There is a story you may have come across on the Internet. It is about a philosophy professor who is lecturing her students on how to lead a full life.
In order to make her point…the professor has a few props – the first is a large mayonnaise jar and a pile of small rocks. The professor takes some of the rocks and puts them in the jar until she cannot fit anymore. Then she asks her class “Is the jar full?” and the answer seems obvious. “Yes” they all tell her.
Then the professor takes out a bag of gravel which she shakes into the jar. The gravel, being smaller than the rocks, now sifts between them and fills into the open space around the rocks. “Is the jar now full?” she asks the class. “Yes – now the jar is full,” they answer, still pretty confident.
The professor reveals a bag of sand which she pours on the rocks and gravel in the jar –and the sand, which is the smallest stuff yet fills in the spaces left open by the rocks and gravel. – and again “Is the jar full?” the professor queries – The students are not so quick to answer this time – but finally, almost grudgingly for the third time, they say, “yes, the jar is full now.”
So finally the professor reaches back to the table and reveals a can of beer which she pops open and pours over the rocks, the gravel and the sand in the jar as well. “Now” – the professor tells them. “The jar is full.”
Then she goes on – “ If you want to lead a full life, you must set your priorities.
In this case, the rocks represent the most important things in life – family – friends – health and the gravel is those things that make life run smoothly – where we live, our jobs, maybe savings. Finally, the sand is everything else like – pleasures and social activities. The most important things in life are our priorities. They need to be fit into our life jar first.
“Okay” – the students reply, “but why the beer?” Because the professor tells them, “in life we should always find the time to share a beer with a friend.”
Now this is a pretty common example of how to set priorities. Its moral is to put first things first in our decision making – but as a Christian…do you notice that something is missing here? Let’s look at the images. The jar? – well it’s the time we have here on earth. The stones – they have been named as family – friends – health. The gravel – we are told is job – home – security. The sand – is everything else – ostensibly things like house keeping, hobbies, get-aways. The beer -well that seems to say once priorities are covered, Relax…But as Christians – do you notice that something is missing? Where is the reference here to God who has created/ redeemed and blessed all of us? Where is God when we fill this life jar?
This morning we hear a reading which addresses the idea of Christian priorities – it is a continuation of a theme which has been running through Luke’s Gospel – a theme of Priorities.
Only a few weeks ago, we heard the story of Martha (and Mary)… In that story Martha (who is living a life of dedication and service) becomes dissatisfied with her lot and turns to Jesus for help. And what does Jesus tell her – well, in the NRSV translation, he says “don’t be anxious – don’t let the many day to day things you do obscure the reason that you do them”.
Not long after that moment Luke’s Jesus tells the parable of a very wealthy man who builds larger barns to store a bumper crop – and then the man dies with his eyes still fixed on earthly wealth rather than his relationship with God.
Next Luke’s Jesus reassures the listener that God is looking out for humanity. That God loves and will provide for us as he does for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field.
And now – this morning in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus reminds us explicitly that our priorities are of greatest importance in life “where your treasure is” Jesus says, “there will your heart be also.”
So – is the rock of family (their needs, pleasures and progress) our greatest treasure? Do we value friends first or is our good health our foundation? After all, Life is hard when we lose that – but remember where your treasure is, there your heart will be…”
So – How do we set priorities?, the Gospel asks. This morning, to answer this, for a moment, let us consider Ignatian Spirituality which logically sets its priorities by beginning at the beginning.
Who are we? the practice asks
Why are we here?
What is our circumstance? AND
How are we called to serve God?
The answers (you may guess) are simple.
Who are we? – creatures made to “praise, reverence, and serve God”
What is our circumstance? Well, in this life we are surrounded by other creatures and things which have been given us to help us praise, reverence, and serve God” and we can either use and honor these things or abuse and dishonor their presence.
Finally, how are we called to serve God? By valuing creation but not enslaving ourselves to the things of this world. Rather, we are called to work with God through creation, to praise, reverence, and serve the Creator.
For Ignatius, God’s creation is a gift to be valued but not placed first. God is the principle – the relationship that is placed first, last, and always.
This priority brings freedom in this life from fear, craving and anxiety which distort our choices. For “where your treasure is…there will your heart be also.”
Now often this saying about treasure is considered entirely literally. “Ah – we are approaching stewardship season we think” – “Jesus is telling us to put our money where our mouth is” and I am not going to say that that interpretation is wrong…the place that we put our money is a pretty good bellwether as to what we consider to be important.
But I am going to tell you that what Jesus says here includes that, and goes much deeper. That we owe God the treasure of our money – our thoughts, our actions, our hopes, our plans, even our breath, in and out. “because where our treasure is …there will our hearts be also.” And you know we all forget that. Even dear Martha who loved Jesus beyond imagining , even she took her eye off the first priorities to God occasionally and put her own need and loneliness in the forefront.
God knows this – and God forgives it. But still today, we are reminded – “set your priorities straight.” So let’s go back to the professor’s life lesson and look at it as Christians
Where in this classroom story do we place God? Is God a stone which goes in first? – Yes
Is God the gravel which sifts around the first stones? – Yes.
Is God the sand which finds its way around even the gravel? – Yes.
Is God the beer of the social connection? – Certainly.
But maybe when we think about it we will claim something even more – maybe we will come to realize that God is not just something that fills the jar of our time here – Perhaps we shall see that God is the jar itself. That God is the very shape of our lives and times. That God is our treasure.
So, may God bless your time here and every single thing that you choose to fill it with. For “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Amen.