August 4, 2019 • 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading 1: Ecclesiastes 1:2, 2:21–23
Psalm 90:3–6, 12–14, 17
Reading 2: Colossians 3:1–5, 9–11
Gospel: Luke 12:13–21
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven! Alleluia” – Gospel Acclamation
In this Sunday’s readings we come across two obvious themes. The first is the warning against greed and self absorption. The second is a warning against trusting in your own self rather than God. One directs us towards charity and the other directs us towards trust and hope. Both lead to justice being done in this world.
This rich man certainly worked hard and accumulated much. You cannot accuse him of being lazy and apathetic. Hard work is admirable, and if we have ability then God wishes us to use it to good purpose. We see this in the Parable of the Talents. Unfortunately, the rich man’s good quality is outmaneuvered by his selfishness and injustice to those around him. In Catholic social teaching, we are taught that our material goods, our gifts and talents, are to be shared and not hoarded. When we have met our financial obligations and needs, when we have time on our hands, when we have more than enough, then we are counselled to do justice and to give to those in need.
This rich man had a different attitude though. Someone in the crowd asked Jesus to be an arbitrator over a will in a family dispute, but he refused. Instead he launched into a story which emphasizes what greed and self-sufficiency can lead to. The rich man’s response to having far more than enough was to spend more money for bigger barns and storehouses and then to keep it for himself. His second response was to “retire early” and depend upon the work of his hands for his security. He had it all, he thought, and now he could sit back and just enjoy the ride.
Does that sound like a familiar story in our day? It sure does! Our materialistic society tells us repeatedly that we need this and that. It tells us that we won’t be happy unless.… It says that more is good and that too much is better. All you have to do is look at the portion sizes in most restaurants to realize this. North American society has a tendency to eat too much, buy too much, use too much, spend too much. We want to have the right clothes, the nice house, the best car, the cottage at the lake, double incomes, pensions, all the bells and whistles, and a huge savings account besides. We want to retire early, keep the huge house, and jet set around the world on endless trips. We want to play endless rounds of golf, have a swimming pool, three cars, and every colour of those deliciously expensive shoes. And if we don’t have THAT kind of money, we want all the cheap clothes, trinkets, and junk food we can get our hands on and please, God, allow us to afford cable TV for entertainment!
But what does the Church teach us in this regard and what does Jesus say? He says that the man is a fool, and that on that very night, his life will be demanded of him. The Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture tells us that the word “demanded” is a Greek word that means that a debt is being called in. God was saying in effect that the life given to the rich man was not his own to do with as he pleased. His life was on loan to him and that it belonged to God, and now at the end of his life, he owed God for that loan. And guess what? That loan can’t be paid off with storehouses full of grain, or with that fancy new car we bought, or with our 25 pairs of shoes, or with a fat pension plan. As the old saying goes, “You can’t take it with you.”
So then what? What do we owe God? How do we pay the debt? We find the answers in the Catechism. It is long, but it is worth the read.
“IN THE IMAGE OF GOD”
356 Of all visible creatures only man is “able to know and love his creator.” He is “the only creature on earth that God has willed for its own sake,” and he alone is called to share, by knowledge and love, in God’s own life. It was for this end that he was created, and this is the fundamental reason for his dignity:
What made you establish man in so great a dignity? Certainly the incalculable love by which you have looked on your creature in yourself! You are taken with love for her; for by love indeed you created her, by love you have given her a being capable of tasting your eternal Good.
357 Being in the image of God, the human individual possesses the dignity of a person, who is not just something, but someone. He is capable of self-knowledge, of self-possession and of freely giving himself and entering into communion with other persons. And he is called by grace to a covenant with his Creator, to offer him a response of faith and love that no other creature can give in his stead.
358 God created everything for man, but man in turn was created to serve and love God and to offer all creation back to him:
What is it that is about to be created, that enjoys such honor? It is man, that great and wonderful living creature, more precious in the eyes of God than all other creatures! For him, the heavens and the earth, the sea and all the rest of creation exist. God attached so much importance to his salvation that he did not spare his own Son for the sake of man. Nor does he ever cease to work, trying every possible means, until he has raised man up to himself and made him sit at his right hand.
359 “In reality it is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of man truly becomes clear.”
St. Paul tells us that the human race takes its origin from two men: Adam and Christ.… The first man, Adam, he says, became a living soul, the last Adam a life-giving spirit. The first Adam was made by the last Adam, from whom he also received his soul, to give him life.… The second Adam stamped his image on the first Adam when he created him. That is why he took on himself the role and the name of the first Adam, in order that he might not lose what he had made in his own image. The first Adam, the last Adam: the first had a beginning, the last knows no end. The last Adam is indeed the first; as he himself says: “I am the first and the last.”
360 Because of its common origin the human race forms a unity, for “from one ancestor [God] made all nations to inhabit the whole earth”:
O wondrous vision, which makes us contemplate the human race in the unity of its origin in God… in the unity of its nature, composed equally in all men of a material body and a spiritual soul; in the unity of its immediate end and its mission in the world; in the unity of its dwelling, the earth, whose benefits all men, by right of nature, may use to sustain and develop life; in the unity of its supernatural end: God himself, to whom all ought to tend; in the unity of the means for attaining this end;… in the unity of the redemption wrought by Christ for all.
361 “This law of human solidarity and charity,” without excluding the rich variety of persons, cultures and peoples, assures us that all men are truly brethren.
We are made in the image of God. We are made freely by him and given the gift of life by him. His abundant grace and mercy have rescued us from the consequences of sin and separation through the death of his only Son. All that we have on this earth is not ours, but his, and we are to “offer it freely back to him.” He established us in this great dignity out of love. Being made in His image, we are to reflect that image to the world. We can’t do this by acting like that rich man. Out of our abundance, we should give freely to those who have less. That may be money, it may be our talents, it may be our time, it may be all of those things or different ones at different times of life. But what we have more than enough of, we no longer need. It is God’s, after all, and we are only sharing what is his.
It says in the Catechism that we are brethren, created by one Father, God. We are one in Christ as believers, but all men are one under one God, the creator. So when we give to each other, we do the work of God, freely loving those whom God loves. We in fact do God’s work. He has given us the privilege of helping him to redeem this world for love.
The second part of the lesson of the Gospel is about the foolishness of trusting in our own resources, supposing that we have full control of what happens next. A quick survey of human history tells you that anything can happen at any time. War happens. Natural disasters happen. Illness happens. Accidents and injuries happen. Economic downturns happen. They happen all the time and always have. We are not necessarily to throw caution to the wind. The Cardinal Virtues of Prudence and Temperance instruct us otherwise. The Cardinal Virtue of Fortitude tells us that there will be those days, or months, or years, where we are just going to have to hang on and ride things out. We make plans, we have savings, we live wisely, but our trust is only in God, and if all things go pear shaped, we know that we will be okay because he is there for us in our need.
God expects his children to live as he lives and to be formed in his image. One of my favourite verses is Micah 6:8:
He has showed you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
A child formed out of love in the image of his father trusts the love of his good father, and knows that all things will be well when left in his father’s hands. He wishes only to please his father and to have people say, “Isn’t he just like his dad? What a good child!” This gives the child immense joy and happiness. To stick up for his siblings through thick and thin, to have their love and their own protection throughout life, for them to share and support you come what may, is a wonderful thing. A close-knit family is a wonderful testimony and witness to who God is and of what we mean to him.
We must be ever on our guard against the onslaught of vain thinking in this world as described in our Gospel and in our first reading today. Our minds are never to be set only upon this earth. Instead we should have our minds set upon our eternal future with God. That is the reality of our lives in Christ. We need to use and to gather the world’s goods, always asking God for guidance and for help in this matter. We walk day by day by his grace alone, knowing that he could call us to account at any moment, and the debt we owe him and our brethren is the love by which and for which he created us initially. The debt we owe is love. We will be judged on how we loved. Every action and word is either charitable and just or it is not.
Frankly, I find that somewhat terrifying. I can look back at my day and think, “Oh oh. Was that the best? Could I have loved a bit more there? What should love and justice have looked like right there at that moment at work?” Then we apologize, make amends the next day if we need to, go to confession if we need to, and resolve to love better and to know and do justice better as we are able. That is all he asks of us. Are we loving and doing justice right at this moment in time? Mother Angelica once said that it was easy to stay out of purgatory. She was a bold one and she would make me laugh. She said that all it takes is this: In this moment, do not sin. In this moment, love the best you can. In this moment, are you doing as you ought?
Sounds simple, right? But is it? Lord, give us the grace to live this Gospel out simply, moment by moment!