(December 26, 1990)
A truck driver, speeding along a city interstate, spotted a large, floppy cardboard box in the middle of his lane. Knowing his truck would not be damaged by an empty box that had likely blown unto the roadway, he almost didn’t swerve. However, on a hunch, he changed lanes at the last minute. As the box appeared in his rear-view mirror, he was horrified to see a small child crawl out of it.
Right after Christmas, there are boxes everywhere. Unless some gift was accidentally left inside, the containers are discarded or recycled with little loss. The real treasures have been left under the tree, on the dining room table, in the family room, in a closet, or wherever people put their gifts. The boxes have little value.
Nevertheless, I used to save boxes, just in case they were needed to mail or store something. They filled up space in the garage and became a nuisance. I was teased about my pile of boxes and my only defense was that at least I didn’t keep the box and throw away the contents!
But who would do that? According to Jesus, people do it all the time. Concerning what people keep and what people throw away, He said this: “What profit is it to anyone to preserve his box with its wrappings and throw away his most precious gift? Do people realize what they are exchanging for this gift?” (Matthew 16:26, my paraphrase).
Jesus was contrasting the gift of eternal life with the wrappings -- namely temporary physical life. He made it quite clear that anyone who considers the wrappings more important than the gift, is ignorant of what is truly valuable. The preceding verse puts it this way: “Whoever will save his life shall lose it: and whoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.”
Self-preservation is a pretty strong instinct. (What on earth was that child doing out in traffic?) We carefully guard our life and hang on to it, wanting as much control as possible. However, Jesus says we need to reconsider and relinquish the priority and preservation we zealously hold on this life. In other words, if we want eternal life, this life, and control of this life, has to be surrendered to Him.
The Apostle Paul tossed the box and kept the gift. He did it because He believed the promises of God. He confidently declared: (again, my paraphrase) “We know that if the houses we live in are destroyed, we have a place to live from God, a home not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”
Jesus didn’t advocate neglecting our physical needs. However, much of the money, time and effort people spend on trying to preserve the box is not only vain, it is foolish. Why grasp hold of and pamper something that cannot be kept in the long run, and thoughtlessly toss away something that, if kept, can never, ever be lost?
When we trust our life to Christ, God promises someday to give us an eternal “container,” a new body that is incorruptible, one that experiences no pain or sorrow. Paul was so sure of that reality, at the end of his life he was eager to leave behind the body he lived in. God had given him a glimpse of paradise. He also knew his “box” had served its purpose.
Tossing out the extra cartons and wrapping paper at the end of this year is a good time to ask ourselves: Have I received the real gift, the one that will last forever? Or am I throwing out what Jesus wants to give me and keeping something that one day I will certainly lose?