Thursday 11 October 2018

Please, after you.

Back in the mid 1990’s there was a Canadian television show called Due South. I’m pretty sure that, back then, you couldn’t really call yourself Canadian unless you were acquainted with Constable Benton Fraser of The Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Of course, now that I say that, you might not ever have seen it. Don’t worry, you can get it on DVD. (You should.)

It’s the adventures of an old-school stereotype RCMP from the Yukon who ends up, as Fraser often says, in “Chicago on the trail of the killers of my father and, for reasons which don't need exploring at this juncture, I have remained, attached as liaison to the Canadian consulate.” Part comedy, part police drama, it played off the contrast between a good-hearted, honourable, by the book Mountie with unimpeachable integrity and his polar opposite, a Chicago cop.

There’s a running gag from the pilot when Fraser first arrives in the city and politely stops to hold a door open for someone. Then there’s another person. And another and another. This goes on for quite awhile, Fraser nodding politely with a friendly “after you” each time. In fact, it goes on a ridiculously long time because people keep coming and he keeps waiting, letting them go first.

Others think he’s just being silly, and so do we (the audience) until we get to know his character and realize that he’s just being true to who he is. He simply doesn’t know how to not be considerate of others. He’ll always put others first. It’s his nature.

It’s the image I always think of when I read the story of Jesus and the rich man in one of the gospels. (Mark 10:17-31 this week, but there’s a version in Matthew and Luke, too.) I don’t picture a disappointed young rich man when Jesus tells him that he must give up his wealth. I see Fraser holding the door open.

The man comes to Jesus and asks what he must do to enter “the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus reminds him of the commandments and he says yes, he’s kept all these since his youth. Then Jesus “looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’” He sadly leaves.

Jesus then tells the disciples how hard it well be for wealthy people to come to the kingdom. It’s hard enough as it is, but for rich people even more so. The disciples don’t know what to make of this, especially since they’ve given up everything to follow Jesus. Yes, says Jesus, yes! You’re on the right track, but “many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

Everyone’s going through the door before Fraser because he invites them to.

You might think this would be a handy text for a stewardship campaign. And it is. In the best sense. There was a time when it might have been used to encourage rich people to give their money to the church, but back then it just resulted in a rich church, which didn’t turn out so well for anyone. No, this is what stewardship is really supposed to be about: fully loving with all you are and all you have.

The one thing the young man lacks isn’t that he not be rich. It’s not the act of giving away all his money. It’s that he truly, from his heart, needs to live all those commandments, that he truly live into a relationship with God. That means that he would give to those in need, care for the sick and the poor, put his wealth to use in engaging the world around him in a relationship of love and grace. The same relationship we have with God. To live with integrity the love of God that’s in our hearts. With abundance.

Instead, wealth can so easily get between our hearts and our actions. Acquiring “stuff” can build a wall that keeps our hearts and our actions apart. It’s not enough to go through the motions, it must have the integrity of love to live fully, then we are living into the kingdom of God right here and right now. It’s like holding a door open.