FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 18th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, August 14, 2019:
As you know, we are once again into another long and drawn out election cycle, and now it seems like every other week there’s yet another candidates debate going on. This is what we have to look forward to for the next year and a half. But when we enter into these times, seeing all of these candidates always reminds me of some of the most famous political slogans and statements over the years. The best ones always get us to think of something bigger than ourselves. Slogans like, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” or “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” A number of years ago, I heard a speaker who was trying to motivate people to make a difference in the world. His words reminded me of these slogans. He said, “Instead of asking, ‘What do I want today?’ ask ‘How can I serve today?’ Instead of asking, ‘What can I get today?’ ask, ‘What can I give today?’ It’s no longer, ‘What’s in it for me?’ rather it’s, ‘How can I help?’” In our Gospel today, Jesus words sound something like a slogan – but one that is meant to make a real difference in our lives.
The shift from focus on the self to focus on others is at the heart of our Gospel message. We heard, “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one's life does not consist of possessions.” A simplistic reading of this passage can lead us to the conclusion that if you are rich, Heaven will be difficult for you to enter; or if you are interested in living a comfortable life, having a nice car or house, then the Kingdom is far from you. But, I think this superficial reading of the text misses the bigger point that Jesus is making today.
Jesus, like that speaker I heard, is trying to lead us from ‘What can I get today?’ to ‘What can I give today?’ The question isn’t about whether or not possessions or wealth are good or bad, the question is what is our relationship to these things and how do they affect the way we relate to others, to the world, and to the most needy in our midst.
Things, of course, are nice and even necessary for life. But possessions can sometimes assume such an importance in our lives that they become obsessions. When we are so concerned about the things that we can have, that we no longer hear the urgent call of God, then we have got our priorities mixed up. Such is the man in today’s Gospel who asks Jesus to come and make his brother give him his share of the family inheritance. Jesus isn’t against him having more wealth, nor is he against justice being done between him and his brother. But Jesus is disappointed that after listening to all His preaching, the man’s concern is still about his money. The very Words of Life were falling on deaf ears.
Jesus, fearing there could be more people in the crowd like this man, turns and says to them, “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one's life does not consist of possessions.” To illustrate His point Jesus tells the Parable of the Rich Fool. Now when you read the parable you might ask, “What wrong did this man do?” Think about it. He did honest work on his farm and the land gave a bumper crop, so he decided do build larger storage so that he could live the rest of his life on Easy Street. Only he did not know that the rest of his life was less than a day. Jesus uses him to illustrate greed in its many forms. The man’s greed lies not in what he did, but in what he failed to do, just like we pray in the Confiteor, “forgive me for what I have failed to do.” Instead of using his material wealth for the good of the world, to do the things that God calls us to do – feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, housing the homeless, etc. – he used it to better only himself.
Pope Francis has talked about this same theme calling it the Cult of Money in our world. He has said, “It breaks my heart to say that today, finding a homeless person who has died of the cold, is not news. Today, the news is scandals – that is news. But the many children who don't have food - that's not news. This is grave. We can't rest easy while things are this way. Today, if investments in banks fail, it is a ‘tragedy’ and people say 'what are we going to do?' but if people die of hunger, have nothing to eat or suffer from poor health, that's nothing. This is our crisis today. A Church that is poor and for the poor has to fight this mentality."
There is a quote that says, greed is “the belief that there is no life after death. We grab what we can, while we can, however we can, and then hold on to it hard.” The rich man in our Gospel – and many people in our world today - qualify as examples of this kind of greed. That’s why Jesus was so hard on them. That’s why the Holy Father, so often, speaks about this.
Today’s Gospel invites us to ask the fundamental questions that I began with: “‘How can I serve today?’ ‘What can I give today?’ ‘How can I help?’” Let us use those questions to help us respond in ways that make the world a better place. God calls us to realize that the most valuable possession in the world is faith in His Son; and He wants us to be rich in what matters to Him. God wants us to realize that the greatest thing we can do is to work every day – through the gifts of our time, talent and treasure – to make the world a better place; a more Christian place; a more caring, loving and compassionate place. That is the truest measure of success.
So, let us all pray today that we might become rich in the Words, in the Will and in the Way of Our Lord Jesus Christ. And let us ask: what will we give today?
May the Lord give you peace.