The golden ticket, the brass ring, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Many of us, probably most of us, are highly motivated by rewards. We like to work towards something valuable, knowing that if we do certain things… then we will get the big prize. I myself like to set goals and track my progress against them. I have a checklist mentality and I like it when I can mark items off a list. It makes me feel like I’m making progress toward something important.
Then again, some of us are motivated by other things. Like fear. We would just assume do certain things… or not do certain things… in order to avoid a bad outcome.
In both of these cases, the source of our motivation is future oriented. We experience something out in the future based on what happens in the here and now. This is reward-based motivation. It works well and it inherently fits our own human nature.
Faith is like this. We seek the eternal reward, redemption, salvation, and a future state where we are forever bonded to the one who created us out of love. Then again, those of us motivated by fear live so that we can avoid ending up in… you know, the other place. This is future oriented thinking. But let’s pull it back, right here to the present.
Jesus himself often tried to pull people back to the present, saying things like “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). You could say that was his clever way of saying that since Jesus was in the house, then the kingdom of heaven was, well, right there… in the house. But you could also say that Jesus was trying to bring people to the present moment. Having a goal and being future oriented is good, but being overly focused on the future can take you out of the present moment.
In the Gospel reading for today, Jesus encounters two grieving sisters, good friends who he knew, Mary and Martha. To them, he said about their deceased brother, Lazarus:
“This illness is not to end in death.”
The future oriented way of thinking about this is twofold: first, perhaps Jesus is foreshadowing his own future resurrection. Second, perhaps he is saying that we are all promised eternal life someday, that no earthly illness will mark the end of our true existence.
But let’s pull it back, right here to the present. When we hear: “this illness is not to end in death”, I wonder whether we believe it? Whether we act as though we believe it? Whether we live our lives… as though we believe it?
Let’s stop for a moment and consider our life here in the present moment and think about what it would be like if we encountered all of our struggles, all of our sicknesses, all of our worries, all of our suffering… by remembering the promise Jesus made to Mary and Martha: this will not end in death!
No matter what… no matter how bad it seems… no matter how dark the night gets… this will not end in death!
That is not a golden ticket, brass ring, pot of gold at the end of the rainbow someday future promise thing. This will not end in death is a here and now thing…