As the semester drew to a close and I watched as senioritis, which has been incubating for weeks, manifested itself full-blown, I listened in as students around me discussed a calculation that goes something like this: “Do I spend all of my time preparing for finals and polishing the last papers to a glorious shine or do I leave well enough alone, contenting myself with what is good enough in order to take that time and spend it with the friends from whom I will soon be separated?”
Frequently, the debate, as it played out and involved some calculation of the relative usefulness of optimal grades. Students with guaranteed first jobs or grad school offers presumably have a less need for stellar last-semester grades than those who must still sell themselves to employers. And so its imagined that they are free here to redirect their focus towards precious friendships. We should note here that “precious” here has become a term of relative value. Following the logic of the calculation, these relationships are of secondary value to a solid career plan. Having a job in the bag frees us to take the time. It’s probably more complex than this, but, that’s often the way we talk – at least in jest.
I realize that even as we make these calculations, we aren’t necessarily saying that grad school, a first job, or the grades to get them are the most important things in life. This year-end time management exercise does create an opportunity to ask what is at the top of that list of important things? The choices we try to juggle at the year-end might bring opportunities to reflect more deeply. Might there be discoveries in these days about what’s most important that we can take with us into the summer and beyond?
On his way to the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus makes this prioritizing declaration “Seek first [your heavenly Father’s] kingdom and his righteousness and all of these things shall be added to you.”
This statement about priorities summarizes Jesus’ teaching on the cure for anxiety where he calls our attention to the way God, through creation, provides for all of the needs of creation – such as the birds and flowers. But what does it mean to be seeking the kingdom of God?
The word “kingdom” is problematic for us. People who live in a democracy don’t intuitively understand the word “kingdom” and are inclined to associate them the word with geography – in this case, the location of heaven.
A helpful substitution is to think of the kingdom of heaven as “the rule and reign of God.” This does a better job of conveying two key ideas: divine authority and divine action. Easter time helps us remember that God’s authority is grounded not only in our experience of creation but more importantly in Jesus’ victory over death. Jesus’ action is that of the one who defeats death through his own humble obedience. So seeking the rule and reign of God can be thought of as attending to Jesus’ obedience and resurrection as the ultimate expression of divine authority and the foundational reality of our lives.
Time management guru Stephen Covey wrote that the most important thing is to “keep the main thing the main thing.” What will the days of your life look like if the main thing is Jesus’ resurrection and the power of life over death that it brings? How might we measure our days differently if these days are the beginning days of eternity? How might our lives be freed if we know our future is assured?
It’s like the graduate with the guaranteed first job, only better.
May 10, 2017
Rev. James A. Wetzstein serves as one of our university pastors at Valpo and takes turns writing weekly reflections.