Christ the King

This foreign land

From the time of the very early church, the apostles and those who followed in their footsteps, humans have been trying to explain to other humans the mystery of our faith. Various images have been used over the centuries, including that of pilgrims in a foreign land.

It was Saint Augustine of Hippo, who lived in the last half of the fourth century and the early part of the fifth century A.D. who first used the image of a foreign land to explain the difference between earth and heaven. His explanation goes something like this: human beings are citizens of the country where they live. Like all members of the human race, Christians too are citizens of a terrestrial country, but we are also citizens of another land that we refer to as heaven.

Throughout our lives here on earth, we long to be reunited with our God, in the land which is our true home, but which appears to be a foreign land to those who look at life without the lens of faith. The life of Christians here on earth is therefore a life of contradictions. We live according to the rules and regulations of our terrestrial homeland, but we also live according to the 'rules' of our heavenly homeland.

The scripture passages proposed for us this weekend speak of these contradictions that we must live with. The prophet Jeremiah reminds us to always put our trust in God, and not to rely only on human efforts in order to satisfy our heart's longing for success or happiness ( Jer 17:5, 7), and the psalmist reminds us that the source of true happiness is to hope in the Lord (Ps 1:1-2).

The teaching of Saint Augustine remains true even today. Human beings all want to be successful and happy, but to define these ideals in terms of worldly achievement is to set ourselves up for ultimate failure, or at least a temporary answer to our quest. The true object of our quest can only be found in God, and the rewards offered by the world all pale in comparison.

Jesus speaks of this quest in the gospel today. In the passage which is referred to as the Sermon on the Mount, he tells us that those who are poor, hungry, sad, and rejected because of worldly experience are those who are truly blessed ( Lk 5:20-22) and those who place their trust in earthly security - riches, food, physical contentment and acceptance by peers, should take heed ( Lk 5:23-26).

Blessedness, happiness and contentedness, when seen through the eyes of faith are thus a matter of perspective. In the words of the apostle Paul, "If for this life only we have hoped in Christ (and it turns out that all he spoke of is for naught), we are of all people, most to be pitied" ( 1 Cor 15:19), but we walk in faith and our ultimate goal is union with Christ in heaven. We are on a pilgrimage to reach this foreign land. With our eyes fixed on this goal, it might be wise to re-examine our goals from time to time, and evaluate where our priorities are.

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