26 September 2010
1 Timothy 6.11-16
A certain man had just been promoted in his job and this meant a lot of extra money for him. So he and his wife decided to celebrate. They invited a number of other well-off people to the celebration. Half way through the meal someone knocked on their door. The wife went out and found a poor man who asked for a cup of water and a slice of bread. She was very angry that he had disturbed their celebration and she told him in a very harsh voice to clear off as quickly as possible.
This story reminds us of today’s readings. They speak to us about the danger of wealth and power. It must be said immediately that Jesus is not against money. He knows we need it to live. What he is speaking very powerfully about is the danger of money if it is not used properly and so can enslave us.
Mother Teresa says, ‘I always say that love starts at home: family first, then next your town or city. It’s easy to love people who are far away, but not so easy to love those who live with us or who are next door to us. To love a person you must make contact with that person, become close.
With God wealth is judged not by the amount accumulated but by the amount that is given away. The only real wealth worth having is wealth of the heart. To close one’s heart to others is to begin to die. To open it is to begin to live.
In the first reading the prophet Amos challenges and warns the rich and powerful of Israel. Amos fears that the rich, comfortable lifestyle of the well-off will corrupt them and bring about their downfall as it indeed does when they are forced into exile. The bottom line is that they had become seduced by their wealth and had relied almost totally on it. Is this true in Ireland today with so much disposable income? Already there are signs that there are hard times. Amos is speaking to the wealthy who believed their riches would never fail to support their comforts.
Jesus in the gospel continues the same theme. He is speaking directly to the Pharisees most of whom he knows to be lovers of money. Money can blind us to the needs of the poor. The readings invite us to reflect on our way of seeing things. What Jesus is saying is that if we don’t put our trust in God, then no amount of wealth or firepower can save us or substitute for God.
Here lies the danger that the gospel warns us about. The sin of the rich man is not in his accumulation of wealth but his unconcern for the poor and suffering. He is so caught up in his rich and comfortable lifestyle that he has become very self-centred and turned in on his own needs and enjoyment. As one scripture scholar put it, ‘the sin of the rich man was not that he did wrong but that he did nothing’. Don’t we say in the Confiteor when we ask God for pardon: “What I have done and what I have failed to do”?
Wealth comes in a variety of forms: money, property, good health, etc. They are good gifts given to us by God and also acquired by our own efforts. They cease to be good when we abuse or misuse them.
The punch line of the parable is at the end. Both men die and the one who had nothing has all in heaven but the one who had everything has nothing but his thirst. The drama increases when the rich man asks Abraham to send Lazarus to him with water to quench his thirst. Next the rich man asks that Lazarus would go to his brothers to warn them so they would not also go to the place of torment. But he is told that they have Moses and the prophets. He agrees but if only someone came from the dead they would certainly believe and repent. Abraham tells him they would not even believe someone coming back from the dead because their hearts are so hardened. Isn’t this what happened when Jesus rose from the dead? Many Pharisees and Jews wouldn’t believe it, nor many today. Is this not blindness?
Where do I stand in all this? Where is my real trust – in God or in money and power only? I can still be poor and desire these and if I succeed I can become equally seduced by them. Perhaps we need to examine ourselves regarding our attitude to money and power and see whether the more we have leads us to think we need God less and less. St. Paul reminds us that ‘the love of money is the root of all evil’, not money as such but the love of money.
We could ask ourselves some pertinent questions. Who are the poor at my table? Who are the needy in my community? How does my participation in the Sunday Eucharist affect my way of living during the course of the week? What is my attitude to asylum seekers or refugees? How do I help them?
Ultimately, we are all poor before God who is rich in mercy and compassion. The other Good News today is that each of us is invited to the banquet in heaven which is prefigured by the Eucharist. We are invited to participate in the Eucharist irrespective of our social status. God will not keep us out. He passionately hopes we will take part, at least weekly. Properly understood, only sinners are invited.
“Lord Jesus, open our eyes to the many ways we can be seduced by wealth. Free us from any wrong reliance on it that prevents us from trusting more in you and sharing what we can with the poor. Amen”.
Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA