While the United States political system operates with two very dominant political parties, here in Canada, our provincial (state) and federal legislatures and parliament are usually comprised of representatives from three or more parties. Even as I type this on Thursday night, votes are being counted in my home province to determine who lead us and under a parliamentary system, the premier (governor) is the one whose party nets the most representatives.
At the federal level this spring, the unthinkable happened. While our national political scene has been dominated by the Conservative party and the Liberal party. But the third party, the New Democratic Party (NDP) was fronted by an affable — no, make that downright loveable — guy named Jack Layton, who, after all the votes were counted, became the first NDP leader to lead the official opposition.
But then, the unthinkable happened again. Cancer struck Jack Layton down rather swiftly at age 61, and instead of seeing what he might have done in the House of Commons, instead, we watched his state funeral.
I mention all that because I was struck by a number of similarities with the death of Apple Computer founder Steve Jobs. Both very likeable or even loveable guys, both struck down at the peak of their personal accomplishments; Jobs at only 56 years of age.
Life can be short.
Life can end suddenly.
And I can’t help think of a third person, a somewhat ‘once upon a time’ character that Jesus mentions in a parable, though when scripture says, ‘a certain man,’ though the general hermeneutic approach is to take this as hypothetical, I believe the omniscient Christ could have been drawing on a real character or a composite.
Luke 12 (NIV) 16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’
20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
Another guy at the top of his game. Planning to expand in one sense, but planning to coast a bit — we might call it entering some years of profit-taking — in another. But he never gets to enjoy his riches or see what happens next.
And into the shock of that sudden crisis, Jesus interjects another issue: the man seems to have no succession plan. There’s been no preparation for the next chapter, and suddenly it comes upon him.
Maybe the guy in the story has the wrong priorities, after all the parable comes after this:
15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”
And he follows it up with his own prescription for how to relate to material things:
22 Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. 24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? 26Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?
27 “Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 28 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. 30 For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.
One pastor we listen to online ends each sermon with, “Now go out and build the kingdom.” That’s what we’re here to do. Political empires will come and go and business fortunes will be amassed and then lost. Only what’s done for Christ will last.
Jack Layton was admirable in Canadian politics as also was Steve Jobs in American business. It would seem we lost both men all too soon. But let’s use the shortness of their lives as a reminder to make each day count, and to measure what ‘count’ means with eternity in view.
Now go out and build the kingdom.