by Dane Neufeld
A Reading from Wisdom 5:9-23
9 “All those things have vanished like a shadow,
and like a rumor that passes by;
10 like a ship that sails through the billowy water,
and when it has passed no trace can be found,
no track of its keel in the waves;
11 or as, when a bird flies through the air,
no evidence of its passage is found;
the light air, lashed by the beat of its pinions
and pierced by the force of its rushing flight,
is traversed by the movement of its wings,
and afterwards no sign of its coming is found there;
12 or as, when an arrow is shot at a target,
the air, thus divided, comes together at once,
so that no one knows its pathway.
13 So we also, as soon as we were born, ceased to be,
and we had no sign of virtue to show,
but were consumed in our wickedness.”
14 Because the hope of the ungodly is like thistledown carried by the wind,
and like a light frost driven away by a storm;
it is dispersed like smoke before the wind,
and it passes like the remembrance of a guest who stays but a day.
15 But the righteous live for ever,
and their reward is with the Lord;
the Most High takes care of them.
16 Therefore they will receive a glorious crown
and a beautiful diadem from the hand of the Lord,
because with his right hand he will cover them,
and with his arm he will shield them.
17 The Lord will take his zeal as his whole armor,
and will arm all creation to repel his enemies;
18 he will put on righteousness as a breastplate,
and wear impartial justice as a helmet;
19 he will take holiness as an invincible shield,
20 and sharpen stern wrath for a sword,
and creation will join with him to fight against his frenzied foes.
21 Shafts of lightning will fly with true aim,
and will leap from the clouds to the target, as from a well-drawn bow,
22 and hailstones full of wrath will be hurled as from a catapult;
the water of the sea will rage against them,
and rivers will relentlessly overwhelm them;
23 a mighty wind will rise against them,
and like a tempest it will winnow them away.
Lawlessness will lay waste the whole earth,
and evildoing will overturn the thrones of rulers.
We tend to place a high value on influence. Books and blogs tell us how to have more influence and impact. Social media influencers carve out niches for themselves in the oceanic mass of online material. In Christian circles we value influence as well. It means that our lives have not passed without purpose or notice through this world. While the aspiration to be influential can be simply self-interest masked in virtue, the prospect of not being influential at all is discomfiting on a deep level.
The Book of Wisdom provides a series of ghostly images of our place in this world — images many of us would love to avoid. Like a bird or an arrow’s invisible pathway through the air, “we also, as soon as we were born, ceased to be, and we had no sign of virtue to show, but were consumed in our wickedness.”
There is a particular weightlessness to modern life. Grasping after influence can become a desperate attempt to avoid slipping into the anonymity of mobile urban and digital living. Passing through without leaving a trace is sometimes even celebrated in the cool and withdrawn aesthetics that pervade our inner city design and culture. Before the pandemic, there was perhaps some prestige in being someone from nowhere, above the particular attachments of local communities, moving effortlessly in and out of global networks. But most of us desire connections that have an enduring character.
Ultimately though, the measure of our influence in this life will be found in Christ and the gifts of the Spirit that he works in our lives. Some of this will be visible, and we will experience the satisfaction of being recognized for our efforts and service. Much of it will be invisible; to the human eye it will be like a ship that leaves no “track of its keel in the waves.” But in the eyes of God the full effects of our lives are gathered and held together. As St. Paul says, “Your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:4).
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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Today we pray for:
Christ the King Episcopal Church, Santa Rosa Beach, Fla.
The Diocese of Brisbane (Anglican Church of Australia)