God created the dog and said: ‘Sit all day by the door of your house and bark at anyone who comes in or walks past. For this, I will give you a life span of twenty years.’
The dog said: ‘That’s a long time to be barking. How about only ten years and I’ll give you back the other ten?’
So God agreed.
God created the monkey and said: ‘Entertain people, do tricks, and make them laugh. For this, I’ll give you a twenty-year life span.’
The monkey said: ‘Monkey tricks for twenty years? That’s a pretty long time to perform. How about I give you back ten like the Dog did?’
And God agreed.
God created the cow and said: ‘You must go into the field with the farmer all day long and suffer under the sun, have calves and give milk to support the farmer’s family. For this, I will give you a life span of sixty years.’
The cow said: ‘That’s kind of a tough life you want me to live for sixty years. How about twenty and I’ll give back the other forty?’
And God agreed again.
God created man and said: ‘Eat, sleep, play, marry and enjoy your life. For this, I’ll give you twenty years.’
But man said: ‘Only twenty years? Could you possibly give me my twenty, the forty the cow gave back, the ten the monkey gave back, and the ten the dog gave back; that makes eighty, okay?’
‘Okay,’ said God, ‘You asked for it.’
So that is why for our first twenty years we eat, sleep, play and enjoy ourselves. For the next forty years we slave in the sun to support our family. For the next ten years we do monkey tricks to entertain the grandchildren. And for the last ten years we sit on the front porch and bark at everyone.
Life has now been explained to you and you know your purpose.
When we meet folks for the first time it is often a question and answer session. Cousin refers to them as “First Date Questions.” “So, what do you do for a living?” “Where did you grow up?” “What’s your favorite movie?” Etc. In a sense, you are being asked, “What is your purpose?”
There was a cheerful older man who asked the same question of just about every new acquaintance he fell into conversation with: “What have you done that you believe in and you are proud of?”
He never asked those first date questions. It was always, “What have you done that you believe in and are proud of?” Which proved to be a rather unsettling question for people who had built their self-esteem on their wealth or their family name or their exalted job title.
He was not a fierce interrogator and he was not looking for grand answers, at least according to the world’s standards. For example, he was delighted by a woman who answered, “I’m doing a good job raising three children;” and by a cabinetmaker who said, “I believe in good workmanship and practice it;” and by a woman who said, “I started a bookstore and it’s the best bookstore for miles around.”
“I don’t really care how they answer,” said the fella. “I just want to put the thought into their minds. They should live their lives in such a way that they can have a good answer. Not a good answer for me, but for themselves. That’s what’ s important.”
So, if I were to ask you that question, how would you answer? What really is your purpose in life? The number of answers to that question would be equal to the number of folks that are here today, and they would be good answers: “To be a good parent” “To provide security.” “To make the world a better place than when I came into it,” and so on.
But there is in philosophy what is known as “ultimate cause,” which, simply put, is the first event in a chain of events. Why do you want to be a good parent? The ultimate cause could be, Because you had a child. Why do you want to produce good work? Because it is your job. See how it works. But, what if we were to ask Jesus, “What have you done that you believe in and you are proud of – what is your purpose in life?” How do you think he would answer?
Reading through scripture would provide us with several obvious answers: “To bring the Truth of God.” “To heal the sick.” “To feed the hungry.” Those answers are just as noble as “being a good parent” or “making the world a better place,” but what was the ultimate cause behind the things that Jesus did? He fed them, but why? Because they were hungry, but is that the ultimate cause? He healed them, but again, why? Because they were sick, but is that the ultimate cause?
Listen to these words that Jesus spoke in our Gospel reading today, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.”
What was the ultimate cause behind Jesus healing the sick? To glorify the Father. For feeding the hungry? To glorify the Father. For bring the Good News? For being born in a manger and suffering death upon the Cross? Anything and everything Jesus did was to bring glory to the Father. So I ask you again, what is your purpose in life?
On the eve of his ordination to the priesthood, Archbishop Michael Ramsey asked himself this same type of question. His answer is a clear indication as to why he was so great.
“‘My grace is sufficient for thee.’ How I do need to look away from self to God; I can only find satisfaction in Him. My heart to love Him; my will to do His will. My mind to glorify Him, my tongue to speak to Him and of Him. My eyes to see him in all things. My hands to bring whatever they touch to Him. My all only to be a real ‘all’ because it is joined to Him. And this will be utter joy – no man can take it away. Self, self-consciousness, self-will, the self-centre cut away. So that the centre which holds all my parts is God.”
For Archbishop Ramsey, for Jesus, the center that held all their purposes together was the Glory of God and it should be the same for us. Think about this: if you say that your purpose is to be a good parent, how much more of a good parent would you be if you not only did it for the sake of your child, but first and foremost did it for the glory of God? If you want to make the world you live in a better place, how much better will it be if you do it for the Glory of God? We say that we want to “be the church,” so what kind of church would we be if in all we did we were seeking the Glory of God?
Today we celebrate the Ascension of our Lord. This is the reward Jesus received for fulfilling his purpose. As Jesus said in his prayer to our Father, “I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do.” so through the fulfilling of the Father’s work, Jesus ascended back to the glory of the Father. Stephen the first deacon and martyr was even witness to this. Scripture says, “Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.”
And this glory is a place that Jesus longs for us to be also. As he later prays, “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.” Jesus wants us to be with him in the Father’s glory.
The ultimate cause of our lives, our purpose, is much greater than sitting on the front porch and barking at folks as they pass by and it is even greater than those task that are far more noble. And, yes, we are saved by faith, not by works, but the works we do should have as their ultimate cause the glory of God – “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” In living such lives, our reward will be that of Jesus’. For on that day, the Lord will say to us, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.”
In all you do, seek to bring glory to the Father and in the end, that glory will be yours.
Let us pray: Glory be to the Father, Who by His almighty power and love created us, making us in the image and likeness of God. Glory be to the Son, Who by His Precious Blood delivered us from hell, and opened for us the gates of heaven. Glory be to the Holy Spirit, Who has sanctified us in the sacrament of Baptism, and continues to sanctify us by the graces we receive daily from His bounty. Glory be to the Three adorable Persons of the Holy Trinity, now and forever. Amen.