What is most important to you in your life? It is a simple question and obviously a fundamental one. Yet answering it often proves difficult.
There is a myth that to know oneself and answer such questions all we need to do is to 'look inwards' and 'see' what is there. However, in life we do not so much know ourselves in a complete fashion, as constantly discover what we really are through the situations we find ourselves in. You can only know you are brave by seeing how you react when actually faced with danger.
We are also sometimes surprised by our reactions to situations, and thereby discover what we really think about something. We might have thought we would react otherwise, but did not, and so learn something new about ourselves.
What I am getting at is that we may answer whatever we like to the question, 'What is most important to you in your life?' - but we can only discover the answer by looking at how we act and react in our daily lives. Look at where your heart is, and you will find out what you really want, what you really treasure. As today's gospel puts it:
For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
In today's gospel Jesus speaks of material possessions as capturing the heart, not allowing one to be free to follow him. So he challenges his disciples to reveal what it is they really value, following him or being caught up in material wealth.
Such conflicts are a common feature of life in general. I might tell you, quite sincerely, that God is what is most important to me in my life, but if my actions do not bear that out, then in some way I am mistaken and deceive myself. And, when it comes to issues as fundamental as this, wrong answers can be very costly indeed. Relationships have been destroyed, lives have been wasted, and people have become trapped in illusions, focusing on false goals, because of wrong answers to our simple question, 'What is most important to you in your life?'
You may tell your spouse that you work every hour God sends you so as to provide your family with comfort and security. Is that really true, or is it that you are driven by ambition? You may go out of your way to help those in need, but is it because you wish to help them or gain praise?
You may claim that God is what is most important to you in your life, yet never get round to spending time in prayer. Or, conversely, you may hold yourself in low esteem, but treat people with great kindness and be prepared to stand up for principles you care about.
When we give false answers to our simple question, we not only miss the opportunity to discover the truth, we also reduce the possibility of being able to change and to grow, because we think we have the truth when we do not. We give ourselves false diagnoses, and stop ourselves from being healed.
Today's gospel takes issues such as that posed by our simple question very seriously indeed, even urgently. Jesus expresses this urgency in terms of having your lamps ready for when the master arrives. One way of understanding this passage is to view it in terms of the importance of getting your values sorted out before you die or before Christ comes again. But you can only do this if you can first give a true answer to our simple question.
However, our simple question is also highly relevant to the here and now. Throughout our lives we are presented with circumstances and opportunities which require that we make a choice. And if we are to make good choices, we need to have good values, and this requires knowing what values we have in reality.
Today's gospel is therefore a gift to us. It is a gift because it challenges us to face up to what is in fact most important to us, and in so doing how important God really is to us in our lives.
If we come to answer truthfully our simple question, 'What is most important to you in your life?' - we will have at least made a beginning to evaluating our lives, taken an important first step to living authentically and honestly. So a great deal hangs on how we answer it.