws, about what is right or wrong and about what will happen to us if we choose the wrong path, but, if we are honest, that is hardly “Good News”! The Gospel, the Good News, is not a sacred text – although we often treat it as such – but is a story that tells us we are loved, cared for, wanted and the one who is behind all the loving – and also behind us prompting us and urging us on to care – is God. Such a message cannot be communicated by rules and regulations – even though they have an important part in the Christian life – such a message can only be brought by people, who are willing to sit down with those who are sick or in trouble and, maybe, give them a sweetie. It can only really be done by wasting time with them, such as by telling them stories – for, if you think about it, we only really waste time with those we love. But, as those boys taught me, the effect and the memory of those things will remain – long after refurbished toilets and other practical things have long disappeared.
The Lord is not saying that we should not do those other things – such as working so that our children can have food on the table and a house to live in – on the contrary, we cannot love people without doing these things. What the Lord is saying is: Remember “why” you are doing those things – and remember that it is your love that will remain and be remembered, when those other things, you have worked hard for, have passed away. As the Lord himself puts it, in another part of the Gospel: “Work for treasure that will last!” The houses we will build, will one day crumble, the work we do, will one day be forgotten, the beautiful things around us that we admire will also one day cease to be, but the memory of love given and received, even in something as small as a sweetie, will remain forever.
I had an unpleasant two hours in the dentist chair last week. I went to the Government dental clinic to have my implant fitted – which took next to no time at all and fits well – and while there the Dentist noticed that I had a gum infection and to deal with it he had to cut through the gum down to the bone and scrape the bone clean of infection. I have had a mouth full of stiches for the last week and will have to bear them for another week, but he also gave me a course of antibiotics and I do not do well with those – I feel tired, down and have an upset tummy. Still, it gives me something to offer up for the Holy Souls!
I also had a shock when I was presented with the bill for the tooth implant. It was a Government clinic and I did not expect to pay the same as a Malaysian citizen, for it is right that I, as a foreigner, pay more – but I must admit that when I was faced with how much more I would have to pay, it rather took my breath away!
We are coming to the end of term so quickly! We have only three weeks or so left – and one of those will be taken up by giving a week’s retreat to the Sisters in Sabah, north Borneo. Then, back to say goodbye to the students for this year. I have decided to spend Christmas with my family in UK, something I have not done for some years. Most of my recent leave was taken up with the +65 course and I am still owed two weeks holiday, so I shall spend that with relatives.