4 August 2013
Ecclesiastes 1:2, 2:21-23
Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11
Some time ago I met a friend who works as a stockbroker. On the day I met him he was quite sad. The reason being that a couple both in their mid 80s came to him, even though quite rich, and they were very anxious to invest some money they had just inherited and wanted him to advise them where to get the most return for it. What saddened him most was the fact that the idea of sharing it with the poor and those in need never entered their minds. He felt they were so focused on themselves they had little thought for others in need.
The readings today focus on our priorities and attitudes in life. Nowhere in today’s readings or in the Bible does it say that having possessions is wrong. The question is what importance do we give them in our lives? The first reading today is from the Book of Ecclesiastes or as it is sometimes called Qoheleth, a name meaning ‘preacher’ or ‘teacher’. When he says that ‘all is vanity’ he does not use the word ‘vanity’ in exactly the same way as we do today. He uses the word in the sense of ‘illusion’ or ‘mist’, i.e. it is an illusion to think that wealth or possessions in themselves can give true happiness and especially if we put them in the place of God so that they become an idol. We then act as if we are independent of God. Many rich people have got cancer and all their money couldn’t prevent them dying from it. A question: Did you ever see a hearse with a coffin inside pulling a trailer behind it with the riches of the dead person?
In the gospel Jesus refuses to get involved in a dispute regarding an inheritance between two brothers. He takes the opportunity to warn people against avarice or greed of any kind. Greed can become an idol because it consists in putting our trust in something other than God. Jesus is not talking only about material possessions. He is talking about anything that can become an idol for us. It might be drugs, drink, sex, work etc. Today computers and modern technology may take up so much of our time that we haven’t time to pray or go to Mass as we used to.
In the parable Jesus speaks about a man who is already rich. He wants to pull down his barns and build bigger ones. It is clear that the focus is on himself. He is self-centred. He doesn’t seem to consider the needs of those less well off than he is. Jesus is saying that riches are a blessing when they are shared and in fact a deadly violation when they are stored up for personal identity or security. Gandhi, the Indian leader repeated many centuries later what the early Fathers or theologians of the Church had taught.
He said: “Even if it is not stolen, something is to be considered stolen if one keeps it without needing it. The rich possess a great abundance of superfluous things they do not really need and that therefore remain unused and are lost, whilst millions die of hunger because for them there is no food. If everyone kept no more than what is really necessary, no one would lack anything and everyone would be contented with what one has”. Even though not a Christian, Gandhi says clearly what Jesus speaks about in the gospel today. Maybe a call for each of us to examine our conscience about what place or importance our possessions have in our lives. Do they possess us in the sense that we are enslaved by them? Or do we use them for our needs but also to help others in need?
The Good News of today’s readings is a gentle reminder that we are here on earth only for a short time and that our true home is in heaven as St.Paul says in the second reading. The real riches that we take with us to heaven are those we have given to the poor or whatever we have shared with others here on earth. Jesus is reminding us of this so that we might have the freedom that gives us a deep peace and joy now. Obviously if I have many riches I may need a lot of security around my house. If I have money invested I may start getting anxious if there is a recession or a slowdown in the economy. Money can become devalued very quickly. It is the opposite with God. God never becomes devalued! In fact the opposite is true – the more we trust in him and follow his ways with the help of his Spirit the more peace and joy we will have now and later too.
I feel that many people try their best to share with others and are conscious of their call to help those less well off. Today’s readings are a gentle reminder from our loving God that if we have been blessed with more material possessions than when we began life, he is asking us if we are using them in a Christian manner. Or if they are being given more importance in our lives than is good for us and therefore for others whom we could have helped.
“Lord Jesus, we thank you for the many ways you have blessed us. Every good gift comes from our Heavenly Father. Help us to use these gifts in a Christian manner for our own good and for others less well off. Amen”.
Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA