Monday, February 27, 2006

Seeking Peace

In Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, he describes one character as consumed by greed. This religious official, the pardoner, sells forgiveness for a price, and has a side business in selling relics. His favorite song is the offertory, the hymn sung before the money is collected at church. As the pardoner tells his tale to fellow travelers on the pilgrimage to Canterbury, he warns them that "greed is the root of all evil." Chaucer and his fictional characters lived in an age when one-third of the population had been killed in a pandemic. Survivors lived in a state of grief and fear. The pardoner describes the anger of three young men sitting in a bar. They mourn their dead friends and curse a personified Death. In fact, they resolve to kill Death and set out to find him. The young men encounter an old man who also seeks death, not to kill, but to embrace it. The young men badger him until he tells them where they may find death - under a nearby oak tree. When the men arrive at the tree, they discover eight bags of gold. Their plan to kill death flees their minds; claiming this gold consumes their attention. They decide to split it three ways. One of the men goes into town to buy wine and bread, while the other two remain behind to guard the gold. After he leaves, the two agree that they will kill him when he returns and thus increase their respective shares of the gold. Meanwhile, after buying the wine, the other man goes to a druggist and buys poison, which he pours into a bottle of wine. He plans to take all the gold for himself. When he rejoins his comrades, they stab him to death. Then they celebrate by drinking the poisoned wine.
Sometimes people crave wealth, a person's love, land, power, or something else so badly they can think of nothing else. Greed consumes them, and destroys them as surely as it did the young men. Keeping our values balanced is a challenge that most find daunting.
Jesus said, "Seek first the kingdom of God, and all these will be given to you as well." Serve rather than crave. Seek rather than hoard. Pray rather than slay. When we hurt, we lash out in anger; we seek to destroy.
The Pardoner knew Greed's dangers well; they already had consumed him. We too seek God, we thirst for peace, we crave forgiveness. And we hear the words of Jesus (from John 7:36), "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Who ever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." An early follower of the Jesus wrote (Romans 14:17f.), "For the kingdom of God is not matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing God and approved to men. Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification."

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