Sunday, August 1, 2010

If Today You Hear His Voice, Harden Not Your Hearts.

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading 1
Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:21-23
Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth,
vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!

Here is one who has labored
with wisdom and knowledge and skill,
and yet to another who has not labored over it,
he must leave property.
This also is vanity and a great misfortune.
For what profit comes to man
from all the toil and anxiety of heart
with which he has labored under the sun?
All his days sorrow and grief are his occupation;
even at night his mind is not at rest.
This also is vanity.
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Psalm 90
If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
You turn man back to dust,
saying, “Return, O children of men.”
For a thousand years in your sight
are as yesterday, now that it is past,
or as a watch of the night.
If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
You make an end of them in their sleep;
the next morning they are like the changing grass,
Which at dawn springs up anew,
but by evening wilts and fades.
If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
Teach us to number our days aright,
that we may gain wisdom of heart.
Return, O LORD! How long?
Have pity on your servants!
If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
Fill us at daybreak with your kindness,
that we may shout for joy and gladness all our days.
And may the gracious care of the LORD our God be ours;
prosper the work of our hands for us!
Prosper the work of our hands!
If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
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Reading II
Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11
Brothers and sisters:
If you were raised with Christ, seek what is above,
where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.
Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.
For you have died,
and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
When Christ your life appears,
then you too will appear with him in glory.

Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly:
immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire,
and the greed that is idolatry.
Stop lying to one another,
since you have taken off the old self with its practices
and have put on the new self,
which is being renewed, for knowledge,
in the image of its creator.
Here there is not Greek and Jew,
circumcision and uncircumcision,
barbarian, Scythian, slave, free;
but Christ is all and in all.
Luke 12:13-21
Someone in the crowd said to Jesus,
“Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.”
He replied to him,
“Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?”
Then he said to the crowd,
“Take care to guard against all greed,
for though one may be rich,
one’s life does not consist of possessions.”

Then he told them a parable.
“There was a rich man
whose land produced a bountiful harvest.
He asked himself, ‘What shall I do,
for I do not have space to store my harvest?’
And he said, ‘This is what I shall do:
I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones.
There I shall store all my grain and other goods
and I shall say to myself, “Now as for you,
you have so many good things stored up for many years,
rest, eat, drink, be merry!”’
But God said to him,
‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you;
and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’
Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves
but are not rich in what matters to God.”
“Vanity of vanities”, says Qoheleth (the Preacher), “nothing that happens has a real purpose.” He gives an example to illustrate his point: A young man wants to learn a trade – carpentry, for instance. He starts out as an apprentice, and eventually becomes skillful. For several years, he does good work as a journeyman in his master’s shop. Eventually, he opens a shop of his own, and shares his skills with apprentices, who become journeymen in his shop, and go out on their own. But as he gets older, his body – and perhaps his mind – are no longer able to function as well as when he was younger, and he is forced to retire. Then, one of his journeymen will take over the shop, and everything the man worked for will belong to someone else. The old man’s days are filled with sorrow and grief, and even during the night, his mind is not at rest. “All is vanity” – everything is meaningless.

Saint Paul’s message to the Colossians gives us a more positive perspective on life in this world than the Preacher in the Old Testament. By baptism, the Christians at Colossae have been born to a new life. And he explains to them how they should live this new life. Their focus must be on “what is above, not what is on earth.” The “things of earth” include making money, wearing fine clothes, living in magnificent homes. The people of this world seek power and honor. They want to please themselves. But the followers of Christ’s way have died to this old life. They no longer seek to please themselves. They should prepare themselves for the day when “Christ your life appears”, when they will be called to be with him in glory.

There is a tendency among some preachers and teachers to “accentuate the negative” in explaining these verses. They say that Christians should not take any pleasure or joy in the things of this earth. We should not ignore the truth that God created this earth and everything in it for the good, and that he wants us to enjoy everything he has made. Christ came so that everyone can enjoy the fullness of life. Still, we must not lose focus.

This world will come to an end, when Jesus Christ comes again in glory to judge the living and the dead, as we learn in the book of Revelation (Apocalypse). Our life in this world will likely come to an end long before that Judgment Day, and each of us will stand before the throne of God to give an account of ourselves.

Meanwhile, we must learn to control that part of our human nature that leads us to do what we want, instead of what God wants. Paul uses very strong language in this part of his letter: “Put to death the parts of you that are earthly.” In plain language: learn to control your anger and ill temper. Don’t say anything to damage other people’s reputation, even if it’s true. Don’t lie about one another. When we were baptized, we took off our old nature and its bad habits, and put on a new nature, a sharing in Christ’s life. As, with the help of God’s grace, we learn more about Christ, we will become more like him, and more like the Father who created us in His image. When people are part of Christ, there is no difference, Paul writes, between Greeks and Jews. There is no difference between people from different parts of the world. No difference between people who learn one language or another from the cradle. And there is none between those who speak only one language and those who speak two or three or four. What is important as that Christ is in each of all, and all of us.

In today’s Gospel, a man in the crowd comes to Jesus and says, “Teacher, tell my brother to share the property that was left us when our father died.” It is likely that this man was the younger son. The Law of Moses says that he should receive less than his older brother. Maybe he wanted an equal share. Or maybe he felt that his brother was cheating him in some way. In any event, Jesus is not going to act as the judge or arbitrator: “I don’t have the right to decide how your brother should divide the property with you." And he turns to the crowd: “Don’t be greedy. A person’s life is not measured by what he owns, however wealthy he might be.”

Then Jesus tells the parable about a rich man whose land has just yielded a rich harvest. The man starts to think ahead: “If my fields continue to produce like this, I’m not going to have room to store all the grain. I’m going to tear down the sheds and build bigger ones. Then, I can say to myself: ‘You’re a really lucky fellow! You have all the food you need for many years to come. Now is the time to eat, drink and be merry!’ But God said, “You are a very foolish fellow! You are going to die tonight, and everything you own will be going to other people, who haven’t worked for it at all.”

Jesus concludes with the moral of the story: That’s what happens to people who store up riches for themselves in this world, when they ought to be storing up “treasures in heaven”. How do we store up heavenly treasures? By keeping the two great Commandments: Love God with all your heart and mind and might. Love your neighbor as yourself. But don’t forget the answer Jesus gave the lawyer, a few weeks ago, who asked, “Lord, who is my neighbor?” My neighbor is everyone who is not myself.

1 comment:

Sarah in the tent said...

'the greed that is idolatry'

Someone once described how all the seven deadly sins can be viewed as greed in one manifestation or another, so all sin could be called a form of idolatry.

There is a magnificent sculpture of a bull at the New York stock exchange, representing the bull market. A few days ago, I saw a similar bull on t.v. outside the Delhi stock exchange. Knowing the Hindu veneration of cows, the familiar image suddenly looked idolatrous - a grown-up, post-modern golden calf! Is that capitalism ...?

The whiny tone of the man in today's Gospel reading reminds me a little of Martha, when she wanted Our Lord to intervene with Mary on her behalf. I suppose that, in those days, the Jews expected their rabbis to issue rulings on all kinds of petty disputes, as well as grey areas in the Law - maybe they still do. On each occasion, Jesus encourages us to use our God-given intelligence and think more deeply about what really matters.

Both these conflicts involve siblings - two brothers and two sisters. There are few things worse than family feuds. Any respectable lawyer ought to tell you that it is better to accept unfairness than lose a brother or sister forever to litigation.