The Greek god Apollo is the is the supposed god of many things, including archery. So, one day, when he encountered Eros, the god of love, Apollo teased Eros about his bow and how it wasn’t really fit for anything. Eros became angry at being teased and devised a plan. He created two arrows, one of gold and the other lead. He then shot Apollo with the gold one, causing Apollo to fall desperately in love with the beautiful river nymph, Daphne, and want to marry her. Eros then shot Daphne with the lead arrow, causing her to hate everything about Apollo. Daphne had no desire to marry anyone, especially Apollo, but when it became evident that Apollo was going to catch her and force her, she called out to her father to save her. As much as it hurt her father, he consented and Daphne was turned into a tree: Laurus Nobilis—a Laurel tree. However, that did not stop Apollo from loving her, saying, “Always my hair will have you, my lyres will have you, my quivers will have you, laurel tree.” And so, after declaring the Laurel tree sacred, Apollo, cut off a branch and made a crown of Laurel leaves and wore it to show his love.
In the second century a coin was minted showing the head of Apollo wearing the crown. From there, the crown of Laurels became a symbol of great success and the winners of the Pythian Games (Olympics) was awarded a Laurel crown for their victory. In later centuries, the phrase, “repose / rest on your Laurels”, became a way of saying that a person, after achieving victory, could rest and enjoy their fame and fortune, but along about the 19th century, the world became more hard-charging and enough was never enough, so instead of being a positive, “resting on your laurels”, the phrase became a negative. It speaks of laziness or an unwillingness to achieve more, thinking you’ve reached your peak.
An example of someone modern “resting on their Laurels” would be Nolan Bushnell. Nolan was the founder of Atari, the creator of those early video games. He was also the founder of Chucky Cheese, that place of loud screaming and birthday parties. He’s done pretty well. Today he is worth about $50 million. However, two young fellas he worked with at Atari, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, had been tinkering around with a few parts from the Atari and created a personal computer, but they needed a bit of start up cash, so they came to their buddy, Nolan Bushnell, and asked him for $50,000. Nolan, who said, “I thought I could do no wrong and I got really sloppy,” turned down the offer. He didn’t think Atari should be making computers. He rested on his success. He rested on his laurels. What would his $50,000 have purchased him? One-third of Apple. Today, one-third of Apple is worth approximately $800 billion. Nolan says, “I was so smart, I said no, and It’s kind of fun to think about that, when I’m not crying about it.”
Today, in our Gospel reading, we read, “John [the Baptist] said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.’”
We’ve been studying the life of Abraham during our Sunday school lesson and we know that God made His covenant with him. The covenant was the promise to Abraham that through him a great nation would be born. A nation that would be established for all eternity. He was promised by God that his offspring would be more numerous than the stars in the sky or the sand on the sea shores. Through this covenant, the Jewish people became God’s chosen people. Knowing such a thing can change a person. It can create within them a desire to do great things and to live into that promise or it can cause a person to become proud and lazy, thinking they have nothing more to do.
“Hey. I’m God’s chosen, so phooey on you.” “Hey, I’m God’s chosen, so I’m getting into heaven no matter what.” “Hey, I’m God’s chosen, so I can do whatever I like.” “Hey, I’m God’s chosen, so I don’t have to do anything else.” John the Baptist came along and said, “Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor.’” John the Baptist said, “Hey, I’m God’s Prophet, so don’t be resting on your laurels! That’s not going to save you! So get over yourself and repent.”
That’s what happened to some of the Jewish people. They were cut off. What’s interesting, is that we as a Christian people can fall into the same trap of resting on our Laurels. “Hey, I’ve got Jesus, I’m on the inside.” “Hey, I go to church, so I’m good to go.” “Hey…” and so on. That is the equivalent of saying, “We have Abraham as our ancestor”, but what did Jesus say, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
St. Paul, using the analogy of an olive tree, speaks to all of this in his letter to the Romans: “If some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches… do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you.”
Jesus said, “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.” We have received so much from this child that was born in the manger: forgiveness of sins, unity with God, eternal life, the very Kingdom of God. These are gifts from God that we can never earn or repay, but let us try. Let us live as though we could, not resting on our laurels, but ever striving to become those who reflect God’s light and love into the world.
Let us pray: Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.