The Special Exception

A very rich man was nearing the end of his life and he began to contemplate the life to come. He was very troubled that he would soon lose everything he had worked so hard for. All his wealth would soon belong to others and he would enter Paradise poor. It didn’t seem fair to him so he prayed fervently that he would be allowed to take all that he had amassed with him. One night an angel appeared to him.

“O mortal,” said the Angel, “All men come into this world empty handed and empty handed they must go to the next…”

The man pled, “I have worked so hard for what I have and I have no family to leave it to… Can there be no exception made?”

The angel thought for a second. “This is highly irregular but I will see what I can do…”

Suddenly the Angel disappeared then just as suddenly, he reappeared and said, “A special exception has been made. You may bring with you what you can pack into one suitcase.”

After the Angel had again left, the man went and found his largest suitcase and packed it full with gold bars and laid it by his bed for the day of his death.

Sure enough the fateful day came and the man died. The man grabbed his suitcase just as his soul was leaving his body and took it with him. There at the gates of heaven, the man dragged the impossibly heavy suitcase all through the winding line to meet St. Peter. When it was finally the man’s turn, St. Peter looked at him and them down at his suitcase and said, “you know you can’t bring that in, right?”

The man confidently replied that he had been given assurances by an Angel that he would be allowed the one suitcase. St. Peter excused himself, and went back behind the pearly gates to conference with one of the Angels. When he returned, St. Peter apologized.

“It seems a special exception has been made in your case. I was, however asked to inspect the contents of your suitcase before letting you through.”

The man happily obliged and St. Peter unlatched the suitcase. As he surveyed the contents of the suitcase there was a look of pure confusion on his face. He shouted back to the Angels behind him:

“All this fuss over a suitcase full of pavement?”

What we value and what God values are often two very different things. This old church joke perfectly illustrates how the things we see as so precious and so worth our pursuit here on earth might be mundane and unimpressive on the streets of gold. Jesus admonishes us to store up treasures in heaven. As disciples we are called to reject what the world values and seek after the things that God values. This means denying our own desires and taking up our cross. It would be a terrible thing if we were to come to the end of our life and all we had to show for it was a suitcase full of pavement.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

 

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The Silver Window

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Once there lived a kind and generous man. Every morning he would wake up and look out his bedroom window and gaze on all the townspeople below, saying prayers for them and counting his many blessings. During the day he would perform good deeds to the people he saw below and when he came home he would go to his bed satisfied and smiling.

Now one of the town’s elders surprised him by leaving a large sum of money upon his death, in reward for his kindness. The man decided he would use all of this money to do good deeds and bless the beloved people he saw out his bedroom window each morning. First though, he decided to allow himself one indulgence: he had the edges of his favorite window adorned with pure silver.

Each morning, the man got up and went out to his bedroom window and looked down as was his custom and prayed for the people below, and resolved to do good deeds for them.  But each morning, he also looked at the silver adorning the outside of his window and thought, “How much beautiful would this window be, if I added a little more silver!”

Slowly, but surely, he began to spend less of his money on his fellow townsfolk and more adorning the edges of his favorite window. As the silver took up more and more of the window, he saw less and less of his fellow townspeople, so he thought of them less and prayed for them less. Until, at last, one morning the man woke up and looked into his silver window and all he saw was his own reflection.

This Jewish parable reminds us that the process of becoming completely self centered is a slow one that begins around the edges, but will eventually consume us if we let it. To follow Christ means to love others as we love ourselves. To serve him is to serve our neighbor. These things bring contentment and joy. Serving ourselves and loving ourselves brings darkness and despair. Perhaps the difference between heaven and hell is the difference between a window and a mirror.

Whoever has an ear to hear, let them hear…