During Ordinary time, the first reading is chosen to reinforce the theme of the Gospel. Normally, with the second reading, the Church is taking us through various books of the New Testament, with no deliberate reference to the theme of the day. This weekend, however, all three readings fit together perfectly to remind us that acquiring things is not what is important in life.
In the first reading from Ecclesiastes, we are told that “all things are vanity.” Everything that we acquire we leave behind when we die and, if a person is fixated on getting more and more things, anxiety to do so will possess him and “even at night his mind is not at rest.” In his letter to the Colossians, Paul tells them (and us) to “think of what is above, not of what is on earth” and to “put to death…the greed that is idolatry.” Finally, in the Gospel parable, God calls the man who built a bigger barn to store his things “a fool,” because it did not bring him the security he was looking for: he died that very night.
There are two points I would like to make. Perhaps one of the drives behind greed is the need or desire for security. Like the man in the Gospel parable, we can be trying to store up things “for many years.” But the problem is we are relying on ourselves, not on God. And we are not in control: anything can happen to wipe away our security. We need to learn to trust and rely on God, not ourselves.
Second, when we are trying to be in control and take care of ourselves, we become more and more self-centered, as did the man in the parable. In his little dialog with himself, he uses “I” 6 times and “my” 3 times. He never references anyone but himself. So, not only is he isolating himself from God by relying on himself, he is isolating from others. And, sadly, it is a house built on sand, because we are
definitely not in control.
The last line of the Gospel sums it up: they are fools “who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.” Am I relying on God or myself? Am I sharing what God has given me with others? That is what matters to God!
Church sign of the week: Disciples don’t build bigger barns. They build longer tables.
Our readings this weekend present prayer as a relationship with God. In the first reading, Abraham is in a close enough relationship with God that he can barter with Him. In an almost comical dialog, Abraham gets God to agree not to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah if there are 10 good people in them.
Our Gospel is Luke’s version of the Our Father, after which Jesus very clearly promises that God will hear our prayer. It is not uncommon for me to hear something like, “I thought God said He would hear our prayers. I prayed for my husband to get better but he died.” Or “why do bad things happen to good people?”
We need to be careful not to regard God as a genie (who will grant our every wish) or as a vending machine (put in my prayer and the chosen result will pop out). God is a loving parent who gives His
children what is best for them, not what they think is the best. He has a bigger picture and knows what is truly best for us. After all, in the Our Father, we do pray “thy will be done.” God’s will, not ours!
Then why should we bother praying? Because it reminds us that God is in control and it strengthens our relationship with God. As the theologian Kierkegaard put it, “Prayer does not change God but it changes the one who prays.” It opens us to God and His will as we share our needs and desires. Maybe it is more about us hearing God than God hearing our prayers.
In His statement about asking, seeking, and knocking, Jesus tells us we will receive, find, and have the door opened for us, but He doesn’t say it will be exactly what we are asking. In fact, He ends by saying that the Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask, seek, and knock. Could there be a better answer to our prayers?
Church sign of the week: When praying, don’t give God instructions. Just report for duty.
Our readings this weekend call us to Gospel hospitality. In our reading from Luke, Jesus goes to visit His friends Lazarus, Martha, and Mary. Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening to Him, while Martha is busy fixing the meal. We aren’t told where Lazarus was. Those of us who have felt frustrated by a family member or a coworker who, from our perspective, is not pulling their own weight can understand Martha’s complaint: tell her to get moving and help me; there is a meal to be prepared. But, surprisingly, Jesus seems to side with Mary. What is going on?
Our first reading might help us understand. Being hospitable and welcoming, even to strangers, was a serious obligation both at the time of Abraham and at the time of Jesus. Providing food and drink is an essential part of hospitality and so what Martha was doing was
necessary. But Abraham also paid attention to the strangers: he sat and listened to them, he thanked them for giving him the opportunity to fulfil an obligation. In other words, he made them the center of attention. And that is what Mary was doing. So, it is not an either/or, but rather a both/and. In other words, while taking care of the needs of someone, we also need to pay attention to the person. Some examples:
The bottom line is remembering that all of us need warm, welcoming interactions to feel cared for, not just “things.” That is Gospel hospitality. Very often our elderly and homebound don’t need “things”: they need us.
I invite us to reflect this week on how well we do at Gospel hospitality. The best “thing” we can give someone is ourselves. God bless.
Church sign of the week: The best things in life aren’t things.
Our Gospel today is the Good Samaritan parable. I would like to look at it from the perspective of law. The scholar of the law who asked Jesus “what must I do to inherit eternal life” and then “who is my neighbor” was viewing the law in a very narrow way, as something to keep him on the straight and narrow, to keep him from doing bad so he would get to heaven. He was being minimalistic (to whom do I have to be neighborly and whom can I ignore?). Jesus is calling him to expand, to open up, to see the law as something that calls him to grow and include all people.
An example of what I mean: the Church obliges us to attend Mass on Sunday. Someone thinking like the scholar would be going to Mass on Sundays to avoid committing a mortal sin, so as to get to heaven (or to avoid hell). Someone thinking like Jesus would go to Mass out of love of God and the community, knowing that the Word, the Eucharist, and the community will bring growth.
In other words, they would be following the law not because they were being forced to, but because it was nurturing and growth producing for them. The law would not be confining them, but rather helping them grow.
As I have gotten older, I have come to realize the wisdom of the Gospel message and the life it calls us to live. It is not restrictive or burdensome, but rather something that makes my life happier and more meaningful now. In other words, maybe I am growing from thinking like the scholar of the law to seeing things more like Jesus. One example: forgiving others and praying for someone who hurts me. When I carry anger around with me, I am not happy. In effect I am punishing myself, not the other person. When I can forgive and pray for the other person, I am happier now, not just securing a place for me in heaven.
I invite us to reflect this week on how we view the demands of the Gospel and our faith. Are they a burden that I fulfil because I have to or because I fear hell? Or do I see them as liberating me from my
human foibles and inviting me to grow to be what God wants me to be?
Our “Church sign of the week” is a cartoon:
For the next couple weeks, our readings will examine the role of “law” in our lives as followers of Jesus. A big issue for early Jewish Christians was whether or not to follow the Jewish Law, symbolized by circumcision. When Paul says, for neither does circumcision mean anything, nor does uncircumcision, he is not advocating anarchy or everyone can do anything they want, but rather stating that, at the end of it all, how we followed the law is not the central issue: the central issue is our relationship with Christ and others.
To say it in another way, “righteousness” is a right relationship with God, shown through right relationships with others. Laws and rules and rituals are to help us to get there, to grow in this ability. But our tendency is to turn these guides or aides to loving relationships into an achievement test or grading system – which can lead us to be self-righteous and judgmental of others. Then the laws and guides have the opposite effect: instead of leading us to loving relationships with God and others, they divide us as we judge and dismiss others.
It is tricky to balance observing rules and laws without making them the be-all and end-all. One way to discern is to ask whether we are growing in compassion and love for others or if we are judgmental and self-righteous. Personally, when I find myself being judgmental, I ask if it is my responsibility to do so. As Director of Candidates for the Salvatorians, I need to be judging candidates. That is a responsibility. But often when I have judgmental thoughts, it is not my responsibility – or even my business!
I invite us to reflect this week on how we relate to rules and laws. Do we use them to help us grow in our love of God shown through love of neighbor? In what ways do I feelself-righteous and judgmental of others? Is there one specific situation in which I can change for the good and HOW can I do that? And let us support each other in prayer.
Church sign of the week:
No person’s life should be judged by their worst moment.