Living with your ideals

The 26th Sunday after Pentecost
Year C
Isaiah 65:17-25 

“The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox...”

It’s hard to live up to ideals. We idealize the past and we make plans for an ideal future. In both cases do we not make the real world (and, in particular, the present world) look like abject failure? Reality cannot possibly stand up to the glorious past because we are no longer young or innocent or filled with endless potential. The ideal future, where things work out like a well-oiled machine, rarely comes to pass either. It depends on so many factors that we can’t control. We “make do” in the real world and not the ideal world - on earth rather than in heaven.

Two possible ways of avoiding disappointment present themselves. One is to not take reality seriously. The other would be to deep-six those ideals completely and to refuse to believe in anything beyond what we can see and demonstrate and repeat. The first leaves us optimistic and naive and unable to take seriously the reality of our own lives and the lives of others. It might feel good in the short term but eventually our friends will sit us down and give us the home truths which we have refused to bring on board. The second - the abandonment of any ideals - may be even worse. It might feel good to find ourselves freed from any reliance on a magical and unreal world and to need only to live up to what we know about ourselves and about those around us. We rightly perceive, however, that we are fitted for something bigger than what we have in hand and that those who made a difference in the world around them and in the lives of others were, in fact, people who transcended cold hard reality with belief and faith and the perception of good things beyond it.

God’s people live with tension. Abraham is told to look at the stars above him and the grains of sand beneath his feet and to believe that his descendants would be that numerous. The followers of Jesus are enjoined to discern the presence of the Kingdom within, among and around them - coexisting with a real world into which the Kingdom can truly break. It is not a bad thing to be stretched like that and to feel the discontinuity between what we believe and what we see. Let that be your reality! Hope until it hurts!

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