When everything seems to be going in the wrong direction
Aren’t there times in our lives that it seems that everything is going in the wrong direction? Despite our best efforts, perhaps, still, things seem to be falling apart.
In the first reading today (Amos 7:7-15), 2800 years ago, God spoke of setting a plumb line. Isn’t it amazing how this reading could be handed on for so long and distributed so widely?
A plumb line is a weight hanging on a string which an architect, a contractor, or a mason uses. The builder may use a plumb line to see whether the rising lines of the stones and bricks of a building are vertical and straight up. Connected with that, builders see whether the courses of brick or stone are horizontal.
If you lay tiles or put up wallpaper, you will know that not all buildings are true. It may be that the stones and bricks are not rising vertically, and then there may be catastrophe if those verticals are faulty.
God used the metaphor of the divine plumb line, through this humble shepherd and fruit picker Amos, so referring to the justice that was coming. God told the nation of the impending collapse of Israel, describing the exile of Israel before it happened. Then that exile did take place.
There were several cathedrals which collapsed in varying countries and cities — including the collapsed cathedrals of Beauvais (France) in 1284, Ely (England) in 1322, Seville (Spain) in 1511 and again in 1888, and then Noto (Sicily, Italy) in 1996.
Sometimes we feel that our own lives are collapsing
A plum line and the many such calculations connected with the vertical, horizontal, stress lines, and foundation, along with the building materials, may all be part of the process of building in a sound manner. We ought to live in that way, preventing the collapse of our own homes, careers, families, and lives.
Animal life is another thing that may either collapse or else survive. We learn that there are multiple extinctions of species (like the Dodo) in Australia and elsewhere connected with the modern western lifestyle. It is terrible that the way we live should drive animals and the biosphere into oblivion.
Whether as individuals or as nations, each thing that we eat, that we drink, in which we live, and in which we travel –all of them contribute to the state of the biosphere. Our way of life contributes to storms, droughts, fires, and extreme events in nature, and to the survival or to the extinction of animal life. There is a plum line in nature. When we depart from it, things fall apart.
When we read that the rate of extinction of animals and species is at a record level, surely we must feel that things are heading in the wrong direction.
I began by asking whether there are times in our lives that it seems that everything is going in the wrong direction. Yet there is more than justice and truth in the plumb line in Amos. For, in our readings, we can see also God’s mercy and peace (Ps 85:10).
“Christ holds all things together” and, “All things are gathered up in him”
We read in today’s selection (from Ephesians 1:3-14) that in Jesus Christ, all things hold together. That is an amazing, mystical statement. Each atom, each person, each part of nature, and each galaxy all hold together in Christ: that same Christ who lives in our hearts.
One way of thinking of it is this: When you think of gravity, it is something that applies across the whole universe, drawing all things together. Not only does gravity apply across the whole universe, but it applies immediately.
Light takes a long time to travel from distant parts of the universe, but gravity applies immediately over the whole span of the universe. When you move from one place to another, the gravitational change is immediate across the universe. So when we read a statement like this, that all things are gathered up in Christ, we may think about gravity as doing something comparable. Then, we read in the Psalm, that the creation worships God.
The plumb line of God reaches, pulls, and points toward the goal of history. The plumb line of God reaches and points toward the salvation of the entire planet and all the life in it, due to the sacrificial offering of Jesus Christ on the cross.
The last state of the believer exceeds the first state of a human being
There are indeed times in all of our lives that it seems that everything is going in the wrong direction. Yet “Christ holds all things together” and the last state of the believer exceeds the first state of a human being.
The final states of all of those collapsed cathedrals of Europe were even better after the catastrophe than they were before. Couldn’t one say that Europe is a better place after the catastrophe of Hitler than Europe was before that? And those good fruits owe a debt to St Benedict of Nursia whom we remember on July 11 every year.
At the individual level, think of Adam and Eve. Their story is perhaps comparable to any infant coming into the world. After a good start, everything went wrong of course, just as every infant has a selfish streak which leads to a lot of trouble. But the life, death, and resurrection of Christ provided the antidote.
Isn’t a person who has come through catastrophic collapse even more beautiful than before it? John the Baptist’s execution (Mark 6:14-29) is more than a tragedy because his life was greater by virtue of his testimony to Christ. I have heard people who have come through severe disease say that each day of their life afterwards means much more than any such day meant before that severe disease.
We may live in the presence of grave challenges. There is something more important than whether we caused the situation or not. We could live in passivity, or we can face and take responsibility for our response to the catastrophes in our life. We can look at what we are going to do about the challenges in our lives.
Is there a catastrophe in your life? In solidarity with others, we can repent, steadily change our ways, and move forward in faith in the Christ in whom all things hold together. Then God’s word and history show us that we can expect to see something far better the other side of that crisis.