When we play board games, to what extent do the successes and failures we attain in the playing of a game affect the rest of our lives?
What if a highly respected host invited you to spend an evening at his mansion playing a board game. All evening, the game proceeds as usually played, and you and your opponents experience the usual wax and wane of material success. Drinks and snacks are passed and shared. At times the game becomes quite heated as players bicker and barter for progress, position, and power. In the end, you were quite successful, but when the evening is over, all the board money and game pieces are put away in the box, and you and the other players leave and return to your separate lives.
To what extent do the successes and failures you attained in playing the game affect the rest of your life?
At first thought, Nothing. Yet, it seems to me that there are at least seven things that do carry over to real life:
1) How you treated those you played with.
2) How your actions indirectly affected those you played with.
3) How you yourself changed from what you learned about yourself.
4) How you treated the game pieces and board, and the Host’s house.
5) How you enjoyed the playing of the game.
6) How others remember how you played.
7) How grateful you were to the host.
This Parable of the Game is a Parable of Life: Playing the game, in the parable, represents life in this world, and real life outside the game, in the parable, represents our life in the kingdom of God.
Our Lord proclaimed to His apostles that, if we are in Him, we are no longer “of the world, even as I am not of the world” (Jn 17:14). We become citizens of the kingdom, but we have been left in this world as His messengers (Jn 17:11-18), or as St Paul described, ambassadors of the Kingdom (2 Cor 5:17-21), to help others who are lost and attached to this world to discover their need to become citizens of the kingdom, through faith in Jesus Christ and Baptism into membership in His Mystical Body, the Church.
But what does it mean practically that we are children of God, citizens of the kingdom, and NOT citizens of this world, of this “box”, this “game”? Did Jesus leave us in this world to become successful and powerful? To accumulate riches and property, so that we can spend what time we’ve been given here in comfort, luxury, and easy living? To eat, drink, and be merry, because when life is done, we leave it all behind us anyway?
No, for as Our Lord says in the Gospel for this coming Sunday,
“For all the nations of the world seek these things; and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things shall be yours as well. Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms; provide yourselves with purses that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Lk 12:30-34).
And when our time in this world is over, when all we have accomplished and accumulated in this life is put away in the box, then what?
“So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body” (2 Cor 5:9-10).
This is what was emphasized in last Sunday’s Gospel reading: “But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:15-21).
When all is done, and we stand before God, when the Book of Life is opened, when the fruit of our lives is examined, what will be important? Those same seven things, but in a slightly different order:
1) How we loved God. What our Lord called the Great Commandment. How grateful we were to the Host, to the Father through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, for all that He gave us, which means everything, every opportunity to know, love, and serve Him. As Pope Francis said recently, “True wealth is love of God, shared with others. Who experiences this does not fear death, and receives peace of heart.”
2) How we loved: The second great commandment, to love my neighbor as myself. When all the great industrialists, bankers, inventors, and investors die, and all that they had made, accumulated, and accomplished stays in the box, what will ultimately matter is how they treated the people they worked with, their wives, their children, their families, friends, and neighbors. This will be the same measure of our lives.
3) How we indirectly loved: How does the way we spend our money, invest our time and talents, affect other people in this world, people we don’t even know? In the end, when the books are opened, and everything we have done in this life is examined, if in the process we have stepped on even one person to get where we attained, that person will be there pointing, as Nathan to David, “You are the one!”
4) How we grew in grace: What have we learned about ourselves, if we were listening, and how have we responded? Changed? Or has our life been one continual accusation that it was “always someone else’s fault! “Put to death what is earthly in you…” (Col 3:5f).
5) How we loved what we were given: When Saint James warned that “friendship with the world is enmity with God” (James 4:4), he did not mean a Gnostic rejection of this world, but a rejection of sinful attachments. Our temporary life in this world is a good which we have received as a gift from above (James 1:17). We were left in this world by Jesus: this world was created “good”; and everything we have been given is good; technology is good; man has created nothing; we have only been given gifts, treasures, knowledge, techniques, abilities. The question is how did we use, take care of, share, invest, and improve what we were given. When we take care of creation, we live out the divine life we have been given, and share with God in His creative activity in this world.
6) How content we were: Was the joy of our life in Christ full (Jn 15:11), and in imitation of Saint Paul: “Not that I complain of want; for I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content” (Phil 4:6, 7, 11)?
7) How our lives inspired others: Imagine having your name for all time in the NT as one who was so “in love with this present world” that you deserted Saint Paul (2 Tim 4:9,10). When our children, grandchildren, and those who knew our deeds and words remember us, will how we lived those seven things be a legacy worth imitating?
Some might exclaim, “But isn’t this works righteousness? And besides, what does it truly mean to love?”
Which is why good players don’t make up the rules as they go along, but look first at the instructions, which is why Christ gave us His Church guided by His Spirit.