EIGHTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (2022)
Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:21-23
Psalms 90:3-6, 12-14, 17
Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11
Preaching on this weekend’s readings will have at least 1% of the congregation covering their ears, for the readings point us in the direction of what might be labeled one of the least favorite parts of the “good news.” The 1% refers to the population who own the world’s wealth, and even if they are unknown to us personally, they exert a tremendous amount of power, for, with huge financial resources, power is gained through money.
Our first reading reminds us: “Vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!,” and today’s gospel advises us to “take care to guard against all greed… for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.” That might already be a little hard to swallow, for the heads of the world’s corporations seem to be doing rather well by most standards. While some people may have clawed their way to the top, with its highest paying salaries, others may have inherited a fortune they never really worked for. Because of the importance of “accumulating,” more money, and the things which accompany more money, it can give an individual more power, more status, oftentimes more respect, and more security in what is at times a rather chaotic financial world. I am not exempting some clergy. Over the weekend there was the story of the evangelical Brooklyn pastor who, with his wife, during the Sunday service, was robbed of over one-million dollars worth of jewelry that they were wearing. His explanation? Why can’t I spend my money anyway I please!
Sadly, accumulating large sums of money and influence often leads to the excessive need of protecting the “bottom line,” and maintaining a standard of living which is sometimes at other people’s expense. Blinded by the desire to “get ahead” of the pack, history is replete with examples of individuals who care little about “how” they maintain and advance their lifestyle (emperors, kings, princes, bishops), as long as it is maintained, regardless of who might be harmed or have to suffer. Billionaire’s are poised to fund the desires of those who hold to a far-right agenda that excludes people in the most prestigious democracy in the world, making it far less welcoming, and, in spite of what some think, far less Christian. Indeed, some are aligning themselves with a “Christian Nationalism,” thinking their understandable pride in our country is being furthered by such a label. The reality is there can be no such thing as a “Christian Nationalism,” for ‘Christianity’ and ‘nationalism’ are antithetically opposed to one another. The mere repetition of the first and primary commandment, “love your neighbor as yourself,” indicates the problem, unless a distorting and overly narrow interpretation of who is your neighbor is invoked.
Further, there is nothing in common with Paul’s passage to the Colossians: “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 in all.”
Carol Dempsey, O.P., in this week’s NCR reflection on the 18th Sunday said it well when she stated: “This Sunday’s readings are a clarion call to realize that all effort rooted in self-aggrandizement and enrichment are nothing more that “vanity of vanities,” steeped in political and economic greed that has funded people into powerful positions who create and support new forms of ideology and idolatry, often sustained by untruths.”
The “rich man” in the gospel, is not bad because he is rich. Rather, he is not worthy of imitation because he doesn’t appear to possess of the obligations placed on him because he is one of the “haves.” Instead of thinking how his “bountiful harvest” might be shared, he is only thinking of building bigger barns, and then sitting back “to rest, drink, and be merry,” all the while others might be starving. God has some news for him – he is going to die prematurely, and to “whom will all his acquired goods belong?” “Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.”
We are sometimes called to listen, truly listen, to the more difficult injunctions of Jesus’ good news, we are meant to be challenged. The challenge is to tear down the “barns” of all who greedily amass more and more power and wealth at the expense of the world’s most vulnerable people. What is in those “barns” could, perhaps, cure cancer, solve world hunger, bring healing to the poverty that is the source of wars and upheavals of all kinds, but that can only happen if what is in our “barns” is shared.