Monday, April 21, 2008

Food for thought from Jesus Christ

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, written originally in Persian in the eleventh century, was translated into English in the nineteenth century by Edward Fitzgerald (no relation to F. Scott). English readers have been enjoying it ever since. The word “rubaiyat” is related to the Persian word for the number 4, and the poem consists of many four-line stanzas known in the poetry trade as quatrains. Probably the most familiar passage from The Rubaiyat is quatrain XII:

“A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread--and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness--
Ah, Wilderness were Paradise enow!”

Good food, good drink, good literature, good music, a good companion, Omar seems to be saying, will turn a wilderness into a paradise. He advocates a hedonistic approach to living, the pleasures of epicureanism, the sensual life. Eat, drink, and be merry, as the saying goes, for tomorrow we may die. To be fair, eating (partaking of the loaf of bread), drinking (partaking of the jug of wine), and being merry (partaking of poetry, music, Thou) are not evil in themselves; on the contrary, they are desirable and good if not pursued to excess. However, Jesus Christ said something different. He taught that our life consists of more than that. Let's look at what He said in context, in verses 13 through 34 of the twelfth chapter of Luke's gospel:

“And one of the company said unto him, Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me. And he said unto him, Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you? And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man's life does not consist of the abundance of the things which he possesses.

“And he spoke a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have much goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, You fool, this night your soul shall be required of you: then whose shall those things be, which you have provided? So is he that lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.

“And he said to his disciples, Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what you shall eat; neither for the body, what you shall put on. The life is more than meat, and the body is more than raiment. Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; which neither have storehouse nor barn; and God feeds them: how much more are you better than the fowls? And which of you with taking thought can add to his stature one cubit? If you then be not able to do that thing which is least, why take you thought for the rest? Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. If then God so clothe the grass, which is today in the field, and tomorrow is cast into the oven; how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith? And do not seek what you shall eat, or what you shall drink, neither be of doubtful mind. For all these things do the nations of the world seek after: and your Father knows that you have need of these things. But rather seek the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you.

“Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell what you have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that fail not, where no thief approaches, neither does moth corrupt. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

For some of you, your heart seems to be at QVC and the Home Shopping Network. If you didn't know this particular teaching of Jesus before, now you do. It's right there in the pages of the New Testament. Which brings us back, full circle, to quatrain LI in The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam:

“The Moving Finger writes: and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.”

1 comment:

  1. Very good post! Awhile back at a second-hand store I bought a copy of the Rubaiyat.....haven't read any of it yet. Spent most of my life thinking it was a piece of jewelry or such......we learned in high school that a priceless Rubaiyat went down with the Titanic, but I remained ignorant of what itactually was.

    Thank you for the reminder of Jesus' words concerning our tendency to be overly-concerned about our daily needs. I could wish to "just be", like the lily.....but, unfortunately, in our culture, that would seem unmotivated and lazy, even.