Simply Powerful Theology
When I was first ordained, a young man came to my office and wanted to share his theology with me. He had obviously been living as something of a vagrant or street person and I had it clearly in mind to treat him as an equal, no judgement about his lifestyle or his ideas. But in truth, it has taken me about 40 years to see the poignancy of his thinking.
He said, “My basic theology in life comes down to two things. The first is, you can’t always get what you want.” This was clearly a reference to the Rolling Stones song from their 1969 album Let it Bleed, which starts as a kind of folk song and then morphs into a grand chorus of escalating excitement. I am pretty sure this is a true statement and although it might seem obvious it is nonetheless, comforting and I could see where it could become a mantra in this man’s life. That is, maybe he wasn’t rich, but the universe had a wisdom that would provide his basic necessities. With this step of faith, he was able to continue in his lifestyle with a certain confidence that his needs would be met. Maybe this is what Jesus meant when he asked us to ‘consider the lilies of the field and the birds of the air. They don’t toil, but our Heavenly Father takes care of them.’ Hence, Jesus reasons, how much more will our God take care of those created in God’s image?! This thinking, when taken to heart, is a prescription for anti-anxiety in an age of high anxiety about many things. We also know that when we are not anxious, we able to seek God’s Kingdom and let the rest of life become re-prioritized, that is, all these things shall be added onto us...
His second pillar of understanding was, “What goes around, comes around.” Again, this seems like an easily dismissed triviality, a throwaway line. But upon closer examination, we again find one of Jesus’ more enduring and insightful teachings. In this week’s Gospel the whole story is about someone who has received forgiveness and then failed to practice it. What goes around comes around creates the idea of a circle of connections and consequences. No matter where we plug into this circle, we see that if we practice forgiveness, we receive forgiveness. When we receive forgiveness and a new life free of guilt, we are called upon to extend the same to others. When we break that cycle of grace, we withhold forgiveness, we experience the world as cruel and closed off. We seek revenge and we receive vengeance. Want a more graceful life? Practice forgiving others and become open to new life. Hold onto to grievances and you will live a life filled with judgement fear and endless cycles of retaliation.
“You can’t always get what you want” and “What goes around comes around,” pretty powerful theology from a chance encounter from one of society’s cast-offs!