Luke 24:35-48 (3rd Sunday of Easter, year b)
Mark Twain once said, “the two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” Unless we know the purpose of our life, the “why” we were born, we will never live a fulfilling life. The Gospel we have heard today in which the risen Jesus appears to His disciples helps us discover the reason why we were born.
What we see as the purpose of our life will depend greatly on whether or not we believe our existence ends at death. Do we live forever? How we answer this question influences our understanding of why we were born. If we think that there is nothing after death, then we can behave as though our life was one long stay at an all inclusive resort. At these resorts, guests pay a lump sum of money and in return they get to eat and drink as much as they like for the time of their stay. I have never stayed at an all inclusive resort and this is probably a good thing. If I did, I would try very hard to get my money’s worth by eating and drinking as much as I possibly could during the time of my stay. Sometimes we treat life this way. Being born is like the price of admission to the all inclusive resort. Death is the end of our stay. In the years that we are alive, we try to enjoy life as much as possible. We strive to obtain the best house, the best car, the best vacations, the best job and all the best conveniences. We seek to maximize the pleasure in our life and minimize the pain.
By rising from the dead, Jesus proved to us that our life does not end when we die. Death, in fact is only the beginning. The years we live before our death are like one grain of sand among the countless grains of sand on a large beach. When we believe that we have been created to live forever, we no longer view life as an all inclusive resort, but rather as a school. When we die, we do not get to bring our house, car, smartphone, money, fame or career with us. The only thing we bring with us when we die is ourselves, who we are, our character. The purpose of our life then is to develop our character and so prepare ourselves to live with God forever in heaven. During our life we are meant to grow to become more like Jesus. We might wonder why God even puts us on this earth for these years if the ultimate plan if for us to get to heaven eventually. Why do we have to suffer and go through pain? Why are we just not born and then go straight to heaven? The reason is that there are some lessons that we can only learn on this side of heaven. Our character grows most in suffering and challenges. The primary purpose of our life is not enjoyment. This will come later. The years before our death are meant to be a time of development, repentance and conversion. The readings of today all speak of this purpose. This side of heaven is supposed to be a school in which we learn to become more like Christ. We practice here was we will do forever in heaven: love God and love our neighbour.
How do we build character? How do we become more like Christ? How do we become more loving? More patient? More peaceful? More joyful? God does not suddenly zap us as we are walking down the street and produce these characteristics in us. There is no pill we can take and no book we can read that will make us have these characteristics. We gain these characteristics by being in the exact opposite situations. For example, we develop peace in the midst of chaos. It is easy to be peaceful when you are laying on the beach sipping a drink from a coconut. When everything in your life seems like it is falling apart and you are able to trust God in the midst of it, it is then that you learn to be truly peaceful. Developing more patience follows the same principle. Do you know how you grow in patience? Go to Costco here in Richmond during peak hours and try to find a parking spot! Likewise, we learn to be loving by being around unlovable people. It is easy to be kind and caring with people that you like. We learn true love by being around unpleasant and difficult people. Finally, we learn how to posses true joy in the midst of sorrow. We gain Christ-like characteristics by being placed in the exact opposite situations.
Life is a school in which God is trying to develop our character through everyday events and interactions. For this reason, it is critical that we take on the attitude of good learners. In particular, we need to strive to have the virtue of docility. Sometimes when we hear we are supposed to be docile, we think that we are supposed to be weak or a bit of a pushover. Docility actually means something quite different. It comes from the latin word docere, meaning “to teach”. A docile person is someone who can easily be taught, a good learner. When we have docility, we are open to being taught by God. We have a different attitude when we approach experiences, especially difficult ones, in our life. When we encounter challenges or suffering our reaction can often be to ask God to simply make everything better. When we are docile, however, our reaction to hard times is to ask “what is God trying to teach me in this?” It is a tragedy in life when a child is unable to grow up to become an adult. We should think the same way about our spiritual life. Unless we work on developing docility, we will remain spiritual children. We will not grow and develop to become more like Christ.
The two most important days of your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why. The Resurrection reminds us of our purpose. We are made to live forever. We were born in order to learn how to be people who can live in heaven. The purpose of our time here on earth is to develop our character, which is the only thing that we get to bring with us into eternal life. Let us be good learners.