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AUGUST 5, 2007: Eighteenth Sunday of the Year

Readings: 

Ecclesiastes 1:2-2:21-23
Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11
Luke 12:13-21

When we're deep into a specific gospel we often forget the driving force behind Jesus' historical ministry. Though scholars consistently remind us he had no intention of founding a new religion, we often need to be reminded of what he actually tried to accomplish. Luke clearly tells us in chapter 4 that Jesus conceived of his role as someone announcing that God is accomplishing in our lives today what most thought God would achieve only in the future.

The carpenter from Galilee had a passion to inform people about God present and working effectively in their daily lives; present whether they notice that presence or ignore it. Jesus was convinced our lives would be more fulfilled once we surface that presence. But to accomplish that, we have to "repent:" to totally change our value systems, to do a 180 degree turn on what and whom we normally focus.

Jesus insists that people be the center of our focus, not our jobs or a quest for social recognition.

Paul, writing to the church in Colossae reminds his readers of the new direction they're expected to pursue. "If you were raised with Christ," he writes, "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."

Among other things, the risen Jesus expects his followers never to fall into the trap of concentrating on what divides us. "Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all and in all." Only those who can cut through the incidentals and surface the unity all people share will notice God working in their lives. (I don't see how anyone could be in doubt about Paul's idea of where the risen Jesus stands on our current "illegal immigrants" debate.)

Another point of repentant focus in our 1st and 3rd readings revolves around our attitude toward wealth.

The author of Ecclesiastes looks at acquiring riches from the perspective that one day someone who hasn't worked for them will inherit them. In other words, we're working to make someone else wealthy.

The sacred author's general advice is to back off, don't spend so much time and effort acquiring wealth. Others, not ourselves will benefit from our labors after we die. Enjoy life right here and now. Never work so hard and long that we ignore the pleasures all people should be experiencing throughout their lives.

Luke's Jesus, presuming his followers are trying to achieve repentance, approaches wealth from a somewhat different point of view. Both he and our Ecclesiastes author agree that one day our riches will belong to others, but Jesus stresses the aspect that God's plan for us includes neither greed nor a life directed only to accumulating wealth.

"Take care to guard against all greed," Jesus warns the person who wants him to mediate a family dispute. "Though one may be rich, one's life does not consist of possessions."

Jesus illustrates his point with a parable about a person so obsessed with wealth that he overlooks his own mortality. The words Jesus pronounces over this rich, but unfortunate individual have echoed down through the centuries. "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 all who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God."

Though our sacred authors expect us to "make a living," they're concerned that doing so not stop us from living. God working in our lives through those around us is too valuable an experience to be ignored. Nothing should ever block our vision of that reality.