By Dane Neufeld
A Reading from Wisdom 1:16-2:11, 21-24
16 But the ungodly by their words and deeds summoned death;
considering him a friend, they pined away
and made a covenant with him,
because they are fit to belong to his company.
1 For they reasoned unsoundly, saying to themselves,
“Short and sorrowful is our life,
and there is no remedy when a life comes to its end,
and no one has been known to return from Hades.
2 For we were born by mere chance,
and hereafter we shall be as though we had never been,
for the breath in our nostrils is smoke,
and reason is a spark kindled by the beating of our hearts;
3 when it is extinguished, the body will turn to ashes,
and the spirit will dissolve like empty air.
4 Our name will be forgotten in time,
and no one will remember our works;
our life will pass away like the traces of a cloud,
and be scattered like mist
that is chased by the rays of the sun
and overcome by its heat.
5 For our allotted time is the passing of a shadow,
and there is no return from our death,
because it is sealed up and no one turns back.
6 “Come, therefore, let us enjoy the good things that exist,
and make use of the creation to the full as in youth.
7 Let us take our fill of costly wine and perfumes,
and let no flower of spring pass us by.
8 Let us crown ourselves with rosebuds before they wither.
9 Let none of us fail to share in our revelry;
everywhere let us leave signs of enjoyment,
because this is our portion, and this our lot.
10 Let us oppress the righteous poor man;
let us not spare the widow
or regard the grey hairs of the aged.
11 But let our might be our law of right,
for what is weak proves itself to be useless.”
21 Thus they reasoned, but they were led astray,
for their wickedness blinded them,
22 and they did not know the secret purposes of God,
nor hoped for the wages of holiness,
nor discerned the prize for blameless souls;
23 for God created us for incorruption,
and made us in the image of his own eternity,
24 but through the devil’s envy death entered the world,
and those who belong to his company experience it.
The Netflix documentary Last Chance U portrays young men struggling with the remaining pieces of broken childhood dreams. Coach John Mosely admits that the mere fact of playing basketball at a California community college is already a sign that things have not gone according to plan. Many of the players are still nursing ambitions to make it big, but you can see them processing the reality that they probably will not. At one point, a dejected young player laments to the camera: “Everyone always told me I was special and that I had what it takes.”
This is a hard realization for a young man raised in a generation that was told it was special, that we could do anything we put our minds to. Sometimes I think of millennials as the disappointed generation because we had such high hopes and ambitions for our lives. We were dreamers who may have projected our disappointment onto God, often enlisted as an agent in our dream making.
The Book of Wisdom warns us about accepting the lie that this life is all that there is. Those who make friends with this perspective have no choice but to accept its vision: “[E]verywhere let us leave signs of enjoyment, because this is our portion, and this our lot.” The failure to enjoy what we were seeking can be bitter and create deadly envy, especially if we have been inclined to think that that is what life is for. And it is “through the devil’s envy death entered the world.”
As adults, our childhood fantasies often get reworked into career and social ambitions that never really come to terms with the central problem. But we have been called to build our lives on the “secret purposes of God” and to expend ourselves “for the wages of holiness.” God created humanity “for incorruption, and made him in the image of his own eternity.” It is indeed a liberating thing that we can abandon the scramble for little bits of glory and pleasure and allow the Holy Spirit to make of us what the Lord desires.
The Rev. Dane Neufeld currently serves as the incumbent of St. James, Calgary, after serving 7 years in Fort McMurray in Northern Alberta.
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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer
Today we pray for:
Christ Episcopal Church, San Antonio, Texas
The Diocese of Brasília (Igreja Episcopal Anglicana do Brasil)