18th Sunday Ordinary Time
A Homily - C Cycle - 2003-2004
First Reading - Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:21-23
Psalm - 90:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 14, 17
Second Reading - Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11
Gospel - Luke 12:13-21
Luke writes to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.
Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, "Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me." He replied to him, "Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?" Then he said to the crowd, "Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one's life does not consist of possessions."
Then he told them a parable. "There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest. He asked himself, 'What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?' And he said, 'This is what I shall do. I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones. There I shall store all my grain and other goods and I shall say to myself, "Now as for you , you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!"' But God said to him, 'You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?' Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God."
Perhaps you've noticed that for a few years now, most grocery stores have devised checkout lines that are "candy free." I suppose these are designed for parents who don't want to have to fuss with their kids who just might want to throw in a Snickers or Butterfinger bar on the conveyor belt. I suppose that they're also designed for those of us who don't want to be tempted into buying junk food, especially in this day of counting carbs. Fair enough. Not too long ago, I found myself in a candy-filled checkout line and in front of me was a mother and her young son in the shopping cart. The little fella picked up a candy bar and looked at his mom and said, "Mom, I want this." She said, "No, put it back." Then the little boy said, "Mom, I NEED this." His mother almost caved-in but eventually denied the request. This seemingly harmless incident has actually lots to do with today's readings - our theme du jour is our disposition towards material goods. Now, this little kid in the checkout line can hardly be accused of being overly attached to material good - he's just a kid who was trying to get his way. Yet, this child's logic is one we're all familiar with: TAKING OUR MERE DESIRES AND TURNING THEM INTO OUR NEEDS.
Living in the richest country in the world, some of us may think that an attachment to material goods is a problem that is unique to us. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Having been assigned to very wealthy parishes and very poor ones, I have learned that an inordinate attachment to material things is not even the curse of the wealthy. I have known very poor people who are consumed by what they would like to own. In fact, I have known very rich people who are so ambivalent about their wealth that they can almost transcend the demands of thinking about material things. In any case, in our Gospel today, Christ warns us to take care to guard against all attachment to material things, for though one may be materially rich, one's life does not consist of possessions. In particular, our Lord warns us against the sin of greed. This problem is so ancient that it is codified in the Ten Commandments. The Tenth Commandment warns us not to covet our neighbor's goods.
On this 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, we as a Church take time to consider where our riches really lie. Let us be clear about one thing: money and wealth in and of themselves are not the problem. There is no sin in being well-to-do or financially secure. That's NOT the problem. The real problem arises when our hearts - our inner most desires - are dictated and guided by material possessions to the point where they slowly but surely begin to replace God and become little gods to us. A real problem arises when we become slaves to things. We are supposed to love people and use things but when we begin to love things and our capacity to love is tapped out, we can easily fall into the temptation of using people.
So, if greed is the problem, let's first define it and then look at two common ways where it is expressed and two ways we can avoid these pitfalls and re-orient our hearts towards God.
Simply put, greed is an inordinate desire for things. Keep in mind that there is a proper or ordinate desire for things. Meeting our basic needs, for example, would fall under this proper desire for things. So, where do we see this greed? Two instances come to mind:
First, Narcissism. this is truly one of the plagues of our day. It is often described as an chronic self-absorption which seeks to put ourselves and our desires as the first value in any situation. It's an attitude or a disposition that says that "It's all about celebrating me and my accomplishments, no matter the price." I can recall a time when I learned that a couple who was marring in a parish I was assigned to gave the church a measly $50 when they spent over $10,000 on their wedding. They gave 1/2 percent to God and the works of His Church. Incredible.
There's another related "ism" that is a cousin of narcissism - rugged individualism. Taken to an extreme, the rugged individual says that I am a self-made man. I am who I am because I have worked for it. This person is much like the rich man in today's Gospel passage from St. Luke whose greed leads him to a sorry ending. Jesus warns us that like the rich man in the Gospel, we will meet a similar demise if we insist on storing up treasures merely for ourselves but are not rich in matters in God. Yes, we have to work hard and yes we have to apply ourselves, but we always have to remember that it is God who gives us the grace to do well and it is God's grace who helps us enjoy the fruits of our labor. None of us, then, is really self-made.
Second, consumerism. This disposition is rooted in an inordinate desire to constantly be in possession of the latest trend or fashion to the point where these things are constantly on our minds and they are the primary desire of our hearts. It's the attitude of "gotta have the latest things." Marketers know this well. Isn't it in fact the case that the minute you've bought a new computer, it's about a month from being obsolete. Or car manufacturers who slightly tweak last year's model to make the current year model only to tempt us to have the latest vehicle. Consumerism is also manifested in frivolous spending, outlandish vacations, impulse buying and spending beyond one's means. It's the inability to say, "You know, I'll do without it." It's the belief that things will make us happy, so the more I own, the happier I will be. Even the way we go about spending our money has its pitfalls. In my own life, I remember how I once had the consumerist bug. Not too long ago, I recently had to purchase a new car. As a person of limited means, I made sure I did all the research. The process was so all-engrossing, that I noticed that I would be thinking about my car when I'd come into the chapel to pray - it was a total distraction.
So now that we've identified the problem, let's take a look at two antidotes: First, mortification. It is imperative that we all learn to practice a daily self-denial. It's our way of taking up our Cross. I suggest that each day, try denying yourself something you really enjoy. Maybe it's as simple as passing on that second cup of coffee or listening to music on the way to work or perhaps not watching that TV show you like so much. Some ask, "Why mortification?" The answer is very simple: When we constantly feed our senses and our desires, we leave no room for God because we become fat and happy. Let's be honest - praying is not the easiest thing for us to do at times. When we are totally satisfied in our senses, we are dulled to our need to talk to God. Mortification reminds that we need to carve out room in our hears for God, the source and end of all good. Even the first reading from the Book of Ecclesiastes reminds us that the person who is so consumed by their work and their possessions has a mind that is never at rest and at the end of their life takes nothing with them. I have never seen a U-Haul truck follow a hearse to the cemetery. Our hearts, St. Augustine tells us, only truly rest when our hearts rest in the Lord.
Second thing. The custom of giving ten percent of one's net income to the Church is a time-honored tradition. A friend once asked me how much she should give to the Church each week. I presented her with two options: On the one hand, the Old Testament guideline found in the book of Genesis suggests 10 percent. It was the percentage that Abraham gave to Melchizedek the priest in thanksgiving for a military victory Abraham had enjoyed. On the other hand, the New Testament guideline given to us by Jesus says to go and sell everything you have and come and follow me. I say: you choose! Tithing is an easy way for us to show our gratitude to God for His many blessings. We are not absolute owners of anything in this world, no matter how hard we've worked. We are but mere stewards of God's manifold gifts. Our Gospel acclamation, which is based upon the Beatitude which says - Blessed are the poor in Spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven simply means that those who acknowledge their creaturely status and defer all the glory to God are the true heirs to the kingdom. Those who are poor in spirit truly recognize that they rely upon God in all things.
To close, let us take heed of St. Paul's letter to the Colossians. He exhorts us to "Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry." The Gospel is clear - there must be a sense of urgency on our part to detach from all those things will keep us from growing closer to God and which consume our heart's desires. The rich man in the Gospel had no idea that he would be caught unprepared to make an accounting of his life. So, for our part, we do well then to echo the Responsorial Psalm: "If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts."
Praised be Jesus Christ. Now and forever!
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