18th Sunday in Ordinary Time Homily 4 August 2019
Eccl 1:2; 2:21-23 // Col 3:1-5, 9-11 // Lk 12:13-21
How do you orient to real life teenagers whose sense of life revolves only in the latest gadgets and the latest fashion? Jesus tells that life does not consist only in material things.
More than ten years ago, our Archbishop of Lipa (in the Philippines) hosted a dinner for a group of teenagers from an oil-rich small country in Southeast Asia. They were preparing to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation and were on a two-week retreat. They had just finished the first part, a week of immersion with the poor by helping build some decent houses for them. They were beyond shock! Before this, their only sense of poverty was not having the latest iPhone or the latest designer shoes.
Their bishop said, “Now, in their heart, they are ready to learn about growth in spiritual life.” That would be the second week of their retreat.
Why was the rich landlord in the parable called foolish? What was wrong with feeling financially secure after a rich harvest?
Jesus warns that one’s possessions do not guarantee life. And Jesus addresses greed both in the Gospel story about brothers squabbling for inheritance and the wealthy landowner in the parable. Notice how the rich man was so disoriented by his wealth that he even thought it assures him of many years of just enjoying himself. He felt secure for his future which turns out to be just another day.
A research company wanted to do an extensive study of wolves in one of our national parks. Wolves, however, are rather clever and have no desire to cooperate with scientific studies. So, backed by a major donor, the company placed a bounty of $5000 on any wolf that could be safely captured for research. Two young men decided this would be a way to make their fortunes. They were familiar with the park because they had camped there frequently. For days they scoured the park without any luck. Then one night, exhausted, they retired to their sleeping bags under the stars and fell asleep thinking of their potential wealth. In the middle of the night, one woke up and realized that they were surrounded by a pack of at least 50 wild wolves with glaring eyes and bared teeth. He nudged his companion. “Hey. Wake up! We’re rich!” Rich? Maybe. Doomed? For sure.
The English poet Matthew Green once wrote about avarice as a sphincter of the heart. Sphincters are muscles that contract and close openings in the body. They squeeze shut so that nothing can get out nor get in! That is what greed does. It squeezes the heart shut. So, acting out of greed, one acts only for oneself. The heart is so tightly shut that no love can get out nor come in! But greed can take many forms, not only for material possessions, like greed for power, for recognition. It’s all about self-centeredness.
Greed deprives us of true and basic Godliness. We can be God-like in our small ways like thinking, creating, and most especially loving. Greed shuts the heart that it cannot love God or others. Being preoccupied with only grabbing or holding on to what one got, one’s hands are no longer free to give out nor open to receive. Greed creates a false sense of security. Truly one’s possessions do not and cannot guarantee life. Greed may be another name for fear, for fear of death. Possessions are like a blindfold, hiding death from us. But they cannot hide us from death. Deep in our heart, we want to live forever. And foolishly managed, the farthest our earthly wealth can take us is into our graves.
Only the love of God guarantees life. Greed may be a symptom of unreadiness to rely on the love of God for the full life, life that extends beyond earthly life. The remedy, therefore, may be to allow the sense of death to kill greed before greed kills us.
The teenagers preparing for Confirmation were ushered into a sense of real life, the Christian life centered on God. Hopefully, they would mature in their life of faith and realize that there is more to life than just having the latest iPhone or designer apparel. How about us? How are we maturing in faith? Our Eldering Contemplatives say that we reach a point when we stop growing up and begin growing down. Yes, until nothing remains for us but God.