18th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C) – July 31, 2022
St. Paul – Lyons, KS
Ecclesiastes 1:2, 2:21-23; Psalm 90:3-6, 12-14, 17; Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11; Luke 12:13:-21
“The Rescue” In Thailand
Back in 2018 there was the very famous event of the rescue of those twelve boys and their coach from a cave in Thailand. About a year ago, National Geographic released a documentary called “The Rescue”—which is incredibly done. Really, one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen.
And most of you probably remember the story, or the basics of it. What happened was that a soccer team of twelve teenage boys and their coach went into this well-known cave to explore and have fun. And while they were there, about two and a half miles deep in this cave system, heavy rains came; the monsoon season started early, and the caves flooded, trapping them deep in these caves.
The boys and their coach were trapped; there was nothing they could do. They knew someone else would have to provide the solution, that someone would have to rescue them. And that’s what happened. Thailand called in an I.T. specialist and a retired fireman, both from the U.K.— cave diving was just their hobby. Seriously. (Now, granted, these guys were regarded as some of the most accomplished cave divers in the world. But cave diving doesn’t exactly bring home the bacon, so it’s a hobby.) But these guys who dive as a hobby quickly became the most important men in the world.
When they finally found the boys, they realized that the only way to get the boys out was going to be to dive them out. Think of that: most of us would never think about going underwater cave diving; the claustrophobia would be too much! And yet, the only option was going to be to force these boys to dive—underwater and through incredibly narrow passages at times—back to safety. And since they knew the boys would panic being in such a claustrophobic and scary situation—since they knew the boys would panic, they called up their anesthesiologist friend (who was also a hobby cave diver) and told him that they needed him to come and to sedate the boys, so that they could carry them to safety through the water. And that’s what happened! They gave these boys a Xanax to help with the anxiety, a shot of Atropine in one leg which would dry up their mouth so they wouldn’t drown in their own saliva, and then a shot of Ketamine in the other leg to knock them out. And it worked! All twelve boys and their coach made it out alive.
The documentary is also just incredible because time and again it explicitly comes back to one theme: generosity, graciousness. It comes back time and again to point out that all of this was possible, it was only possible because no one was there keeping track of bills, no one was worried about money, it was all based on generosity. One Navy SEAL gave his life. People from all over the world came to help. It was all possible because of the pure generosity of people, the graciousness of people, even to the point of risking their lives, giving their lives.
Poverty Gives Space for Hope, for Entrusting Ourselves to Another
Again, like I mentioned, there in that cave, the boys were acutely aware of their need, their absolute “poverty”—they were incapable of doing anything to help themselves. They lacked the ability to rescue themselves. All they could do was hope and pray that someone would rescue them. In this situation, they were acutely aware of their need for an other and their inability to rescue themselves.
And think about it! They were sitting on a little shelf in these caves—for almost ten days, just sitting in this cave—when all of a sudden two guys they had never met before, who they didn’t know, who they couldn’t look up on Google, who they couldn’t call someone about and ask for references—two guys show up and offer them freedom, life. And without hesitating for a moment, they are willing to entrust their entire lives to them.
And think! How ridiculous would it have been if when those divers arrived they found the boys fighting over money, or talking about their schemes to make a bunch of money there in the cave?How ridiculous would it have been if they found the boys digging in the caves trying to make the cave bigger, trying to make it a nice place to live? Or fighting over who should be in charge, or who was going to be the one to make the laws in the cave? That would have been ridiculous.
No. There in the cave, there in their absolute poverty—and again, not just material poverty: their poverty of being 100% aware of their inability to give themselves anything; their poverty of knowing that they could not even guarantee themselves one more day of life; their poverty of literally using up the oxygen supply in this small cave—there in their absolute poverty, their only chance was for someone to come. And when the divers arrived, when the divers were present, their hope was ignited. The divers, the very presence of those divers gave them hope; hope to the point that they were willing to entrust their entire lives to them! “Let me get this right: you want to put me in a wetsuit, drug me up and knock me out, put an oxygen mask on me, and then swim me two and a half miles underwater? Sounds great!” In their absolute poverty, they abandoned even what they had for the promise of freedom, of life, a newness of life.
“Quid Animo Satis?”
Now, if you’re sitting there thinking, “Dang, Fr. Michael, we get it: you really like this documentary”—there is a point! There is this very famous quote from St. Augustine…I’m just kidding. No, I promised we’re taking a break from Augustine. No, the point is exactly what our readings are opening our eyes to see.
Our first reading—it’s a very famous one from the book of Ecclesiastes. And the author of this book identifies himself as “David’s son, Qoheleth, King of Jerusalem”—who is? Solomon. Exactly. Solomon, King of Jerusalem, was a person who had experienced the height of worldly accomplishments; he had it all! He was rich beyond belief, had close to one thousand wives and concubines, and was the most powerful king in Israel’s history. And in this book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon is writing to a confused and disoriented generation—people who have really gotten their priorities mixed up and have really lost sight of the bigger picture—and he tells them, “Learn from my experience! Vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!” “Vanity of vanities”—that word in Hebrew just means vapor, or wind; it can also mean a bubble. Here is Solomon, looking back on his own life, and telling us, “I had it all. And what I can tell you is that the world’s promises are like vapor, wind, bubbles: here one second and gone the next!” Solomon, a man with more money than he knew what to do with, more pleasure at his disposal than anyone, more power than anyone in Israel ever had—and what does he say about it? “It’s empty. It doesn’t last.”
Jesus in our Gospel today, he points out the same thing! “Though one may be rich, one’s life doesn’t consist of possessions.” And he tells that beautiful parable about building bigger barns to try to store up and attain more and more wealth, and reaches the point of saying, “You fool! What happens if you die tonight? What’s going to be the point of living your entire life focused on money? What will you be left with?”
The question Jesus is driving at is: what truly satisfies us? “Quid animo satis?” What satisfies our soul, our life, our heart? This man comes to Jesus hoping he will tell his brother to share the inheritance with him. And Jesus immediately points out: “Is money really going to satisfy you?” He has this man do some “soul searching,” some serious reflection, and asks, “Is money going to respond to your deepest need? If you die tonight, is knowing you have a lot of money going to even matter to you?” Solomon is shouting at us: “Vanity of vanities! I had all of that, and let me tell you: it’s not worth it! It doesn’t satisfy.”
Commitment to Surrender, to Follow: The Path to the Fullness of Life
For some of us, money is what we’re going after: money, or a better house, our dream car, that next raise. For others, it’s pleasures: relationships, or vacations, good times, parties. Some of us are really concerned about “being someone”: we want to be known for some accomplishment, to be in charge, to be respected, important, influential.
This is the reflection we need to make: does this satisfy? Play it out in your head, start playing everything out, imagine you achieve it all: does this satisfy? And also keep in mind: what if tomorrow it all comes to a crashing halt? What if tonight your life is demanded of you?
What does your soul, your heart, your life—what truly satisfies? Quid animo satis? So often we are going to dream up what we think will satisfy us, we will allow the world to tell us what will satisfy and fulfill us. But what will truly satisfy? What do we truly need?
Trapped in a cave in Thailand, those twelve boys and their coach were not worried about money, or a good time, or who was the most influential. They were completely aware of their need, their poverty, their need to be rescued. Day and night they waited for a response to that need. And one day, it arrived. There was a presence, an undeniable presence that arrived with a promise: “I can take you to safety. I can rescue you.” But that promise came with a condition, “You will need to entrust your entire life to me.”
For those of us conscious of our poverty, conscious of the position that we find ourselves in, conscious that we cannot even guarantee ourselves one more day of life, conscious that we are incapable of going out and providing for ourselves what will truly satisfy our soul, our heart, our life—conscious of our own poverty, our own need, we await a response.
The “point” of Christianity, the beginning of Christianity is that someone arrived, some Jesus guy from Nazareth arrived, and said, promised, “I can respond to that need. I can rescue you. I am the way.” But that promise came with a condition, “Follow me. Surrender to me. Entrust your entire life to me.” He didn’t have to do this! Jesus could have left us here, left us here to enjoy the few moments we have. But in an act of sheer generosity, sheer graciousness—without any regard for what it would cost him, that it would cost him his life—in sheer graciousness he gave everything to us.
Friends: the way to the fullness of life that you seek, the way out of the “blah” that you so often find yourself in, the way to the fullness of life—it’s not by doubling down on trying to make more money or buying a better house or car, having a better time and going on more vacations and parties, gaining status and influence and power. It is only found in surrendering, entrusting your life to the only One that promises to satisfy and fulfill.
Today, instead of just sitting here in Mass for the thousandth time in your life, I want this (and every Mass) to be a time to entrust your life to Jesus Christ once again. We started this last week, calling out during the day, renouncing those things we turn to that we think will satisfy—renouncing them, turning to God once again, and praying the Our Father.
Here on this altar, Jesus Christ becomes really and truly present. In your life, in your need, in your poverty, he arrives to rescue you, to give you a way, to give you life. Here on this altar, in an act of sheer graciousness, sheer generosity, Jesus is present. And his presence bears a promise: “I can give you life. I can satisfy. I can give you what this world is incapable of giving you. Follow me. Entrust your life to me.”