Eighteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle C
1st Reading: Ecclesiastes 1: 2; 2:21-23
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 90: 3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 14, 17
2nd Reading: Colossians 3: 1-5, 9-11
Gospel: Luke 12: 13-21
Over the last few years, I've read several "self-help" books, which is a relatively new genre for me. For a long time, I would buy the books with catchy titles and put them on a shelf in my bookcase. I thought at least owning a book about self-improvement would actually induce the improvement necessary. It took many years to realize that I should actually read them if they were going to be helpful. One of the things I've come to realize after reading these books is that there are recurring themes. Almost all of them teach that happiness does not come from possessions or other people; gratitude puts you in a good mood; taking care of yourself physically impacts every area of your life, and service to your fellow man is where we gain true fulfillment and satisfaction. Every book says the same thing, only using different language. The funny thing is that Jesus said it first and very seldom gets credit for the concepts. Sometimes I laugh at the circles an author will go around to avoid acknowledging God as the source of this wisdom. God is the source of the knowledge and the patron of the benefits of the practice.
Another recurring theme of conventional wisdom on happiness (in this life) is the understanding of focus on what’s important. And to really focus on something, we have to eliminate the unnecessary. The distractions that we live with are abundant, and it is a struggle to refocus our attention on the things that genuinely matter continually. It is not difficult to find the promotion of a “simple” lifestyle. This vast, modern-day marketing technique is used because it is attractive and effective. Most of us (if not all of us) are drawn to simplification. We get tricked when this attractive image is used to sell us something (a device, a service, or even an app) that will get us to this state of simplicity and thus peace. It doesn't work. True peace, true happiness, and real purpose can only be found in knowing and doing the will of God. Not in the acquisition of “stuff.” We are drawn to simplicity and peace because we are made in the image of God. It is our nature. Where we get confused is when we think a thing or a lifestyle will provide the quiet peace we seek.
This is Jesus’ message in this gospel. Life is more than our possessions. A good life has nothing to do with wealth. We are to be in relationship with God and live for others through Jesus. That's what brings happiness. We tend to collect and hoard out of fear. "What if I need it someday?" "What if I can't buy more?" It is liberation from this fear that Jesus offers through these words today. We are free when we rely on God. Life is a gift, and no possession can make it greater or give it security. True peace comes only from our back and forth relationship with God.
When Jesus is asked to arbitrate the dispute between the two brothers, He is placed in another situation which has no right answer. Roman Law and Judaic Law required different solutions to this matter. Jesus gets out of the situation by pointing out two things. First, He says, “Who am I to decide?” And second, it doesn’t matter anyway because it all goes back to greed. In the Mediterranean world, resources were finite. All things, wealth, health, honor were in limited supply. If someone owned two coats, it meant that someone else went without. Jesus’ story of the man who built bigger barns gives us insight as to the solution to the problem. Building the barns and hoarding the grain got him nowhere. In the first place, he died and therefore had no use for the abundance. Second, stored grain rots. Grain (and other material things) go bad when not used. They lose their value. It would have been better to share his grain with friends who he could have then relied upon if he went through hard times (which would have been a culture requirement).
To really get the answers to our questions, we need to continue reading. Today’s gospel ends at verse 21, but Luke continues to give solutions to this issue.
He said to [his] disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life and what you will eat, or about your body and what you will wear. For life is more than food and the body more than clothing. Notice the ravens: they do not sow or reap; they have neither storehouse nor barn, yet God feeds them. How much more important are you than birds! Can any of you by worrying add a moment to your life-span? If even the smallest things are beyond your control, why are you anxious about the rest? Notice how the flowers grow. They do not toil or spin. But I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of them. If God so clothes the grass in the field that grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith? As for you, do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not worry anymore. All the nations of the world seek for these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these other things will be given you besides. Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your belongings and give alms. Provide money bags for yourselves that do not wear out, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven that no thief can reach nor moth destroy. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.
What are you afraid of? (Creatures, death, flying, situations, war, unemployment, loss of a loved one, etc.)
What is at the base of your fears? What effect does this have on your life?
How do you deal with fears?
In Scripture, we read of a second kind of fear---respectful "fear" (or reverence) of the Lord. If you have this "fear of the Lord," how does it affect your life? How does it affect your prayers?
Do you believe that God punishes people? Explain.