On Filleted Fish
(Wis.18:6-9; Heb.11:1-2; 8-19; Lk.12:32-48)
In 1907, Robert Baden-Powell used his initials BP to create the motto Be Prepared for the Scouting movement. He thought that scouts (and everyone else), should always be ready to meet any duty and any challenge.
This is good advice, but it came too late for Captain Sir John Franklin. In 1845 he led a British Arctic expedition to Canada’s Northwest Passage. He set off with two ships and 138 men on a dangerous journey expected to last for 2 to 3 years.
And how did Franklin prepare for it? He packed 12-days’ worth of coal, 1,200 books, a hand-organ, lots of fine china, cut-glass wine goblets and sterling silver cutlery. And he and his officers were clothed in fine blue cloth uniforms. They must have been horrified when they discovered that they were totally unprepared for the deadly ice ahead. They all perished. [i]
What about you? Have you ever been caught unprepared?
In last week’s gospel, the Rich Man was so busy enjoying his treasure that he found himself completely unprepared for his sudden death.
This is what Jesus warns us about in today’s gospel. He says, ‘You, too, must stand ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.’
Now, we know that Jesus will return one day. He has said so himself, and it’s recorded in John 14, Acts 1, Luke 21, Matthew 24 and many other places. We affirm this belief whenever we recite the Creed and whenever we proclaim the mystery of our faith, ‘Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again’.
So, here’s the question: are we ready to meet Jesus face to face? Are we ready to meet him at the end of our lives and at the end of all time? And are we ready to receive Jesus in the many other ways he comes to us – through our prayer and reflection, in the Eucharist, in the faces of the people we meet, and in those sacred mystical moments when Jesus actually touches our souls?
If we’re not ready, then it’s time to do something about it.
St Paul says that if we live according to the Spirit, then we’ll always be ready to receive Christ into our lives (Rom.8:1-14). But what does it mean ‘to live according to the Spirit’?
It means opening our hearts, our minds and our lives to our loving God.
It means letting go of our pride, our selfishness and our worldly obsessions. (For if we’re too full of ourselves, there’s no room for anything else.)
It means getting closer to God through prayer and spiritual reading, and allowing him to change us from within (Jas.4:8).
It means discovering the spiritual gifts he’s given each of us (1Cor.12:4,7).
And it means listening for God’s quiet voice in our lives, as he tells us what he’d like us to do with our spiritual gifts (1Kgs.19:11-12).
When we live in the presence of God and when we actively use the gifts he’s given us, then we’re always ready to receive Jesus.
Sadly, many people can’t be bothered. They’d much rather pursue leisure and pleasure and every other distraction. But such people eventually lose their instincts for anything else, and like the Rich Man in last week’s parable, the time comes when it’s just too late.
Fr Greg Jordan describes such people as ‘filleted’. Just like fish, they’ve lost their backbones and every other bone in their body. Bones give our bodies strength, structure and protection, and when we’re filleted we’re weak and we’re vulnerable.
In the same way, Jordan says our personalities have metaphorical backbones. When we’re filleted, the backbones of strength of character, commitment and motivation are taken from us. [ii]
Does that describe you? Have you been filleted?
In our secular society, there’s a strong current that’s carrying people further and further away from Jesus Christ, and many people have stopped resisting. They’ve chosen to simply go with the flow, and they’re not thinking about where this current is taking them.
We see this in the legislation that’s currently before the New South Wales Parliament. Our politicians are trying to extend legalised abortion to include babies all the way up to birth. It’s utterly disgraceful, but it’s not just happening here – it’s happening in many other parts of the U.S., in New Zealand and elsewhere, too.
They call it ‘reproductive health’, but it’s actually infanticide. It’s state-sanctioned murder, and yet another manifestation of the culture of death that’s pervading our society.
Loads of people will campaign loudly to save the whales, but they won’t lift a finger to save vulnerable human beings.
As W.C. Fields once said, it’s easy for a dead fish to float downstream, but it takes a live one to swim upstream. And to swim against the current today you really need backbone, strength and commitment.
Jesus is coming. Benjamin Franklin used to say that if you fail to prepare, then you’re preparing to fail. Are you ready to meet Jesus?
If not, it’s time to prepare.
[i] Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk. HarperCollins, NY. 2013:29-64.
[ii] Patrick Richards, The Rosewood Table. St Pauls Publications, Strathfield. 2017:242.