18th Sunday in Ordinary Time – August 4, 2019
St. Margaret Mary – Wichita, KS
Ecclesiastes 1:2, 2:21-23; Psalm 90:3-6, 12-14; Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11; Luke 12:13-21
This is one of those Sundays where we wish “nice Jesus” would show-up again. And maybe this isn’t “nice Jesus,” but this is authentic Jesus. This is Jesus revealing us to ourselves, helping us to see and acknowledge and admit our own human nature (c.f., Gaudium et Spes 22). And this is always a tough one, because it’s something we like to disguise; it’s tough because there’s no avoiding it. Jesus is talking about money, material possessions, stuff. Whenever the topic of money and stuff comes up, we are very quick to justify it. “Well, I’m saving for retirement. Well, we ended up with more money at the end of the year than I thought. Well, I deserve this.”
And don’t hear what I’m not saying! Jesus doesn’t condemn the rich man for being rich, Jesus doesn’t say that money and possessions are bad. But he is very quick to point out that seeking to possess, coveting, greed—the desire for money and material possessions and stuff is something we must guard against. Why? Not because he wants you to live a miserable life, but because this desire for stuff is often a deep-seated belief of ours that we can make ourselves happy, that if we get enough stuff we’ll finally be ok, that buying the newest and the nicest whatever is going to make us happy, and at the end of the day—that we don’t need God—that he is not who gives us joy.
But at the end of the day (and this is Jesus’ point) at the end of the day, from the beginning of time, “we have been made, [we long] for a destiny, [for something], that is so boundless…that we cannot reach it by our own strength” (Carrón). We cannot buy or possess what is going to respond to that infinite longing within us. Life isn’t about stuff. At the end of the day, all our stuff, all our money, (in the words of our first reading) all is vanity; it is passing away [n.b., “vanity” is a translation of the Hebrew word hevel, which literally means “vapor,” and as such is a metaphor for “vain,” “worthless,” “inconsequential,” “meaningless.” It’s not some dismissive sense of “vain,” but more about “transience,” referring to the fact that we are mortal and life is fleeting]. Our money, our stuff is transient. It’s passing. And so right away, Jesus—not giving us some random rule, but giving us a key to understanding our own nature—Jesus says right away to this man, “Take care to guard against all greed, all covetousness” (Luke 12:15). So yes, we’re talking about money and stuff, no denying it. But more specifically we’re talking about this desire to possess more and more; we’re talking about a spiritual problem, about greed and coveting.
So yeah, “retail therapy,” always having to get the newest and the best, always buying more and more isn’t great. But it’s deeper. Remember, all this guy in our Gospel wanted was for Jesus to divide the inheritance. “Dad died, he left me and my brother the house and the animals and some money. Can you help us split it up?” No harm, no foul, right? Yeah, on the surface. But it’s deeper! Jesus is revealing us to ourselves, he is looking at our intention and the inclination of our heart. Again, look to our first reading, where it talks about the “anxiety of heart” and “sorrow and grief” associated with so much preoccupation with money and possession and stuff. It’s not about the stuff! It’s about our interior intention and inclination of our heart; it’s about something deeper.
And so first and foremost, you have to be honest with yourself. I can stand up here and talk all day, wax on eloquently about coveting and greed. But instead, I just want to encourage and invite you to let the Word of God become personal to you. Let the Word of God enter your life. What does this stir-up in you? And then sit with that, as uncomfortable as it is. What is the material problem you bring to the Lord, and he simply responds, “who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?” (Luke 12:14).
And so the second part is this. Jesus never just tells us “no,” he isn’t just giving us a long list of prohibitions. When he says these things, he is always trying to help free us for something more, for something greater. If he is trying to pull us away from the problems of money and covetousness, what is he trying to push us toward?
Really, he is trying to push us toward the ability to recognize and receive what we truly desire, what will truly satisfy us. He is trying to push us toward something that isn’t vain and transient; something that will stand the test of time, that will endure. Money, stuff, greed, covetousness: these blind us to his presence and action in our life, they aren’t what we’re looking for. This is what the author of our first reading is trying to make clear, this is the wisdom of age he is trying to pass on. “Vanity of vanities.” But there is something in our life that is what we are looking for. So instead of money, we need poverty. Instead of a heart full of covetousness and greed, we need a heart that is simple and pure. Jesus isn’t crazy, and the Beatitudes aren’t just nice sayings; they’re the key. “Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the Kingdom of God.…Blessed are the pure and simple of heart, for they shall see God.”
We have been made, we long for a destiny, for something, that is so boundless and infinite and enduring that we cannot reach it by our own strength. Talk to some people that have been around, they’ll tell you: life is about much more than stuff. Stuff isn’t gonna satisfy, and it’s not going to last forever. We cannot buy or possess what is truly going to satisfy our heart. And that is why Christ came: “without Him we can do nothing, absolutely nothing, to respond to our thirst for happiness.…[N]othing can respond adequately to our need for happiness.…The one thing we can do is wait for the happening of the One who bears the answer” (Carrón). Only God, only Christ, can give us what we truly seek. We can’t buy it. It is given to us. “This is my body, given up for you. This is my blood, poured out for you.”
When the Lord looks at us, even with our sins, even with our imperfections, when he looks at all of the dumb stuff we do (and the dumb stuff you have done), when the Lord looks at you he says, “You are precious in my eyes and honored and I love you” (Isaiah 43:4). No matter what. Day after day, he continues to show his preference and his love for us, but sometimes we just don’t want to take the time to recognize it, to be grateful. Sometimes we want to go look for love and preference and fulfillment elsewhere. And the Lord respects our freedom, the Shepherd does not lock the door to the sheepfold; he leaves it open. And yeah, there are times we run out, when we run away in search of something we think will satisfy us. But then, with his reckless love, he leaves the ninety-nine and goes in search of the one—in search of you. Even in our sinfulness, he continues to love us and prefer us. And he always will.
It’s about poverty, poverty of spirit: realizing that no amount of money or power or fame is going to satisfy. And so then it takes simplicity of heart: admitting that it is Christ who will respond to this need, that in following him he will give us everything.