Remember Lot’s wife! Anyone seeking to hold life as a possession will lose it. Whoever loses it will keep it alive.
Luke 17: 32-3
The context for today’s gospel remains the question of the Pharisees concerning the time for the coming of the kingdom of God, and then Jesus’ teaching to the disciples concerning where it is to be found. Jesus’ answer is that the kingdom of God is already among us; we are just not able to recognize it.
The example of Lot’s wife, who in the words of Genesis “turned back toward what was left behind,” is unique to Luke’s gospel. For Luke, it would seem, the primary obstacle to recognizing the presence of the kingdom of God is our innate tendency to “hold life as a possession.” The reality and presence of the kingdom is tangible for those who realize that their lives are not their own, that being and having are not at all the same thing.
Today’s gospel reminds us that it is our preoccupation with possession that blinds us to the truth that “the earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it” (Psalm 24: 1). As we read from the Book of Wisdom today: “All were by nature foolish who were in ignorance of God,/and who from the good things seen did not succeed in knowing him who is,/and from studying the works did not discern the artisan” (Wisdom 13: 1-2). We are captivated and captured by the things that surround us, including our own physical life. We desire to escape the anxiety of our impermanence and transience through accumulation and possession.
For those of us raised near the seashore, one of our earliest forms of play was to create sandcastles which we would then attempt to fortify, by walls and moats, against the encroachment of the incoming tide. As the water approached and began to overtake the walls, we would with great excitement and intensity work to strengthen the walls so that our creation could withstand its inevitable destruction. The sense of energy, of focus, of life that we felt at this repeated but doomed effort is emblematic of the lifelong resistance and rebellion in the light of death of which Albert Camus wrote. Despite the sense of life that comes with this adrenaline rush, It is this defensiveness, and the anxiety which gives rise to it, that is the obstacle to our recognizing and enjoying the kingdom. “Anyone seeking to hold life as a possession will lose it. Whoever loses it will keep it alive.”
Ordinarily I experience my living space as made up of objects and possessions that I must attend to, take care of, and even increase in number. More often than not I even fail to take the time to appreciate and enjoy their beauty, and rather, once having accumulated them, either ignore them or experience the need to care for them as a burden. This morning, however, as I sat in the pre-dawn moments to meditate, I recognized, however briefly, that this small living space is a sacred space. This space was not my possession but rather a gift of God to me at this moment. It would never be exactly the same again, but was, right now, the kingdom of God in which I participated and to which I belonged. When nothing is mine but when everything, including ourselves, that constitutes the moment is from and of God, the kingdom of God is among us.
My Beloved, the mountains,
and lonely wooded valleys,
and resounding rivers,
the whistling of love-stirring breezes,
the tranquil night
at the time of the rising dawn,
the supper that refreshes, and deepens love.
The soul sees and tastes abundance and inestimable riches in this divine union. She finds all the rest and recreation she desires, and understands secrets and strange knowledge of God, which is another of the foods that taste best to her. She experiences in God an awesome power and a strength that sweep away every other power and strength. She tastes there a splendid spiritual sweetness and gratification, discovers true quiet and divine light, and tastes sublimely the wisdom of God reflected in the harmony of God’s creatures and works. She has the feeling of being filled with blessings and being empty of evils and far removed from them. And, above all, she understands and enjoys inestimable refreshment of love, which confirms her in love. These in substance are the affirmations of the two stanzas.
St. John of the Cross, The Spiritual Canticle, Stanzas 14-15, 5