For Sunday, July 31, 2016, 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Are you rich? Most of us, if asked, would think immediately of material possessions when considering whether or not we are rich. Wealth, as it is commonly considered, is about what we own—money, cars, houses, and the like. Yet in Sunday’s narrative from the Gospel of Luke (12:13-21), Jesus points to a different sort of wealth: “Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.”
What matters to God? We can point to the whole of sacred Scripture and our faith tradition to point to the things we should treasure, and these could be summed up very succinctly: life, faith, right relationship with God and others. In fact, the encounter between Jesus and the scholar of the law, which we heard on July 10 might still be ringing in our minds and hearts: “‘Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus said to him, ‘What is written in the law? How do you read it?’ He said in reply, ‘You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.’” And, remember, Jesus continued to teach by sharing the parable of the Good Samaritan. What matters to God? Mercy, love, forgiveness, compassion: the very qualities we know and are taught through Jesus.
All of the readings this Sunday, the first reading from the Book of Ecclesiastes, the second reading from the Letter to the Colossians, alongside the Gospel narrative, may ring particularly true for those who find their days and weeks focused on the pursuit of material wealth and the social status that results from being “rich” in the eyes of others. It is good for us to take stock of our lives from time to time, and Sunday’s readings call us to do so. In the second reading from the Letter to the Colossians, we are directed to “seek what is above” and to “put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly.” This is not to pit temporal matters against those of heaven, but rather to focus our lives, attitudes, and actions through the lens of faith. The “earthly” things that are listed in the reading are to be avoided because they are sinful: “immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry.” Notice that Jesus does not condemn possessions but rather the reliance on them and also instructs us to avoid the greed that often accompanies the desire for earthly wealth: “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.” We need readings such as these to call us to pause and consider our lives in light of the call of Christ, to love the least and to lay down our lives for the sake of others.
Yet, how often do we describe others by what they do, own, and have, rather than their qualities and the ways in which they embody Gospel values? The reality is that for many of us, our possessions do sometimes possess us; the desire for more results in our having less of what truly matters. Greed takes hold; the endless pursuit of objects becomes idolatrous. We look at others in light of what they own, and we measure our lives in similar terms. Especially in this moment in the US, we are also called to consider these questions as a nation: in what ways does our country and its policies embody Christ’s way of caring for the least among us, showing compassion, mercy, and love?
In Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response, the late Archbishop Thomas Murphy shared an experience in which he was confronted with the need for serious surgery. As he prepared for surgery, he found himself reflecting on his life and wondering, “What do I own, and what owns me?” (p. 39). We might ask ourselves the same question today.
I beg of you, my Lord,
to remove anything which separates
me from you, and you from me.
Remove anything that makes me unworthy
of your sight, your control, your reprehension;
of your speech and conversation,
of your benevolence and love.
Cast from me every evil
that stands in the way of my seeing you,
hearing, tasting, savoring, and touching you;
fearing and being mindful of you;
knowing, trusting, loving, and possessing you;
being conscious of your presence
and, as far as may be, enjoying you.
This is what I ask for myself
and earnestly desire from you.
—Prayer for Detachment, St. Peter Faber