Scripture Readings for October 23, 2017
Romans 4: 20-25, Luke 1: 69-75, Luke 12: 13-21
Luke’s Gospel today presents a story that is very straight forward. I suspect it’s not something any of us would disagree with. Life, specifically the value of our life, does not consist of our possessions. Although in Jesus’ time the common Jewish belief would have been that rich people were blessed by God and poor people suffered because of their sinfulness. Two thousand years of Christianity has helped us realize that being holy isn’t connected with wealth or possessions. St. Francis and Mother Theresa of Calcutta are easy examples of the ideal that we should, in fact, give up possessions and devote ourselves to helping others.
Clearly however, the story of the rich man building bigger barns to hold the wealth of his harvest hasn’t exactly deterred anyone from buying bigger cars or bigger homes or fancier watches. Even so I don’t think that’s a message we need to belabor today. We all know what we’re not supposed to do. We’re not supposed to put our hopes for the future, hopes for an eternal life in possessions or riches. Instead I wondered about the specifics of what we are being asked to do. That may not be so clear. The last line of the Gospel says we should be “rich in what matters to God.” The question is, what should we be rich in?
My own tendency was to think in terms of charitable works. I think we often think about doing what God’s wants in terms of giving to others, being generous, doing things for others. That’s a big part of the Catholic and Christian faith. But actively helping others is the outcome of having some treasure. I mean when you are rich you can give things away. If you have lots of money then you can give money to charity. If you have a sincere love for someone you can give that person love. If you have time you can spend more of your time with others. In order to give of ourselves we must first have something to give otherwise we’re just trying to build up another kind of treasure for ourselves. We could be trying to earn value in God’s eyes or status among our peers, instead of acting out of love. So I don’t think giving to others, certainly a good thing in itself, is actually the answer.
I think today’s other readings tell us what kind of treasure God values. In the letter to the Romans, Paul says Abraham was considered righteous because he believed that God would do what he said. It was Abraham’s trust in God that God valued. In the same way Paul says when we believe in Jesus as the one who died and has risen we are putting faith in God the same way Abraham did. Do we believe that God has come to his people? That God will save us from our enemies, from those who hate us. Do we trust that God is with us in all that life brings? Do we live our lives based on the trust that we are not alone or unsupported? That is the kind of trust that Abraham had and when we have it we are rich in what God matters to God. If we believe in God’s active presence in our lives then we will have the possibility of feeling supported and loved and cared for and therefore free to live out of that love and support. Then we will have the treasure that God values.