Sunday Gospel Reflection for 18th Sunday of the Year, Sunday July 31st Written by Fr Brian Maher OMI
Ask any poor person does he or she want to remain poor and I am certain the answer will be a most emphatic ‘no’, probably with one or two expletives added!
There is nothing good or positive about any kind of poverty. By definition it means scarcity, insufficiency, or shortage and none of these things can, in any way, be considered virtues. When we come, therefore, to look at what the Gospels or Jesus say about ‘the poor’ we must do so very carefully.
To state, or even hint, that Jesus lauds poverty or wishes it for his people would be an insult to those forced to live in destitution or indignity. Is it not hugely arrogant for someone who has enough or more than enough to speak of poverty as if, somehow, it was an honour to be poor?
One of the criticisms levelled at Jesus himself was that, unlike John the Baptist who lived an austere and ascetic lifestyle, Jesus continued to eat and drink. Indeed, in this verse from Luke’s Gospel (5:33), the way Jesus is living is even compared unfavourably to that of the Pharisees! (They said to him, “John’s disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking.”) Since Jesus spent his life condemning hypocrisy, it would be unthinkable to imagine that he would extol poverty while not living it himself.
If there was one thing Jesus never did in his teaching, it was judge other peoples’ lifestyles or actions. This is clear even in the introduction to today’s parable, when Jesus says, “who appointed me your judge, or the arbitrator of your claims.” If Jesus did not judge or condemn prostitutes, a women caught in the act of adultery, or a convicted thief on the cross, why would he judge or condemn those who happen to be ‘rich’?
The answer has to be that he wouldn’t!
What then are we to make of texts such as, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God. Blessed are you that are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied…” (Luke 6:20-21) or today’s parable where God yells at the rich man, “Fool! This very night the demand will be made for your soul; and this hoard of yours, whose will it be then?”
It seems to me that Jesus never judged or condemned any individual person he met or with whom he interacted. However, many times we see him judge and condemn ways of living or ‘lifestyles.
Jesus ate in the houses of Pharisees, and we know that some of them were even friends. He could never have condemned any of these individual men of hypocrisy without being one himself. Yet he could, and did, condemn the way the Pharisees, as a group, treated others and lived themselves. Their lifestyle was hypocritical, and he did not spare them, calling them at one time, “whited sepulchres”.
Likewise, Jesus did not judge or condemn Zacchaeus, a rich tax collector and probably a cheat! Nor did he judge the ‘rich young man’ who went away sad when told by Jesus to “sell what he owned, give to the poor and come, follow me.”
Jesus is not condemning a person who is rich or wealthy, but he is, most definitely, judging and warning about the dangers of ‘wealth’ – as a way of life. He is, in effect, saying: “Beware! wealth can lead to selfishness and complacency; it can lead to a way of life where others do not matter, where our own security and comfort are all that matter, and where our own pride and arrogance turn us into harsh judges.
For Jesus both rich and poor were equally in need of his message of love and forgiveness. Jesus spent time with rich and poor; he made no apologies for being seen in the company of Pharisees and tax collectors and prostitutes and lepers. He was sent ‘to all’ and his message was ‘for all’.
Yet, he did constantly champion the poor, and spoke for them again and again. He made certain in everything he said and did that the plight of the poor was not forgotten. At the very beginning of his ministry he read from the Prophet Isaiah, “He has sent me to bring good news to the poor….”
Why is this? Because in the world of Jesus, as in our world, wealth and power go hand in hand. We are constantly told that laws and policies are made to benefit the poor, yet these laws and policies are made by the wealthy and, mostly, for the wealthy.
The huge decline in trust in political leadership in so many countries in recent years is, in great part, due to the realisation that laws and policies purporting to benefit the poor succeed only in lining the pockets of the rich.
This was visible to Jesus in the lifestyle of the Pharisees and Sadducees, the religious leaders who set Jewish taxes and demanded high prices for Temple sacrifice. They were the ones who wore fine clothes and sat at the top tables. In their lifestyle Jesus saw a hypocrisy he had to challenge.
The poor have few advocates. Actively promoting the causes of the poor will win few friends and will probably lose you some wealthy ones. The poor will not have the ability to pay back what they are given. As the mission of Jesus developed, we see his support of the poor setting him on a direct and inevitable collision course with the wealthy and powerful.
It was precisely because the poor were voiceless that Jesus felt called to be with them. He became their voice, and more importantly he challenged the lifestyles of wealth and greed which perpetuated their poverty.
This is the message of today’s Gospel. It is not a lauding of poverty over wealth or saying that the poor have a greater right to a place in God’s Kingdom than do the rich and wealthy. It is, rather, an assault on the systems or ‘lifestyles’ of greed and power which allow the poor to remain poor, locked out by ever larger and more secure ‘barns’ which the poor are told are for their own protection.
All of us need, I think, to reflect very honestly on this Gospel. Too often we see sin as individual actions we do or don’t do. We confess our sins by number and frequency. But how frequently do we examine our lifestyles and the ways we live our lives?
The greed of the man in today’s Gospel is not in the act of building larger barns to protect his property, but in a lifestyle which makes him oblivious to the reality that there are others out there who are hungry and in need.
Each of us are challenged by Jesus in today’s Gospel to examine our own lifestyles, looking for the ‘barns’, walls, barriers we erect to protect us from having to honestly see the needs of others.
Without doubt St. Paul was a man of supreme intellect, boundless energy, and deepest faith. In his letter to the Philippians, he, I believe, points us to the type of lifestyle we need to try to achieve for ourselves. He says:
“I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Phil 4:11-13)
The ‘secret’ he learned was what we might call ‘balance’. He did not get sucked into any one lifestyle, feeling he needed to defend and promote it at the cost of other lifestyles. As he said in another place, “I laugh with those who laugh, and I cry with those who cry.”
It is clear that Jesus had this same ‘balance’ in his own lifestyle. It enabled him to accept the good in every lifestyle, without losing the ability to challenge and condemn it where necessary.
Jesus to be equally at home with Pharisees, tax-collectors, or prostitutes. He was ‘content’ and ‘at peace’ in whatever situation he found himself. He did not need to erect barns and walls to protect himself or give himself a sense of worth.
Most importantly, I think, his criticism or condemnation of a particular lifestyle never affected his ability to relate to individual human persons, regardless of the lifestyle to which they belonged. Jesus was able to see the image of God in all creation and in all people. Rich and poor are equally called to be part of God’s Kingdom.
Jesus did not ‘need’ wealth or power or control to build his self-esteem and give him worth. Indeed he clearly saw how these things can destroy perspective and grievously hurt others.
His strength, his power, like that of Paul, came from God and was not bound by any lifestyle.
Wouldn’t it be truly wonderful to be able to say, with Paul: “I have learned to be satisfied with what I have. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”
Isn’t this a worthy prayer to make in response to today’s Gospel?
|Gospel||Luke 12:13-21 ©|
Fool! This very night your soul will be demanded of you
- Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on WhatsApp (Opens in new window)
- Click to email a link to a friend (Opens in new window)
- Click to print (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on Tumblr (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on Pocket (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on Reddit (Opens in new window)
There are well established links in business psychology between fear, a lack...
Ask any poor person does he or she want to remain poor...
“Lord, teach us how to pray…..” Imagine for a second sitting with...
No matter how often I read this Gospel, no matter how often...
At first glance, today’s Gospel is clear and unambiguous. It is probably...
If Jesus had a Facebook page, would you join it as a...