Do you remember how your legs felt when your legs grew too long to ride your tricycle? Did your parents buy you a bicycle, or as our fellow primary school classmates might have called it—a “two-wheeler.” Only, for many it was really a “four-wheeler” because there were two little wheels attached at the rear tire. Did you ride your two-wheeler up and down the sidewalk in front of your family’s home until you were accustomed to riding upright? And then one day, your parent would have removed the training wheels so that you could ride without them.
Did you fall a few times before your parent jogged alongside you, holding the seat to keep you balanced? After a few laps, riding the two-wheeler it does become a little easier. Often when you made the U-turn at the end of the imaginary finish line, you’d be shocked to see your parent at the other end, watching you with arms folded and a proud grin on their face. When I was going through this I was so focused on avoiding another fall, I had no idea how long I had been pedalling without my parent. But I did it!
I remember feeling I was now one of the big kids. I could ride a bike all by myself, without training wheels or my parent’s or brother’s assistance. Once I achieved this new sense of independence, any memory of my little red tricycle, the number of times I fell, or my parent’s help vanished. It was as though I did it all on my own, but that as we all know this is not the truth.
When the children of Israel wandered through the wilderness, God cared for them, raised them the way a loving father raises his child. After his own presence in their lives, the greatest gift their heavenly parent gave to Israel was their freedom from their slavery to the Egyptians. But when Israel was liberated and empowered to build new lives for themselves, they forgot the one who fed them, kept them safe, healed them, and led them into their new life.
So much so that they preferred instant gratification and the profits from injustice to the longsuffering, patient God who gave them new life. Then we hear in Hosea 11 that although Israel’s disobedience provoked great anger in God, to the point where God is ready to destroy his living creation, his overtaking compassion prevents him from bringing destruction. Like any good parent, our God will still chastise his children. Yet God is always ready to joyfully welcome us into his good graces when we run to him asking forgiveness, ready to conform to his image, and filled with gratitude.
The readings from Luke 12 and Colossians 3 take us further in our understanding of the possible relationship with God and with each other. In Luke 12 Jesus shares a parable about a rich fool, warning against greed and being self-centred. The relentless pursuit of material possessions is a powerful distraction from growing an intimate relationship with Jesus. When we become self-absorbed, we neglect to pray, study God’s word, and prepare for Jesus’s return. Nothing that may be accumulated on earth is as valuable as the eternal riches we have in God’s kingdom.
Never one to miss a good opening, Jesus seizes the opportunity to talk about much more than getting our share of the goods of life—and, thus, the “rich man” who thinks that he deserves his fate in life, and will simply “eat, drink, and be merry” to the end of his self-satisfied days! What is really important in life? It’s a tired old saw, but still pretty effective: if you knew for certain that this was your last day on earth, how would you spend it? What would you be doing that, perhaps, you are not doing now? Well, what are you waiting for?
At some stage in history what is called a new myth appeared. This was that wealth needs to be shared. Work requires just and equitable share in its fruits. The strong have an obligation to care for the weak. This new myth birthed education, unionisation, nationalised health programs, community projects, and for centuries the church stood at the heart of reform, telling the new story. Sadly it is so no longer. The myths of dominance, control, and consumption have displaced the Christ myth, and the church itself has forgotten how to tell the story of prophetic justice.
The Apostle Paul reminds us that “Christ is our life” (Col 3:4). When we become followers of Jesus Christ, our nature is renewed. We become hidden in the risen Christ in that our values and lifestyles are aligned with his teachings and nature. As we conform our lives to Christ, our behaviour changes. Over time, our lives are no longer in step with that of popular culture, but in obedience to God. Submission to the way of the Lord places us in his favour, out of the way of his wrath.