Sunday, August 05, 2007

Goods versus Good

My downstairs neighbor Barbara asked me before Mass this morning whether or not we had received- or wanted- the Ikea Catalog that came with their Sunday Star Tribune. She and I agreed that we were both at the point in life where we are practicing Divestiture... that is, we are shedding material things acquired through the years rather than acquiring even more.

I thought of that catalog in reference to today's Gospel reading, about the man who kept accumulating material goods but neglected the more basic and essential good of his soul (Luke 12,13-21).

"Someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me." He replied to him, "Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?" Then he said to the crowd, "Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one's life does not consist of possessions."

Then he told them a parable. "There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest. He asked himself, 'What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?' And he said, 'This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones. There I shall store all my grain and other goods and I shall say to myself, "Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!"

But God said to him, 'You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?' Thus will it be for the one who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God."

Whether one is twenty years old and just beginning to acquire life's goods or seventy years old and shedding them, this Gospel lesson rings true. Our worth and mission bear no intrinsic relationship to the amount of worldly goods we possess. In fact, gospel values would tell us just the opposite. Those things we treasure so much, the cars, and toys, and homes and clothes which society uses to define us often can hinder our line of sight to God.

However, God is not simply in the moving business, requiring that we get rid of the things which clog the way to Him. Qoheleth only had the first half of the divine equation in today's Old Testament Reading from Ecclesiastes: all is vanity. True as far as it goes. But the final goal of our lives is much loftier than that.

It reaches to the heights pointed to by our Second Reading in the book of Colossians (3,1-5.9-11.) God isn't simply interested in tearing down our old lives. He is building a new Home for himself, a heavenly home with its roofline in heaven and its floor in the human heart. That is the soul we will be required to present before God after death.

" If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory. Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry.

Stop lying to one another, since you have taken off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed, for knowledge, in the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all and in all."

I keep hearing the words of the Evangelical Missionary-Martyr Jim Elliot, whose life and death were both built studily toward the eternal Good. He wrote the following in his diary in 1948:
"He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose."

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