You and I are engaged in a common struggle, a struggle against complacency. The struggle is between two spirits, one good; the other evil — spirits that roam about deep within us, below the level of our consciousness. One is the spirit of generosity and self-sacrifice; the other is the spirit of complacency and self-satisfaction.
You and I share this common struggle against spiritual inertia and smugness in the loneliness of our hidden souls as we strive to have a modest share and portion of the goodness of God. It’s never easy because the devils we fight against in our souls jam and clog our efforts with the sticky, gooey substance of cotton-candy rationalizations. The devils that beset us are always hiding their vices under the appearances of things that seem attractive and tasteful, in many cases the feeling that we deserve the abundance that is ours. The devil always seeks to mire us down and lead us into the morass of comfortable complacency and to lull us into spiritual sleep, giving us a special narcotic, the drug called self-ism, in order to control our souls.
It is into this mired battleground that Jesus drops his bombshells and says: “If your foot is your undoing, then cut it off. If your hand is your difficulty, cut it off. If your eye is your downfall, then pluck it out.” These words are like bright flares that drop out of the thick blackness of a quiet nighttime battlefield to illumine the workings of our ancient enemy who lurks in the sleep of our darkness. And what do they reveal? Indolence, sloth, laziness, and a jaded complacency, not of body but of spirit, spiritual elitism and an attitude that “we’ve got it made in the shade.” Along with these many feel that they are in full possession of the Holy Spirit; that they are the righteous and that the others around them are hypocrites. The spiritually complacent feel that they and God have it all figured out and they don’t need anyone else for salvation. And what does Jesus say? “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of needle that it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven!”
I want now to pay attention to that word “rich”, because Jesus is not talking just about a person’s economic condition or financial net worth as such (although it may, at times, apply). There are those who believe that the material symbols of success they have in this world are the signs of God’s favor. Some preachers even preach a message telling us that if you’re “in the Lord” then all will go well for you, even in your checkbook.
We need to understand the word “rich” as it applies to what we rely upon. What do we trust in, and upon what (or whom) we place our faith? God or something else? In this regard we must always realize that that this world’s symbols of success are not signs of salvation or of God’s favor upon us. Too many have not yet arrived at the realization that they have come to be like the rich man in the Gospel of Luke (16:19-31). He was self-satisfied, smug, and complacent because he enjoyed material success in this world’s goods. Being so self-absorbed, he was unconcerned about others, unaware of the beggar at his front gate.
In Luke’s Gospel account Jesus once again gives sight to those who are blinded by self-satisfaction, asking us to take a good hard look at ourselves. Have we, He asks, been drugged with the narcotic of complacency and over confidence? What are we doing with the gifts He has placed on the banquet table of life? For the truth is that while faith and salvation are God’s free gift to us, a gift which we cannot merit or earn on our own, it is also true that when it comes to virtues, we have to work on them. We can’t just sit back and wait for God to give virtues to us. God gives us His gifts, what we do with them can become our virtues. We have the responsibility to develop them. Human decisions and struggle are involved. We are in a spiritual combat with Principalities and Powers who attempt to seduce us with spiritual complacency. We need to realize that we have a struggle on our hands. God has offered, we must respond
Edmund Burke, an Irish-born English statesman who, in England’s Parliament pleaded the cause of the American colonists just prior to our Revolution, is reported to have said: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Those words are apt not only when it comes to voting, politics, and the struggle for freedom, social justice and peace, but they also apply when it comes to our own souls. Evil triumphs when we neglect our souls.
God has constructed a spiritual economy of salvation wherein we find salvation not alone and in our individual relationship with God, but when we find ourselves in belonging to others in a community of need. We absolutely need others for our salvation. In the Gospel parable the truly poor man was the rich man who in his complacency failed to notice the beggar at his gates. He was the one who was spiritually impoverished and bankrupt. Stated another way, it is the rich and affluent who are in need; they need the poor for their own salvation. For their own salvation they need to care for the poor, those out on the margins of society, those who are not privileged.
And so we ought to look into ourselves once again. Who in our lives is seeking the crumbs that fall from our table? A teen who is dying for just one good word of affirmation from you, hungering for just one positive statement about him or her? Starving for just a little hug? Or maybe it’s a mother who is being treated all of the time like she’s just the cleaning lady, or the household maid? Or perhaps it’s a spouse quietly waiting to hear the words: “I love you”. Or a long neglected friend who we’ve taken for granted and hasn’t heard from us in a long, long time, or someone who is lonely and longs for just a few crumbs of our friendship. Just who or what needs our attention after we’re aroused from our fat-cat complacency that sleeps deep within our soul?
It is true that God has given us much. It is true that Jesus Christ has given us unmerited and free salvation and that He does really care for us and is going to take care of us. But it is also true that He expects us to give to others just as freely and generously, even when they don’t deserve it — to give them love and forgiveness, care and concern, especially when they don’t deserve it. For in all of life we simply must follow the wise old principle that tells us: “We must pray as if everything depended upon God and work as if everything depended upon us.” But how can we if we are so busy feasting in our complacency that we fail to see who’s outside the front door of our hearts, or just beyond the gate of our individualistic privacy wanting us to let them in?