Jul 30, 2016

18th Sunday: "Me" and "mine" - The danger of greed.

"To whom will this belong?" 

Eccl 1: 2, 2:21-23
Col 3: 1-5, 9-11
Lk 12: 13-21

Here’s a question to ponder in light of this Sunday’s readings: “If you knew the world was going to end one month from today, what would you do right now?” 

Well “right now” might mean, “You mean this minute?  How do I feel right now?  I’m incredulous and want to say, you can’t be serious.”  But I respond, “I’m very serious. So what will you do?” Still, I want to ask sarcastically, “Is that 30 or 31 days we have? Or maybe 28?”  I begin by making a bargain for more time.

Finally, after realizing this is true I might ask my neighbors what they will be doing to prepare for the end. Their answers are varied but many of them seem to be very concerned about their lives to say the least. Maybe it’s about time I ask for forgiveness.  I need to make peace with everyone.  But, what about all my stuff?  If the world is ending, what does it matter? Yet, why didn’t I think of that sooner?

The Gospel story this Sunday (Lk 12: 13-21) offers a fundamental lesson on how we must live according to Jesus’ own vision about life. He states: “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.” Yet our consumer society constantly puts us at odds to a certain extent with Jesus’ own perspective.  Pope Francis has dubbed our culture today as a “throw away” culture.  That may imply that we tend to discard things well before their usefulness has reached an end. Out west here, we have shirts, jackets and blankets with the “Pendleton” brand.  They last forever!  They never seem to wear out so sometimes people just get tired of them and donate them to just get something new.  

Or, it could mean that we have so much that we throw it away rather than share it.  We become greedy people because there is so much we can have and sadly this attitude may even apply to how we treat other people in our life, particularly the poor and defenseless - the child in the womb for example.  We determine what is useful and not and discard what we consider useless. We find ourselves wanting more than we have or more than we really need. 

Now, that’s true in parts of the world where so much is available but in other parts, day to day subsistence gives “greed” another meaning.  So, what does this all say about wealth, something that Jesus warned against – or did he? While we all need money and shelter and food to exist, we still find ourselves in danger of greed.  

Where does the sin lay, in being wealthy or in being greedy? Jesus’ parable about the rich man in the Gospel and our first reading from Ecclesiastes seem to imply more in what we feel really matters, our treasure, than it does in how much money we have.

So we hear of a successful rich man who experiences a good crop at harvest time and is very concerned about where he stores this bounty. In what becomes a dialogue with his “self” he states: “What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest . . . this is what I shall do . . . build larger ones!” Then he rests on his success: “eat, drink, be merry!” Rather than sharing he hoards more for himself. This inner dialogue with his own self reveals a deeper truth, then, about greed. The rich man has lost touch with a right perspective as to where that abundance has come from and to whom it really belongs.

It was known in ancient times that the land did not belong to anyone in particular.  The land produced life and if one was lucky it produced an abundant harvest.  In other words, the land was part of creation; it belonged to God.  It was entrusted to us for our benefit but whatever success the land produced was meant not only for the farmer himself but was meant for all. The conversation with his inner ego, reveals the fact that this successful man thought differently. Everything centers for him on “me” and “mine.”

In the end, God calls him to task and points out the dead end that greed has led him to. God reminds him that wealth is a passing thing and that we should place our pursuits on that which does not pass away – on “what matters to God.” As he faces his own mortality, he is told that his greed has blinded him to the greater riches of God’s kingdom – the Gospel of Christ and its’ values.

As well as we know we can’t take it with us and that material things do pass away, the important lesson on the danger of greed is always timely.  As Ecclesiastes (1:2) reminds us this weekend: “Vanity of vanities . . . all things are vanity.”

What has your “land” produced?  Has the crop been sparse or abundant? If life was to end in one month I guess that most of us would want to say things like: “I’m sorry,” “I forgive you” or “I love you.” But in the end, what has been my level of generosity when compared to my desire to hold on tight?  Have I gone with much while I know others suffer with little?
Our gathering for the Holy Eucharist is a sign of God's overwhelming abundance.  The gift of himself poured out for us and then we in turn for each other.  Without Christ as food for our journey, we might well become the most selfish of all people. 

 Draw near to your servants, O Lord, 
and answer their prayers with unceasing kindness, 
that, for those who glory in you as their Creator and guide,
you may restore what you have created
and keep safe what you have restored. 
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, you Son, 
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. 

(Roman Missal: Collect of Sunday)