Saturday, July 31, 2010

XVIIIth Sunday in Ordinary Time

XVIII Sunday. ECCL. 1:2; 2:21-23,: COL. 3:1-5, 9-11,: LUKE 12:13-21

One morning in 1888 Alfred Nobel, inventor of dynamite, awoke to read his own obituary. The obituary was printed as a result of a simple journalistic error when Alfred's brother died. The words, “The Dynamite King, the great industrialist who had made an immense fortune from explosives passes away” gave Alfred an overwhelming shock because, for the first time in his life, he saw himself as the world saw him – a merchant of death and destruction. As he read the obituary with horror, he resolved both to make clear to the world the true meaning and purpose of his life and to get ready for his meeting with his God. He decided this could be done through the final disposition of his fortune. His last will and testament consisted of an endowment of five annual prizes for outstanding contributions in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, and peace. The fifth one is now called Nobel Peace Prize. A sixth category, economics, was added later. The Nobel Prize thus became the expression of Alfred Nobel’s life's ideals and ultimately it would be the reason we remember him as a rich scientist who had the good will to share his riches with others.

The noble examples of sharing given by Alfred Nobel and later by John D. Rockefeller have been followed by many millionaires in this century. There is no parallel in the sharing made in recent years by the world’s richest man, Bill Gates, drawing inspiration from Christ’s warning against hoarding and advice for sharing one’s riches. Each parish bears ample testimony to the sharing made by the parishioners in the form of tithes and donations. Our Parish set an example by pledging over thirty thousand in pledges over our parish goal in DPAA. Congratulations, even though it is only 503 families that donated.

The common theme of today’s readings is the futility of greedily acquiring wealth and power because everything and everyone is “here today and gone tomorrow.” Therefore, the meaning of life cannot be found in possessions. The first reading from Ecclesiastes gives the great dictum of Biblical realism, "Vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!". The author claims that he has “seen all things that are done under the sun” and found them to be “a chase after wind” (Ecc 1:14). He expresses a ruthlessly honest pessimism about the prospects for finding true happiness in the greedy acquisition of earthly goods, because the greedy hoarder leaves everything behind at his death and his heirs will receive and may squander his hard-earned wealth. According to an old legend, Alexander the Great (356-323 BC), commanded that when he died and was carried forth to his grave, his hands should not be wrapped in the burial clothes, as was the custom, but should be left outside so that all might see them, and might see also, that they were empty. In the brief span of his thirty-three years, Alexander had conquered and possessed the riches of an empire that extended from Greece to India. Yet, in death, his hands were empty; none of his wealth could survive the passage of death.

In today’s gospel, by relating the parable of the foolish rich man, Jesus warns us against all types of greed, because greed takes our life’s focus away from God and away from serving and loving Him in other people. Instead, greed directs all our energy and attention to fulfilling the self, making our wealth the basis of our security. Jesus issues a warning, a warning inspired by a squabble over inheritance, but one that all of us need to hear. He says: "Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions."
The richer the man grew, the greedier he became, as suggested by the Roman proverb: “Money is like sea water; the more a man drinks the thirstier he becomes.”
The key to poison ivy, once you have it, is not to scratch. Restraining yourself is hard, for your skin itches and you want relief. But scratching only makes poison ivy worse. Avarice works the same way. We get infected, and we want to scratch, although we know we shouldn't do so. Possessing more and more promises relief, but only makes the situation worse. We keep scratching, but it's no solution.

The foolish rich man “never saw beyond this world.” He was punished not for anything wrong he did, but for the good he failed to do. It was his acts of omission rather than of commission that prompted God to cut short his life.

He failed to become “rich in what matters to God.” He was not thankful to God for His blessings; instead, he considered them as solely the fruit of his own labor. He also failed in his stewardship duties – the returning to God of His portion in paying his tithe. Third, he did not recognize his possessions as a loan from God, given to him to share with others. Fourth, he was taken up with worries or anxieties about his wealth. He was starving to death spiritually in the midst of God’s abundance.

Let us control our greed. Our greed takes different shapes and forms. For some it may be the desire for the approval and praise of others. For others it is the uncontrolled desire for power, control or fame. For still others greed takes the form of excessive and sinful indulgence in eating, drinking, gambling, drugs or sexual activities. Greed also diverts our life away from God and away from serving and loving Him in other people. As greed directs all our energy and attention to fulfilling the self, its objects become our false gods, and they will consume us unless we become rich in the sight of God.

A man is walking down the beach and comes across an old bottle. He picks it up, pulls out the cork and out pops a genie!
The genie says, "Thank you for freeing me from the bottle. In return I will grant you three wishes."
The man says "Great! I always dreamed of this and I know exactly what I want. First, I want one billion dollars in a Swiss bank account."
Poof! There is a flash of light and a piece of paper with account numbers appears in his hand!
He continues, "Next, I want a brand new red Ferrari right here."
Poof! There is a flash of light and a bright red, brand-new Ferrari appears right next to him!
He continues, "Finally, I want to be irresistible to women."
Poof! There is a flash of light and he turns into a box of chocolates.
Greed will eat us up.

Henry Ford once asked an associate about his life goals. The man replied that his goal was to make a million dollars. A few days later Ford gave the man a pair of glasses made out of two silver dollars. He told the man to put them on and asked what he could see. "Nothing," the man said. "The dollars are in the way." Ford told him that he wanted to teach him a lesson: If his only goal was dollars, he would miss a host of greater opportunities. He should invest himself in serving others, not simply in making money. Money is important. No question about that. But money is only a means by which we reach higher goals. Service to others. Obedience to God.
By comparison how rich we are! And with our wealth comes responsibility. We should use it wisely, not be wasteful, and help others. We need to get back to the basics and re-establish our priorities. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Mt. 6:33).

Let me close with the beautiful prayer from the book of Proverbs: "Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, 'Who is the Lord?' Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God." (Proverbs 30: 8-9).

Saturday, July 10, 2010

XVth Sunday in Ordinary time.- Good Samaritan

15th Sunday: The Parable of Good Samaritan Lk 10: 25- 37.

We have all heard this parable of the Good Samaritan before and we know that Jesus is challenging us to act differently and love our neighbor no matter who they are. But we do not always recognize who is our neighbor in need. In the Gospel we have the image of a person beaten, stripped and left for dead. This person was ignored, forgotten and passed by.

In our lives we come across many people like this man who have been passed by who is hurt and in despair. There are spouses who are in a loveless relationship. There are teenage boys and girls who feel that they cannot talk with their parents without being criticized or scolded. There are those who work long hours and make sacrifices for their jobs and in the end are either laid off or overlooked when it comes time for that promotion. Finally there are the sick and the elderly that no one visits or calls. They may feel that there is no reason for living. There are many times in our own lives when we really need someone but feel ignored and disregarded, and we know how much it hurts.
Often it happens that we hesitate to go out and help fearing what might happen to us, like the priest and the Levite. An old man standing on a crowded bus. The young man standing next to him asked, "What time is it?" The old man refused to reply. The young man moved on. The old man’s friend, sensing something was wrong, asked, "Why were you so discourteous to the young man asking for the time?" The old man answered, "If I have given him the time of day, next he would want to know where I am going. Then we might talk about our interests. If we did that, he might invite himself to my house for dinner. If he did, he would meet my lovely daughter. If he met her, they would both fall in love. I don’t want my daughter marrying someone who can’t afford a watch." Often we behave like this man- unreasonably afraid of what would happen if I help others.
We are all called to make a difference in the lives of others. It may not involve binding the wounds of someone who has been physically beaten. But it does involve reaching out to those in need, especially those who feel that they have no one else to turn to. Jesus tells the lawyer in the gospel today that for him to inherit eternal life, he must show mercy to others like the Samaritan. We are challenged to be less fearful and judgmental and to be more compassionate and caring. Whatever good deed we do to someone, it does make a difference to that person.
Certainly, there is no written law detailing what to do if we come across someone in dire need of our help. There is no written law that says that we have to stop our car and see why a four year old is walking alongside a busy road, all alone. There is no written law that says that the old man in the walker should have someone help him take in his garbage barrels, but we know in our hearts what we need to be doing and what we need to be avoiding.
The Temple ministers, the Levite and priest know the law, at least theoretically. They also know that if they touch someone who the law said would be defiled in any way, they could not perform their service in the Temple. They had the written law, but they did not have the law of God in their hearts. So they walked pass the injured man on the side of the road.
The Good Samaritan did not base his actions on the written law. He based his actions on the Law within his heart, the Law of Love. The Samaritan’s were a mixed people, part Jewish and part pagan. The Jews called them half breeds and looked down on them for selling out to the pagans. But the Good Samaritan knew the Law better than the Temple priest and Levite. He did what a person who loves God would naturally do: care for someone who was hurting.
Let us remember that the road from Jerusalem to Jericho passes right through our home, and workplace. We are invited to be people of generosity, kindness, and mercy toward all who are suffering. A sincere smile, a cheery greeting, an encouraging word of appreciation, a heartfelt “thank you” can work wonders for a suffering soul.
What is it that we need to do to inherit eternal life ? Jesus gives us the answer: we need to look within ourselves and reach out to God’s Presence wherever our hearts find Him.