One of my favorite movies is a gem called, “Little Buddha.” Chris Isaak plays the father of a young boy who may be the reincarnation of one of Buddhism’s spiritual leaders, Lama Dorje (not the Dalai Lama himself, but another of the most holy men of the tradition). As the movie progresses about whether the boy really is the reincarnation of the spiritual leader, we see snippets from the life of the Buddha himself, played swimmingly by Keanu Reeves. The Buddha begins his life living as a prince in complete opulence, never taken outside the palace walls and so, never exposed to human suffering. Once he touches the suffering of others, he cannot help but be transformed. Much like John the Baptist and the Pharisees several centuries later, the Buddha leaves the world behind and lives an extremely ascetical life, denouncing showers, sustenance, and a roof over his head. Sitting under a banyan fig tree one afternoon, he reaches enlightenment, recognizing the path to God, and according to Buddhist tradition, becoming God. Enlightenment for the Buddha, though, was tied neither to opulence nor to extreme asceticism, but to moderation, or the Middle Way. The Buddha reached enlightenment only after he realized THE path was one of moderation.
Today’s Gospel from Luke shares the same message, albeit with a twist. Jesus was asked why he and his followers did not live an extreme ascetical life, which was perceived in that culture as the path to holiness. Now, we know that Jesus was capable of asceticism. He did, afterall, spend 40 days in the desert being tested and tempted by the devil. But, his life was about balance and moderation, about how to live in the world, but not be of the world. Jesus could have simply told them this straight out or even used a parable to illustrate this point. Rather than diminish the ascetical or preach moderation, Jesus instead suggested that his disciples were actually celebrating and honoring a unique and very special time, namely, the time of Emmanuel, God-with-us.
Though the disciples did not understand this until after the resurrection, they lived and walked alongside “the first born in all creation. For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth” Colossians 1:16 (from today’s first reading). Like Ecclesiastes “time to sow, time to reap” passage, Jesus’ response to the scribes and Pharisees is that they were living in a time to celebrate. The wait for a Messiah was over, the “bridegroom” was with them. The Gospel goes further to suggest that since the Messiah was now with us, one with humanity, it was not simply a time to celebrate. Time itself became and becomes new and different. “New wine must be poured into fresh wineskins” Luke 5:38. Why? Because, as our first reading says, “All the fullness was pleased to dwell and through him to reconcile all things for him” Colossians 1:19-20. Even without individual enlightenment, the Kingdom of God is already here, with me, with us, now.
Though I sometimes teeter off course and into the extreme of too little or too much, I wholeheartedly believe in the mantra of moderation in everything. I believe there is a time to be ascetical, to celebrate, to sow, to reap. But, with Jesus, more than anything else, I know that I am living the End time, the new time, the time of the Kingdom.
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