Eighteenth Sunday of the Year
Television commercials, billboards, and the internet suggest we do not have enough and incomplete. We will be complete and happy if we purchase their products. They also assure us that if we buy the products they advertise that we will be complete. Our culture often equates consumption with satisfaction; possessions with happiness and personal worth; and material wealth with the good life.
In much of the First World, anxiety is seen on the faces of people we pass on the streets, travel with on public transport or encounter whilst shopping. The world seems to thrive on people setting higher goals for themselves and others and if these are not attained it means failure. Our economic system, as in Jesus’ time, is based on prestige and privilege being marked by diminishing proximity and diminishing solidarity with others.
Jesus’ warnings point to the fact that much of the world and for much of human history has faced the same problem. Today, again, Jesus is asked to intervene in a sibling dispute as he was between Martha and Mary.
Bishop N.T. Wright refers to the dispute that Jesus is asked to arbitrate, touches on the attitude many Jewish people have to the Holy Land. It was not just where they lived. Possession of the land, then as now, was a vital Jewish symbol – religious and economic. The gospel character saw his world in terms of what he owns and was unrelated to how it affects others. The man in the story is called a ‘fool’ or ‘idiot’. ‘Idiot’ comes from the Greek ‘idiotes’ – the 'one who is alone' or isolated. He does not share himself with others. We observe 'idiotes' today in the trickle down cruelty imposed on poor countries and poor people left to live in poverty, hunger and insecurity as the price for others living beyond their means and so are. The Church too can isolate itself from the world, seeking its own prestige or privileges, or tries to protect its image by covering its faults; or silent in the face of injustice; or seeks exemptions from anti-discrimination laws.
Jesus’ message was that God was longing to give new life to people of every race and place, and Israel was in danger of becoming like the man in the parable who wanted security of possessions to last for as long as possible. God’s reign is about love, compassion, and justice sweeping throughout the world.
Much suffering and injustice is traceable to the quest for more. The ongoing pain from the global economic crisis, the ecological challenges posed by our dependence on fossil fuels, the war and violence which arises between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ (so often justified as a ‘protection of interests’), the debates around health care, immigration and climate change – all have strong, albeit often hidden, financial agendas intertwined within the other issues. The challenge is to recognise the powerful, and often destructive, role money plays in global affairs, and find ways to challenge political leaders, business leaders and ourselves to embrace an ethic of sharing and giving rather than accumulating and ‘protecting’. If our voices remain silent on this difficult, prophetic gospel call, hope of a more just and equitable world is lost. Throughout history, people have murdered, waged wars, seen families torn apart, cultures destroyed, languages lost, people dispossessed by the desire to have more than one’s neighbour. This is not the only the case with the Israel-Palestine conflict for some 75 years but of settler colonialism that ruined the lives and cultures of First Nations people in the Americas, Africa and Australia. The USA hears of gold discovered in Africa and quickly offers or imposes security arrangements with the country. Australia in our times sought to ‘steal’ from the nation of Timor Leste, one of the poorest in the world, of its rich oil and gas deposits. Today, rather than working for mutual relationships we seek more and more weapons to protect ourselves from perceived or contrived threats.
Martin Luther King, Jr. said that we exist in ‘webs of mutuality’. This is expressed by ecological thought and the gospel. Our humanity is enhanced as we become increasingly interdependent rather than seek to avoid vulnerability by becoming independent and protecting ourselves and distancing ourselves from creation and humanity.
Paul invites us to, ‘Set your minds on things that are above….’ Which is about being concerned with God’s priorities and the standards of God’s Reign. Paul could be saying: ‘Listen here …that space in your heart where God used to be is filled with stuff that has nothing to do with God and keeps us from God and others. James Baldwin wrote ‘People who cannot make love make money.’ The talk of the character in the parable is a monologue: it is self-directed and self-absorbed. His touch was limited to possessions and protecting them, rather than touching others; his world was unconnected and unrelated to the fate or fortune of other people. Henry David Thoreau also said, ‘You don’t own your possessions, they own you.’
Last week, Jesus taught his disciples to pray the Lord’s Prayer. We are called to make real the petition for Gods’ reign to come on earth as it is in heaven. This is what makes it possible to live peacefully and justly in a world obsessed with war and destruction; to live generously in a stingy world; to offer hospitality to strangers that many others fear. Paul says we bear an image that does not permit distinctions between people. He is calling us to cultivate a new attentiveness – a ‘culture of encounter’ (Pope Francis) – by living completely in the present in each moment as did Jesus - which made him able to feel the touch of a woman who needed him; to hear the cry of a blind man despite the cacophony of city noise; to soothe a woman’s parched soul at the well before she knew she was thirsty; to be present in ways we often are unable to because of our distractions.
For Paul being raised with Christ means that we have the power to create a new world. Welcoming God’s reign frees us from a narrow and diminished world-view towards giving ourselves in building a new world. The choice is fraternity, solidarity, mercy, forgiveness, compassion or possessions, power or prestige. Our humanity is bound up in solidarity with others. True humanity is inescapably tied to Christ’s call and solidarity with others; spending oneself in forgiveness, love, passion, energy, imagination - qualities that create new life for others. The gospel is concerned with what enhances life and humanity and what can destroy that life and humanity, fracture community; whatever shrinks our hearts and lives: such as fear, need for security, attainment of power, erosion of concern for others, inability to share and celebrate God’s hospitality.
The readings continue to remind us that we are connected to one another; that our call is to solidarity. On Tuesday (August 6), on the Feast of the Transfiguration, we remember Jesus on the mountain at a threshold moment where an alternative future is possible. That future has to do with going beyond the boundaries of physical, cultural, religious, racial and comfort zones and look beyond ourselves. This feast allows us to discover the mystery of who we are which is connected to a different way of relating – ‘web of mutuality’. For nearly 77 years we have lived with the reality that we have the capacity to destroy every life form God so lovingly created. We forgot that we are all brothers and sisters and express that in so many ways though violence, injustice and neglect. Today’s gospel and that of the Transfiguration open new horizons for us. The disciples had their imaginations and desires stretched to see that they were part of a larger picture which today’s gospel says is not possible if we constricted from encountering the poor and needy. . Today’s gospel tells how possessions can constrict us and do not inspire us to share with the poor, the needy and the vulnerable.
Neither Jesus nor Paul points us away from the world. When we are concerned with the things of heaven we are concerned with God’s priorities and what is in God’s heart: peace, justice, sharing, love, compassion. This heart was broken open when Jesus was born to allow the world in; to allow its pain and suffering in’ and make possible transformation and healing. We are drawn into that life and exchange of love. As we remember August 6, 1945 (Hiroshima) and August 9, 1945 (Nagasaki), let us challenge the cloud that overshadows the world in its currents conflicts. The gospel calls us to be active peacemakers who work together to eliminate injustice together with the people who live on the edges or margins of society. We are called to be instruments or channels of God’s love and compassion so that in solidarity with all our sisters and brothers and the through the Spirit of God we can work for the creation of a new world that rises to the priorities of God’s Reign,.