The Eighteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time: Stop Hoarding!

Today’s readings

Once in a while in the news, you will hear a story of someone who has hoarded possessions so much as to put them in danger. A while ago, I remember hearing of someone who had passed away, and rescuers needed to cut a hole in the roof in order to remove the person from the home. People like this have an illness with regard to hoarding, of course. But today’s Liturgy of the Word seems to address the hoarder in all of us. We are people of means, maybe not the most well-off, but certainly better off than most of the world. When do we have enough? When does it all become too much?

Listen to the last line of this morning’s Gospel one more time: “Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.” So right away the parable is turned around and directed at all of us. And it wouldn’t be so hard to put that parable in modern terms, would it? Think of winning the lottery, only to know that the day you receive the check is the day you go home to the Lord. Or think of spending your days and nights in the office, building wealth and prestige, only to be part of massive layoffs when the company is sold. Or, even worse, spending your days and nights at the office, only to miss the growing of your family. So, Jesus asks us, what treasures have we built up? With what have we filled our barns?

Today’s first reading is from the book of Ecclesiastes, which in Hebrew is Qoheleth, who is the teacher in the book. Among the Wisdom books in the Scriptures, Ecclesiastes can be the hardest to read because it is almost prophetic in content. Qoheleth is the main character in the book, a man who is considered wise among his contemporaries, much like many of the popular wisdom teachers of his day. While we don’t know who Qoheleth was, the book is attributed to Solomon, the wise king. Solomon often wrote of the prizes that lay in store for those who were successful. But this book is a little different. Here he questions if it is all worth it, and challenges the complacence and dishonesty that run rampant in that society. If we didn’t know any better, he could well have been writing his words today, couldn’t he? In the end, though, Qoheleth’s message is basically encouraging, and brings us back to the God who made us. At the end of his book, which is not part of today’s reading, he says: “The last word, when all is heard: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is man’s all; because God will bring to judgment every work, with all its hidden qualities, whether good or bad.” (Ecc. 12:13-14) Which is exactly what Jesus is telling us in today’s Gospel.

St. Paul has a little bit of Qoheleth in him too, today. In the letter to the Colossians, which we have been hearing these past few weeks, he is trying to get that community to lay aside earthly things and seek God. Sounds like the message of Qoheleth, doesn’t it? “If you were raised with Christ,” he tells them, “seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.” In other words, stop filling your barns with the stuff that you accumulate on this earth, and be rich in what matters to God. Qoheleth, St. Paul, and Jesus are in complete concert today, and we must be careful to hear their message. St. Paul, typical for him, is very blunt about what he is asking us to lay aside: “Put to death then,” he tells us, “the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry.” And, “stop lying to one another.” We are called to be disciples who are pure, compassionate and truthful, because absolutely nothing else will lead us to the kingdom of God!

So, let’s look at Jesus’ instruction at the end of today’s Gospel parable: “Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.” We have to ask ourselves, then, the very important question: “what is it that matters to God?” I think we know what doesn’t qualify – St. Paul made that very clear. I think the things that matter to God are those things we might count among our blessings: namely our family and friends. Those things that matter to God might also be the things that make us disciples who are pure, compassionate and truthful. So we might seek to be rich in prayer, rich in reaching out to the poor and needy, rich in standing up for truth and justice.

Today God is tugging at the heart-strings of the hoarder in all of us. What are we stockpiling? Maybe we need a look at our checkbooks, our calendars, and our to-do lists to see where our money, time and resources have gone. Can we take any of that with us if we are called home to God tonight? If those things are all we have, we could find ourselves in real poverty when we arrive at the pearly gates. This week’s to-do list might find us letting go of some of what we thought was important, so that we can be rich in what matters to God. These, brothers and sisters in Christ, are the riches that will not spoil and can never be taken away from us.

Tuesday of the Eighth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

In these last couple of days, Jesus is taking the time to set things right about what it means to be rich and famous. Today’s Gospel reading comes right after yesterday’s report of the rich young man. As you remember, Jesus looked at the young man and loved him, and then challenged him to give up his possessions and follow him. But the young man went away sad, for he had many possessions. To this, Peter replies, “We have given up everything and followed you.” I don’t know if this is boasting, or frustration, or some mix of the two. But Jesus responds to his assertion by telling him that now, in the present age, those who give up everything will receive so much more.

I don’t think Jesus was trying to put forth a prosperity gospel here, though. I really don’t think he was saying they’d be rich and famous in the present age. What he was saying is that they would be rich in what matters to God, rich in the Holy Spirit, rich in love and mercy. And it’s that last line that brings it all into focus: “many that are first will be last, and the last will be first.” By being the least, giving up everything, they will be first in the Kingdom of God, which was and is here among God’s people.

So for all of us, rich young men, or overzealous disciples, or just plain folks who want to inherit eternal life, Jesus looks at us and loves us, and calls us to give up everything that’s in the way, so that we can be the last who will be first. What is it that we have to let go of today so that we can be first in the Kingdom of God?

Monday of the Twenty-ninth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

It has often struck me that, the economy of our nation and the world being as precarious as it is, that being rich in what matters to God is more important than ever. With all the bad news out there – financial news, political news, news of epidemic diseases, war and terrorism, who among us hasn’t had the sinking feeling that this world’s riches are nothing at time but straw?

So you’d think that these times of uncertainty, people would be coming to Church, reconnecting with their God, and drawing strength from their faith, building up those riches that are from God. But you’d be wrong. All you have to do is look around and see that Mass attendance is nothing like it was in the past, that there are too many empty spaces in the pews.

In some ways it strikes me that we are quickly losing our faith, or even worse, that we as a society are becoming indifferent to faith, seeing it as irrelevant or ultimately meaningless. At a time in our history when we should be returning to God in droves, people instead are staying away in droves.

And it’s hard to live through uncertain times without faith. How can we ride the ups and downs of life with anything close to tranquility without the rock that is our faith? Instead we as a society seem content to look to the government to save us, while we continue to practice unprecedented greed. And to all of that, God warns us: we may just find ourselves wanting in what matters to God. If our lives were demanded of us this day, would we find ourselves rich or poor?

Monday of the Eighth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

The rich young man in today’s Gospel has to answer the question that really confronts all of us, especially considering the affluent area in which we live.  That question, of course, is what is most important in life?  Do we continue to strive to have the most stuff, the best stuff, the cutting-edge stuff?  Or do we give that up and go all in for the kingdom of God?  Because we can’t have both; that doesn’t work.  If our hands and hearts are filled with the stuff that we have, then we have no room for God and his love, and all the blessings he wants to give us.

Saint Peter in the first reading gives us the goal of our lives: that living hope that comes through Christ’s resurrection and provides hope that is “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading.”  That is the hope worth striving for.  That is certainly worth opening up our hands and letting go of the stuff that gets in our way.

We don’t know how the rich young man answered the question.  He walked away sad, but we don’t know if he decided to live with the sadness, if the sadness gave way to despair, or if the sadness moved him to make radical changes in his life.  But we do know that the ball is in our court.  Do we experience that sadness?  And if so, how will we deal with it?  Please God let us let go of what we have been grasping so that we can grab hold of God’s hand offered to us in love.  What is it that we will be letting go of?

The Eighteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time [C]

Today’s readings

This has been a rather busy pastoral week for me.  I’ve had a couple of funerals this week, and seem to have been called to the hospital a little more frequently than what I’d consider usual.  I’ve ministered to a couple whose baby was stillborn; I anointed a child and a woman in her 80s.  It all reminded me that, no matter what stage of life we’re at, we’re fragile.  Our human flesh is a frail thing.

And so, when I hear these readings on a week like this, it sends a little chill of recognition into my heart.  We here live in a very affluent society.  We are in one of the most well-to-do counties in the most prosperous nation on earth.  Sure, lots of us don’t have as much as others, but most of us have more than most people on the planet.  And yet we’re still frail, we could be called for judgment any time.  This night, perhaps, our very life will be demanded of us.  And all that we have, to whom will it belong?

Listen to the last line of the Gospel one more time: “Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.”  So right away the parable is turned around and directed at all of us.  And it wouldn’t be so hard to put that parable in modern terms, would it?  Think of winning the lottery, only to know that the day you receive the check is the day you go home to the Lord.  Or think of spending your days and nights in the office, building wealth and prestige, only to be part of massive layoffs when the company is sold.  Or, even worse, spending your days and nights at the office, only to miss the growing of your family.  So, Jesus asks us, what treasures have we built up?  With what have we filled our barns?

Today’s first reading is from the book of Ecclesiastes, which in Hebrew is Qoheleth, who is the teacher in the book.  Among the Wisdom books in the Scriptures, Ecclesiastes can be the harshest to read because it is almost prophetic in content.  Qoheleth is considered wise among his contemporaries, much like many of the popular wisdom teachers of his day.  While we don’t know who Qoheleth was, the book is attributed to Solomon, the wise king.  Solomon often wrote of the prizes that lay in store for those who were successful.  But this book is a little different.  Here he questions if it is all worth it, and challenges the complacence and dishonesty that run rampant in that society.  If we didn’t know any better, he could well have been writing his words today, couldn’t he?  In the end, though, Qoheleth’s message is basically encouraging, and brings us back to the God who made us.  At the end of his book, which is not part of today’s reading, he says: “The last word, when all is heard: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is man’s all; because God will bring to judgment every work, with all its hidden qualities, whether good or bad.” (Ecc. 12:13-14)  Which is exactly what Jesus is telling us in today’s Gospel.

St. Paul has a little bit of Qoheleth in him too, today.  In the letter to the Colossians, which we have been hearing these past few weeks, he is trying to get that community to lay aside earthly things and seek God.  “If you were raised with Christ,” he tells them, “seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.”  In other words, stop filling your barns with the stuff that you accumulate on this earth, and be rich in what matters to God.  Qoheleth, St. Paul, and Jesus are in complete concert today, and we must be careful to hear their message.

So, let’s get back to Jesus’ instruction at the end of today’s Gospel parable: “Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.”  We have to ask ourselves, then, the very important question: “what is it that matters to God?”  I think we know what doesn’t qualify – St. Paul made that very clear to the Colossians and to us today.  I think the things that matter to God are those things we might count among our blessings: namely our family and friends.  Those things that matter to God might also be the things that make us disciples who are pure, compassionate and truthful.  So we might seek to be rich in prayer, rich in reaching out to the poor and needy, rich in standing up for truth and justice.

Today God is urging us to let go…  Let go of the stuff we think we can’t live without and instead grab hold of what matters most, what matters to God, what will bring us to life eternal.  So what are we stockpiling in our barns?  Maybe we need a look at our checkbooks, our calendars, and our to-do lists to see where our money, time and resources have gone.  Can we take any of that with us if we are called home to God tonight?  If those things are all we have, we could find ourselves in real poverty when we arrive at the pearly gates.  This week’s to-do list might find us letting go of some of what we thought was important, so that we can be rich in what matters to God.  These, brothers and sisters in Christ, are the riches that will not spoil and can never be taken away from us.

The Eighteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Recently in the news, there have been a few stories of people who have hoarded possessions so much as to put them in danger.  In the most recent story, a woman in the Chicago area had passed away, and rescuers needed to cut a hole in her roof in order to remove her from the home.  People like this have an illness with regard to hoarding, of course.  But today’s Liturgy of the Word seems to address the hoarder in all of us.  We are people of means, maybe not the most well-off, but certainly better off than most of the world.  When do we have enough?  When does it all become too much?

Listen to the last line of this morning’s Gospel one more time: “Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.” So right away the parable is turned around and directed at all of us. And it wouldn’t be so hard to put that parable in modern terms, would it? Think of winning the lottery, only to know that the day you receive the check is the day you go home to the Lord. Or think of spending your days and nights in the office, building wealth and prestige, only to be part of massive layoffs when the company is sold. Or, even worse, spending your days and nights at the office, only to miss the growing of your family. So, Jesus asks us, what treasures have we built up? With what have we filled our barns?

Today’s first reading is from the book of Ecclesiastes, which in Hebrew is Qoheleth, who is the teacher in the book. Among the Wisdom books in the Scriptures, Ecclesiastes can be the hardest to read because it is almost prophetic in content. Qoheleth is considered wise among his contemporaries, much like many of the popular wisdom teachers of his day. While we don’t know who Qoheleth was, the book is attributed to Solomon, the wise king.  Solomon often wrote of the prizes that lay in store for those who were successful. But this book is a little different. Here he questions if it is all worth it, and challenges the complacence and dishonesty that run rampant in that society. If we didn’t know any better, he could well have been writing his words today, couldn’t he? In the end, though, Qoheleth’s message is basically encouraging, and brings us back to the God who made us. At the end of his book, which is not part of today’s reading, he says: “The last word, when all is heard: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is man’s all; because God will bring to judgment every work, with all its hidden qualities, whether good or bad.” (Ecc. 12:13-14) Which is exactly what Jesus is telling us in today’s Gospel.

St. Paul has a little bit of Qoheleth in him too, today. In the letter to the Colossians, which we have been hearing these past few weeks, he is trying to get that community to lay aside earthly things and seek God. Sounds kind of familiar, doesn’t it? “If you were raised with Christ,” he tells them, “seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.” In other words, stop filling your barns with the stuff that you accumulate on this earth, and be rich in what matters to God. Qoheleth, St. Paul, and Jesus are in complete concert today, and we must be careful to hear their message. St. Paul, typical for him, is very blunt about what he is asking us to lay aside: “Put to death then,” he tells us, “the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry.” And, “stop lying to one another.” We are called to be disciples who are pure, compassionate and truthful, because absolutely nothing else will lead us to the kingdom of God!

So, let’s get back to Jesus’ instruction at the end of today’s Gospel parable: “Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.” We have to ask ourselves, then, the very important question: “what is it that matters to God?” I think we know what doesn’t qualify – St. Paul made that very clear. I think the things that matter to God are those things we might count among our blessings: namely our family and friends. Those things that matter to God might also be the things that make us disciples who are pure, compassionate and truthful. So we might seek to be rich in prayer, rich in reaching out to the poor and needy, rich in standing up for truth and justice.

Today God is tugging at the heart-strings of the hoarder in all of us.  What are we stockpiling?  Maybe we need a look at our checkbooks, our calendars, and our to-do lists to see where our money, time and resources have gone.  Can we take any of that with us if we are called home to God tonight?  If those things are all we have, we could find ourselves in real poverty when we arrive at the pearly gates.  This week’s to-do list might find us letting go of some of what we thought was important, so that we can be rich in what matters to God.  These, brothers and sisters in Christ, are the riches that will not spoil and can never be taken away from us.

Twenty-eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today’s gospel reading is a rather heartbreaking story, to be honest.  The rich young man is obviously a follower of the law and a religious man, because he is able to talk to Jesus about his observance.  But when Jesus tells him to let go of what he has in order to gain eternal life, he walks away dejected because he has so much.  We don’t know what ultimately happens to the rich young man.  Maybe he did go and begin the hard work of letting go, selling his possessions and giving to the poor.  And maybe he just couldn’t do it.  But at least he knows what he has to do.

I think that far more heartbreaking than this story of the rich young man is the story of modern men and women, rich and not-so-rich, young and old alike.  I am more heartbroken for these because as much as the rich young man in the gospel story asked what he had to do to gain eternal life, too many of today’s men and women have lost the desire even to ask the question.

We too are rich men and women, young and old.  Maybe we don’t think we have much, but we have way more than most people in most parts of the world.  We live in one of the richest counties of the richest nation on earth, and what we have is considerable.  If we too were told to go, sell what we have, and give to the poor so that we could have eternal life, most of us wouldn’t even know where to start.  But to be honest, so many people are not even there yet.  So many don’t even bother to ask what it takes to gain eternal life.  Many more don’t bother to live the requirements of religion, and even more don’t even know what those requirements are.

We may be rich in the things of earth, but, as the story tells us, we are so very poor in the things of eternity.  “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!”

I hope your heart is breaking too.  These are not words of joy and blessing that Jesus is speaking to us today.  They are words of challenge.  He wants to light a fire under us and smack us full force out of our complacency.  “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!”  So many people are not with us here at Mass today.  Whether it’s soccer or football or work or sloth, they are missing, and our gathering is the poorer for it.  Many of them will feel guilty about missing, perhaps some of them will even confess it.  But far too many of them don’t care or don’t even know that they should care.  How hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!

People today, even maybe some of us gathered here today, are so greatly focused on getting ahead, becoming rich in the things of earth, skyrocketing our careers, being well thought of – we are so embarrassingly rich in all these ways.  But none of those things are going to get us into heaven, into the kingdom of God.  We are all being told today to go, sell those paltry, fading glory things and give to those who are poorer, so that we can all enter the kingdom of God together.  Will we too walk away, like the rich young man in the gospel, dejected and depressed because we have too much to let go of it all?  How hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!

In this respect life month, we might find we are too rich in other ways as well.  We may cling to the way that we’re thought of and so encourage or at least look the other way when a mother ends a pregnancy.  Or we’re so concerned about the value of our homes and the safety of our riches that we tolerate the death penalty.  Or the care of a loved one takes us away from our work so we don’t care for those loved ones the way we should.  But we are a people who are gifted with life from conception to natural death, and we are called to reverence that life and celebrate that gift.  We have to let go of anything that gets in the way of that.  How hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!

Taking hold of the kingdom of God necessarily means we have to let go of something.  That is the clear message of today’s gospel reading.  What we have to let go of is different for all of us, but clearly there is a rich young man or woman in all of us, and we have to be ready to give up whatever gets in our way, or what we will end up letting go of is the kingdom of God.  And that would be truly, horribly, unforgivably heartbreaking.

“Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!”

And so what do we do?  Do we give up, throw up our hands, and walk away dejected because we know it’s all too much – that what we have to let go of is beyond our capacity to do it?  No.  For us, truly, it may be impossible.  But nothing is impossible for God.  God hears that desire for eternal life in us and opens up the way to salvation.  He gave his Son to live our life and die our death and rise to new life that lasts forever.  That same glory is intended for all of us too.  All we have to do is let go – as frightening as that may well be for us – let go, and let God worry about the implications of it all.

And Jesus points out that this will not be easy.  Those who give up their riches to follow him will receive blessing, but also challenge: they will receive “receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters
and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come.”  There will be persecution in this life.  Not everyone will get why we are letting go.  And that makes the letting go so much more difficult.  But the rewards of a hundredfold here and a googol-fold in the kingdom are worth it.

And so yes, I come here heartbroken today.  “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!”  But I know that God can make it possible in every person’s life.  All they and we have to do is let go of those things that are of fleeting and fading glory.  Because we’re going to need empty hands if we are ever to be able to hold on to the hundred-fold blessing that God wants us to have.