Many of us have heard the phrase – but few of us probably know it was Spanish philosopher Gerorge Santayana who said: “Those who do not learn history — are doomed to repeat it.”
Since I was already making enough mistakes on my own during my teenage years – that gave me a good reason for learning history: so I could learn from other people’s mistakes before I made them on my own.
And then when I got to high school and my American History teacher, Mr. Sims, taught me that history is more than dates and places and events – but great stories – I was hooked on history.
Yes, history is all about great stories - of people, places and things – Like this one about Napoleon:
In the year 1798, Napoleon Bonaparte captured the city of Rome and took Pope Pius VI prisoner.
Napoleon thought he could intimidate the Pope and force him to become his puppet - because the Church had considerable political power at that time.
But Pope Pius refused to cooperate with Napoleon. So in a fit of anger, Napoleon shouted at the Pope: “if you do not do as I command, I will destroy the Church.”
The Pope replied - you can’t do that. And Napoleon said - just watch me - within a year the Catholic Church will be no more.
To which Pope Pius calmly replied: “If we, who are the Church, have in 1800 years, failed to destroy the Church by our sins – I doubt very much if you will succeed.”
Well, as we know by our presence here – the Church still exists - whereas Napoleon has passed on– as just another person in the pages of history.
One of the dangers of becoming mighty and powerful is that one also becomes proud and arrogant.
Power and might can become seen as a RIGHT – that is used to push and to pull in order to get what is wanted.
And usually the casualties are the lowly and the powerless and those who cannot defend themselves. They get swept aside to make way for those who think they are powerful and mighty.
But our first reading from Sirach told us: the greater you are, the more you should behave humbly – and then you will find favor with the Lord; for great though the power of God is – the Lord accepts the homage of the humble.
And then in the Gospel, Jesus told a parable when he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor. . .
The parable highlights the fact that our human desires go for the first place and not the last; our desire is for the lofty - not the lowly - we want the most - and not the least.
But the Lord looks on the lowly and God accepts the homage of the humble — and God fills the hungry with good things.
Yes, there is something that the lowly and humble can teach us about the ways of God – because it is to the lowly and humble that God showers down blessings.
It is also through the lowly and humble that God shows power and might – as this story may help us grasp. . .
A small mouse crept up to a sleeping lion that had just finished his meal. The mouse longed to have some of the scraps of the leftover meal.
“Since he’s sleeping,” thought the mouse, “he will never suspect I’m here.”
With that, the little mouse sneaked up and tried to pull off a scrap for its meal.
The lion awoke and quickly caught the mouse between its claws.
“Please,” said the mouse, “let me go and I promise I’ll come back and help you someday.”
The lion just laughed. “You are so small,” he said, “what could you ever do to help me?”
The lion laughed so hard he had to hold his belly at which point he let go of the mouse and the mouse ran away fast and far away.
The next day, two hunters came to the jungle. They went to the lion’s lair. They set a hugh rope snare. And when the lion came home that night, he stepped into the trap and was caught up in the ropes.
He tried with all his might but that just tightened the ropes – he could not get free. Frustrated he just roared and roared.
The mouse heard the roar and came to see what was going on.
Upon seeing the thick ropes that held the lion tight – he went to work nibbling at the rope until it broke.
The lion was freed and was able to shake off the ropes that held him tight. The lion now turned to his new best friend and said, “I was foolish to ridicule you for being so small. You not only helped me – you saved my life.”
Well, back to Napoleon. Toward the end of his life, he was exiled on the small rocky island of St. Helena. There, the former conqueror of Europe had time to reflect on his life – and even on the life of Christ.
After his reflections – He made the statement: “Other conquerors founded their empires by force. Jesus Christ alone founded his empire upon love and humility.”
Napoleon finally understood why he could not destroy the Church – his pride was no match for the love and humility of Christ– the foundation upon which the Church is built.
So as the Church, the members of the Body of Christ – we must remember what Sirach teaches us – be gentle in our living – and we will be better loved than a lavish giver.
For the power of love is seen in gentleness and humility. And to be gentle and humble is what the followers of Jesus Christ are called to be.
And it is only then – that the pride and arrogance of the world can be conquered.
All of us– either belong to, are related to, or are friends of — a family that is divided.
A divided family can come in many shapes and sizes: a husband and wife who are separated or divorced.
Children who no longer speak to their parents or vice-versa.
Brothers and sisters who no longer communicate with each other.
In-laws who don’t - or who are not allowed – to attend family functions.
Grandparents who have never seen, or rarely see – their grandchildren.
We have read about some divided families recently in the Gospel of Luke:
“Lord, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.”
“Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving.”
Or can’t you just hear the wife of the rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest: “how about adding on to the house— instead of building bigger barns??”
Oddly enough, in today’s Gospel, Jesus says that he has come to divide families: “A family of five will be divided: three against two and two against three. . .”
The same man which we call the Prince of Peace now tells us that he has come to bring division – not peace.
What’s Jesus talking about???
Is he really for divided families?
To understand the comments of Jesus, we have to put them in context.
In his day, Jesus found some aspects of Jewish faith lacking in compassion.
It was too legalistic and rigid. More concerned about the keeping of rules and regulations than about people - and meeting them where they are.
Jesus was claiming to be the compassionate Son of God - one who shows mercy and offers forgiveness. Who once said, “I desire mercy - and not sacrifice. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Eventually, many people came to follow him – many people who had previously been faithful members of the synagogue.
And those who began to follow Jesus, no doubt, caused disruption in their families.
Can’t you just hear a devout Jewish father saying to his son: “If you keep following after that Jesus – you will never set foot in this house again.”
Or a distraught Jewish mother saying to her daughter: “As long as you live in my house – you will do as I say – which is to go to the synagogue, not off to some hillside to listen to that man. . .”
Jesus’ “new way” as it was called in the years after his ascension – obviously must have split families: three against two and two against three.
So what Jesus is talking about – is that a person’s choices – based on values – can and will divide families: where your treasure is, there your heart shall be.
Not everyone in a family will treasure the same things – and so hearts will be in different places, focused on different things – and THIS can bring about division.
A person who chose the values of the kingdom Jesus was preaching was putting themselves at odds with traditional Jewish values – especially of the rule keeping type.
Division is a natural consequence when core-values contradict. This was true in Jesus’ day –and it is true in ours.
But just because we disagree – doesn’t mean we immediately move to shutting down communication – stop listening – stop talking – and cutting that person out of our lives - and dismissing them never to interact with them again:
Which seems to be the case in many families - certainly in our country - and even in our Church
Because if we really value these relationships – THEN WE NEVER GIVE UP ON EACH OTHER.
Jesus also told us: if you bring your gift to the altar and know that you are at odds with your brother or sister – go first to be reconciled – then bring your gift to the altar.
So we try our best to forgive and reconcile. We try to understand where the other person is coming from and why they value what they do.
We try to lift each other out of the muddy pit instead of shoving each other deeper by our anger, our misunderstanding, or our judgment.
Where your treasure is - there your heart shall be. . .
The fire that Jesus wishes to set ablaze in our hearts – in our lives – and in our world –
Is the fire of love, and mercy, and forgiveness, and reconciliation.
As Pope Francis recently told a group of Bishops from Malawi: [muh-la-wee]
“There is no aspect of family life – childhood and youth; friendship, engagement and marriage; spousal intimacy, fidelity and love; interpersonal relationships and support – which is excluded from the healing and strengthening touch of God’s love and forgiveness – communicated through the Gospels and taught by the Church.”
We are all in need of God’s healing touch - God’s understanding heart - God’s mercy reaching out to us. God has never given up on the people God has called - no matter how far they have strayed — and we are called to have the mind and heart of God. . .
And so we do pray that by the power of the Holy Spirit - as we partake of the one Bread of the Eucharist - we may be gathered into one Body of Christ who heals every division.
If our family truly is our treasure – then we will set our hearts on making our families the place where no matter what someone says or does – it is a place of compassion. And a place of challenge to become the people God is calling us to be.
Most of you know – I like to read. When I am asked what my hobbies are – I say woodworking, gardening, traveling (especially to any beach) AND reading. . .
I like to read historical novels – either fiction or non-fiction (after all, I WAS a social studies teacher). And I read almost any novel that moves along pretty quickly. I’ve never gotten into westerns – or – surprise – romance novels. . .!
In one of Arthur Conan Doyles’ novels about Sherlock Holmes called A Scandal in Bohemia, which I read many years ago – the detective Holmes is hired to find a discriminating picture of the King of Bohemia taken with a woman named Irene Adler.
The picture poses a risk of scandal for the king and Holmes is supposed to find it and destroy it. So he - of course - must first – find the picture.
He does this by going to Ms. Adler’s home – and then having his side-kick Professor Watson throw a smoke bomb into an open window and cry out: FIRE!
Irene Adler exposes the hidden place of the picture by going to the place where it is kept and taking it – before she flees the building - at which point Holmes is able to grab it from her.
Asked by Watson how he knew this would work – he simply tells Watson that it is elementary.
When a person thinks their house is on fire - they’re most likely going to rush to that which is most valuable to them– and take it with them – as they leave the building.
Where your treasure is - there your heart shall be. . .
People will inevitably reveal what they value most — by their actions. Irene Adler’s most valuable possession was the picture of her with the king of Bohemia, which was linked to her safety and reputation.
Other people may value money more than anything and will go to great lengths to secure and gain more riches – as we heard last week with the man building bigger barns.
For many people, their success or family is the most valued treasure of their lives, which is revealed in how they spend their time and energy.
A person’s heart is tied to what they value most in life – which is why Jesus told us last week: “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.” And wanted us to grow rich in what matters to God – not to store up treasures for ourselves here on earth.
And this week strikes a similar chord by wanting us to “provide money bags that do not wear out, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven that no thief can reach nor moth destroy.”
For Where your treasure is, there your heart will be.
So when the fires rage – as they do in California. Or the flood waters sweep in - as they did in Kentucky. Or when the tornado sirens go off --
Hopefully we make sure we and those we love are safe – and are not like Ms. Adler – needing to stop and pick up some THING that is so important to us we would risk our lives over it.
Remember, it’s perfectly fine to have possessions – to have money in the bank to adequately prepare for our futures. And to be content and happy.
But we have to keep things in perspective.
Where your treasure is – there your heart shall be.
If we view our possessions or success in life as the result of our own talent and effort – we will think of ourselves as owners of these things – and cling to them tightly – maybe even risking our lives over them.
People inevitably reveal what they value most by their actions – and how they spend their time and energy.
But remember: in reality – we are all stewards of what God has provided. God gives us the ability to do whatever we are doing: all of us earn our wealth and possessions with borrowed abilities.
And we are called to be grateful – which expands our hearts – which allows us to be generous with the gifts God has given us.
Where your treasure is – there your heart shall be.
All that you possess will never set you free.
Seek the things that last – come and learn from me.
Where your treasure is - your heart shall be.
Moments in time...