Mar 1, 2014

8th Sunday - To possess or to be possessed?

"Look at the birds of the sky . . . are you not more important?"

Is 49: 14-15
I Cor: 4: 1-5
Mt. 6: 24-34

Our readings this Sunday offer us a good reflection as we begin the season of Lent in just a few days.  Jesus reminds us that, “No one can serve two masters . . . you cannot serve God and mammon.” Then, we are assured there is no need to despair.  Isaiah reminds us that the Lord will never forget us - like a mother who cannot forget her child. Reassuring words but there is a tension that we all feel between the power of money and material goods (mammon) and the power of God.  Both want to possess us.  Both want to be masters of our life so which master will we serve?

When Jesus warns against the danger of riches, he essentially is referring to the danger of greed.  When we hold on to what we have (greed) and allow ourselves to be held tight by our stuff it is a form of idolatry - placing other “gods” before the true God. A look to a very popular television show illustrates this.
I’m not a big TV watcher but there is one that I have to admit I’ve become somewhat addicted to: the very popular British drama, Downton Abbey.  The story line is essentially about an aristocratic family in the 1920’s who have inherited “old money” and exist principally to maintain not only their lifestyle and age old traditions but also the home in which they live; the castle like, enormous and palatial, Downton Abbey. Though they experience great tragedies in the death of family members, they are to never give the impression they are much ruffled by the ups and downs of life. A “stiff upper lip” is the way. 

They are formally addressed as “Your Ladyship” and “Your Lordship.”  They have servants who cook for them, valets who dress them, drivers who chauffeur them around, maids who clean their rooms, etc. In essence they are slaves to their own history which tightly holds them and defines their existence.  They are basically a two dimensional people and are generally suspicious of new trends and change. They are not bad people.  They treat their servants well.  They show signs of occasional compassion for others but this aristocratic family knows that it’s all about money and the lack of it can change their lives drastically. Then what?

Meanwhile, the servants live downstairs of the residence in much simpler quarters and are available for every need of the family upstairs. However, they seem more human, more in touch with reality, and clearly less possessed by the little they have.

In this example, we are moved to question what would happen if the rich ones lost everything.  Could they go on at all? Could we?

Our Gospel this Sunday reminds us that security is not found in material things.  Wealth is not the problem so much as the attachment to it; the unwillingness to share which is clearly a form of greed and the near total dependence on it for our existence, which is idolatry.  True security is found only in dependence on God who loves us more than the, “birds in the sky” or the “wild flowers” or the “grass of the field” which he cares for.  Our basic need for food, shelter and clothing are all a concern of God.  Our lives will be more meaningful, more joyful, and more secure if we place at the center the God who wants to possess us completely.  Everything else will fall in place.    

As we approach the grace of Lent this might provide us with a good reflection on the basic values of our life.  What “master” possess us?  Who do we serve - God or materialism? 

God’s vision of our life may be drastically different than our own. Jesus invites us to essentially be indifferent to riches in all its form.  Don’t “worry” about what we are to eat, drink or wear. “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness . . .”

If God is at the center of our lives and we live in a way that is of service to him, then whether we are rich or poor or anywhere in between, our lives will be meaningful.  Live for the moment, trust in God who cares for you, and serve him alone in the sharing of material and spiritual goods.  It seems the Lord is inviting us be authentic disciples.

Our sharing in the Eucharist is a true act of thanksgiving to God for the riches of his love and mercy.

 O God, who provide gifts to be offered to your name
and count our oblations as signs
of our desire to serve you with devotion,
we ask of your mercy
that what you grant as the source of merit
may also help us to attain merit’s reward.
Through Christ our Lord.

(Prayer over the Offerings – Roman Missal)