Will we be selfish or generous?, Sunday Homily, July 31, 2022

Sunday Homily – 18th Sunday C

Ecclesiastes 1.2; 2:21-23
Colossians 3.1-5, 9-11
Luke 12:13-21

We have heard Jesus say: ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’

A London newspaper once offered a prize for the best definition of money. This was the winning answer: ‘Money is an instrument that can buy you everything but happiness and pay your fare to every place but heaven.’ Maybe the prize-winner had taken to heart the gospel words of Jesus on money! Certainly, they’re both on the same track, and they both recognize that what we need and what we want are not the same.

You may have heard the saying: ‘Where there’s a will there’s a relative.’ When my mother was making her will, she was determined not to let her death give rise to any quarrels, bitterness, and strife in the family. So, she split her will exactly evenly among all eight children. In today’s incident, it’s clear that Jesus doesn’t want to take on board any quarrel over wills and inheritance. On the other hand, he uses the trouble and strife between the two brothers to make some strong points about the use of money and wealth.

The first point Jesus makes is that to be greedy, grasping, and selfish is to be a human failure. Why? Because, as he puts it, ‘one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions’. After all, there are more important values in life, more relevant and enriching values, and ones that make a person ‘rich in the eyes of God’. The second point Jesus makes is illustrated in his story of the rich but foolish landowner. It’s that when we die, we cannot take any money or possessions with us. Investments, savings, superannuation, trust funds, stocks, shares, bonds, and dividends, none of these will travel with us to meet our Maker. As someone has wisely said: ‘Shrouds have no pockets!’

Back to the rich fool in the story! Two things stand out strongly. No other parable is so full of the words, ‘I’, ‘me’, ‘my,’ and ‘mine’. A schoolboy was once asked what parts of speech are ‘my’ and ‘mine’. He called them not ‘possessive’ but ‘aggressive’ adjectives. Certainly, the rich fool was aggressively self-centred. Today he might be called ‘filthy rich’. The one thing that never occurs to him is to give away any of his wealth. His world is a tiny little world, bounded on the north, south, east, and west, by himself. Enclosing him on all sides is one giant ego. Instead of restraining himself, he asserts himself. Instead of denying himself, he indulges himself. Instead of finding happiness in giving, he focuses on getting, gaining, grabbing, and grasping. ‘Take things easy,’ he says to himself, ‘eat, drink, and have a good time’. He thinks of no one but himself. His whole attitude is the opposite of the attitude of Jesus.

The second thing that stands out about the rich fool is that he never sees beyond this life. All his plans are for life here on earth. He does not reckon with destiny, that ‘this very night the demand will be made [by death] for your soul, your life’. A conversation took place between an eighteen-year-old girl in her final year of school and her grandmother, who has the wisdom of many years of life experience behind her. Says the younger woman: ‘Nana, I’m going to university.’ ‘And then?’ says the older woman. ‘I will study medicine.’ ‘And then?’ ‘I will practise surgery.’ ‘And then?’ ‘I will make a fortune.’ ‘And then?’ ‘I suppose that I shall grow old and retire and live on my money.’ ‘And then?’ ‘Well, I suppose that I will die one day.’ ‘And then?’ comes her grandmother’s last stabbing question. The implication seems to be, ‘don’t end up just another rich and selfish old fool’. A person that never remembers that there’s another world is destined someday for the grimmest of grim shocks.

The problem is not having possessions. That in itself is neutral. The problem arises when selfishness stops the ‘haves’ from sharing with the ‘have-nots’.

Where do you and I stand, dear People of God, regarding our money and possessions and our commitment by baptism to follow the poor man, Jesus? Are we selfish and self-indulgent? Do we shop till we drop? Or are we other-centred and generous? Do we see ourselves as an island isolated from others’ needs, or do we see ourselves as living in solidarity with all human beings? Do we see ourselves as having an absolute right of ownership over our money and goods? Or do we take the view that the earth and its resources belong to the whole human family? If we have more than we need to survive and even thrive as human beings, are we willing to assist the many millions in poor countries and closer to home, who are suffering hunger and starvation, even as I speak? Do we acknowledge the truth of the challenge the Second Vatican Council put to individuals and governments: ‘Feed the people dying of hunger because if you do not feed them, you are killing them?’

Or is it more important to us that our clothes have the so-called ‘right labels’, or that we get ‘the right car’, ‘the right house’, and ‘the right friends’? Would we rather be kind and generous persons, giving our lives and resources for the enrichment and well-being of others, or just another material girl or boy, man or woman? Selfish? Self-centred? Self-indulgent? Self-absorbed? Self-satisfied and Self-assured?

In our Holy Communion with Jesus Christ, let’s talk to him about where we stand on our wants and needs, including our need to care for others in glaring and urgent need!

Brian Gleeson is a Passionist priest, and a member of the Passionist community in Endeavour Hills, Melbourne.