saving for eternity

We are used to hearing idioms such as “money is the root of all evil” or “no matter how much you have, you can’t take it with you.”  Week after week, Sunday after Sunday, we are reminded by the readings of the necessity to “sell what you have and give to the poor;1 that “it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”2 The message is clear enough but whether we are listening is a question.

Ebenezer Scrooge

Ebenezer Scrooge

Recently I ran across a story which caught my eye; it illustrates quite well how difficult it is to resist the siren call of worldly possessions:

A young graduate of a Jesuit university, happened upon one of the Jesuit community recreation areas. He couldn’t help but notice the refrigerators full of food and drink, the fine furniture throughout and a media room with large televisions and expensive stereo equipment. Meeting one of  the Jesuit professors as he looked around the room he quipped, ‘If this is poverty, show me chastity!’”

The first reading comes from the Book of Amos, an infrequent visitor to our Sunday Lectionary (only once in Year B and twice in Year C.)

Amos was a shepherd from Judah and a prophet of divine judgment and the sovereignty of Yahweh in nature and history. His oracles, rich in imagery and language reminiscent of his pastoral background, focus on calling the people back to the high moral and religious demands of Yahweh. As was common with the other prophets, Amos knew that divine punishment is never completely destructive; it is part of the hidden plan of God to bring salvation to men. The perversity of the human will may retard, but it cannot totally frustrate this design of a loving God.

As is often the case, the reading is better understood when the more complete passage is read, placing it into context. The first three verses of Chapter 8 describe the Lord’s anger at the people:

This is what the Lord God showed me: a basket of ripe fruit. ’What do you see, Amos?’ he asked. I answered, ’A basket of ripe fruit.’ Then the Lord said to me:

‘The time is ripe to have done with my people Israel; I will forgive them no longer. The temple songs shall become wailings on that day, says the Lord God. Many shall be the corpses, strewn everywhere.—Silence!3

God is angry at the people for their waywardness, for their greed, which is what Amos points out in verses 4-6, the readings for today. The remainder of the chapter, verses 7-14, describes the punishment that God will deliver upon them.

Take careful note in how Amos describes the greedy, for he points out the true nature of avarice. It is a far different, but I would posit, more accurate description of what greed truly is.

Our view of greed is often superficial, focusing on an individual’s single-minded pursuit in amassing wealth and possessions. Ebenezer Scrooge from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol comes to mind as the quintessential example of someone whose whole existence is focused on acquiring and holding onto what he has obtained, his wealth.

But if we look only at Scrooge we will assuredly miss the worst of it, for we won’t see those who have suffered because of his greed, we won’t see the needy upon whom Scrooge has trampled in his pursuit of a fortune gained. We won’t see that he has bought the lowly man, his nephew Fred, for a bit of silver, even while complaining at the price. In his lust for fortune gain he has lost a thing far more precious, his humanity.

He cannot love God or man because his heart has hardened, turned into cold, uncaring, unfeeling stone. His eyes are clouded, occluded from the harsh realities of the world he has helped produce by his avarice and his greed. His ears are deafened to the piteous cries of those suffering from his cruel indifference. His mouth perpetually formed into an unhappy scowl, now capable of uttering little more than “Bah, humbug!

Greed breeds unpleasant miseries: distrust, dishonesty, disloyalty, duplicity, hatred, even anger; it kills or destroys all that is good: love, trust, honesty, loyalty, and joy. This is why Jesus tells us: “The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones.”4

On this Ron Rohlheiser writes that “When we do something wrong and then cover it up and lie, it is not so much the particular thing that we did wrong that harms us, it’s the lying about it afterwards that does the real damage. We are all weak, we all fall, we all commit sin. God understands this and it is not so much the sin itself that harms us. What causes the real harm is lying, covering up, sneaking around, not being transparent, living a double life. Why? Because the human spirit is not made to live in dishonesty and duplicity. When we do wrong, we either have to stop doing what we are doing or, at least in honesty and contrition own our weakness, or our spirits will automatically begin to harden and to warp. Such is the anatomy of the soul; it cannot tolerate moral duplicity for long without hardening and warping.5

Jesus goes on to say, “If you are not trustworthy with what belongs to another who will give you what is yours? No servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and mammon.”6

Here he gets to the heart of the matter: who is the master and who is the servant? Who owns all that there is? The ultimate landowner is of course—God. God created everything, including man and woman. Then he blessed them and said to them, “Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that move on the earth.”7 God made us stewards of all that he created.

Like our first parents, we have a tendency to forget that we are not the master of all, God is. We like to think of ourselves as masters of all that we possess yet in doing so we inevitably fall short in our stewardship of what is truly God’s. Either we serve God or we serve ourselves; we cannot have it both ways.

Greed blinds us from the truth and in our blindness we see only the false glitter of our own avarice. We choose dishonest wealth over true wealth which comes from God. And as Jesus tells us if you are not a trustworthy steward with dishonest wealth — that is, worldly possessions — then how can you expect God to trust you with his?

Saint Paul says that it is God’s will that everyone be saved, to be with him for all eternity. We know that not all are saved but why not?

Let us think of heaven, not so much as a place, but more like a marriage of a person united forever in love with God. A marriage is a union of two into one body, one mind, one spirit. As no one can marry himself or herself, neither can God unite with those who do not will to do so; God cannot bring about any union without the will of another. God can give all the grace necessary but if we reject that grace and refuse God, then there can be no union.

God desires lovers, not slaves. He wants faithful stewards of all that is his. Those who choose to serve mammon, to worship and adore the false idols of wealth and possessions cannot serve God at the same time. Those who are trustworthy of all that is God’s, who live honestly and faithfully knowing that all God has created belongs to him and him alone, they are the ones who will see God.  Amen.

 

Homily # 087
25th Sunday in Ordinary Time — Cycle C
Amos 8:4-7
1 Timothy 2:1-8
Luke 16:1-13


1 Mt 19:21.
2 Mt 19:24.
3 Am 8:1-3.
4 Lk 16:10.
5 Ron Rolheiser, OMI, In Exile: Honesty as Sobriety, The Sunday Website of Saint Louis University.
6 Lk 16:12-13.
7 Gn 1:28.

Deacon Chuck

About the author: Deacon Chuck

Deacon Chuck was ordained into the permanent diaconate on September 17, 2011, in the ministry of service to the Diocese of Reno and assigned to St. Albert the Great Catholic Community. He currently serves as the parish bulletin editor and website administrator. Deacon Chuck continues to serve the parish of Saint Albert the Great Catholic Community of the Diocese of Reno, Nevada. He is the Director of Adult Faith Formation and Homebound Ministries for the parish, conducts frequent adult faith formation workshops, and is a regular homilist. He currently serves as the bulletin editor for the parish bulletin. He writes a weekly column intended to encompass a broad landscape of thoughts and ideas on matters of theology, faith, morals, teachings of the magisterium and the Catholic Church; they are meant to illuminate, illustrate, and catechize the readers and now number more than 230 articles. His latest endeavor is "Colloqui: A journal for restless minds", a weekly journal of about 8 pages similar in content to bulletin reflections. All his reflections, homilies, commentaries, and Colloqui are posted and can be found on his website: http://deaconscorner.org. Comments are always welcome and appreciated. He is the author of two books: "The Voices of God: hearing God in the silence" which offers the reader insights into how to hear God’s voice through all of the noise that surrounds us; and "Echoes of Love: Effervescent Memories" which through a combination of prose and verse provides the reader with a wonderful journey on the way to discovering forever love. He regularly speaks to groups of all ages and size and would welcome the opportunity to speak to your group.

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