18th Sunday of Ordinary Time - Putting on the New Self

Jesus lived His life fully, celebrating each moment, each encounter, and each relationship with joy.   He embraced human experience, drank deeply of human emotions, was nourished and comforted by human love.   But He was always looking into the eyes of His Father.   He was always conscious of the circle of His human existence - leading Him from God back to God.   He never lost His sense of direction and purpose   and in that sense He was prepared for whatever came.   His love of the Father was integrated into all that He said and did and became.   There was no event, no person, no circumstance that ever separated Him from His Father.

therichfoolHe knew what Life was all about - and He treasured it.

The Scripture readings for this Sunday are reflections on Life.  The Book of Ecclesiastes is a wise person's reflections on life.  In it we are reminded that nothing can survive death: no success, reputation, gain or profit will last beyond a person's lifetime.  To believe otherwise is "vanity of vanities."  The passage today sobers us up in case we have been intoxicated and distracted by a reliance on what we have achieved on our own.  If we base our merit and sense of self worth or on what the world values and grasps, then we will truly find that what we treasure is transitory and lacking in permanence.  For most of the folks in this world, life is not fair - far from it - it is imperfect, limited and oppressive.  Ecclesiastes shakes the comfortableness out of our dreamy, rose-colored illusions and brings us back to reality.

Likewise, the Gospel parable that Luke addresses to us this week is not a very peaceful one, but rather it is a message that makes us extremely uncomfortable - or at least it should.   Only Luke has this parable of the rich fool - the man who doesn't seem to have heard the wisdom of Ecclesiastes about the transitory nature of the things on which we often place trust.

Jesus often uses this kind of intrigue in speaking about the "reign of God".  He uses these parables to help us understand that we will only find true and lasting happiness when we divest ourselves of earthly treasures and invest in the kingdom of God.

Investing is always a risk.  You have to give up something in the hope of obtaining something even more valuable.  And that's the kind of investment Jesus asks of us.  Before all else, we have to fully understand what "the treasure" really is.  We have to recognize the enduring value of the love of God and neighbor; we have to see how Gospel living can insure our happiness and security - and then - and only then - will we be willing to put aside the vanity of treasures that keeps us from becoming "rich in what matters to God."

The message of Jesus was always one of service to others.  God has always cared deeply - and will always care deeply - about mankind - I think that's part of the reason He chose to become one like us.  And the message of Jesus was always one that put the welfare of the people around him above all else.  He cured the sick, gave sight to the blind, hope to the hopeless.  And he ministered to all people: saints and sinners alike.  He felt comfortable with everyone he met and even forgave his enemies.  He didn't turn his back on anyone.

In so doing he alienated a lot of people:  those of his followers who felt he shouldn't associate with sinners and prostitutes, as well as those of the elite classes who could not bear to listen to his message of compassion.  Jesus said nothing about the sinfulness of the persons he met, but told them simply that His Father loved them in spite of their sinfulness and weaknesses.

But what's more important is that every time He called someone to Himself, He immediately followed up by challenging them to action.  Being his follower meant more than just being comfortable within the group; it meant more than just praying for the good of one another, but actually working for the good of one another.

We, like Jesus, must learn to live fully, to love fully, to journey trustingly - always conscious of the Father's presence, always aware that He could be waiting for us around each corner, at every intersection.   In that spirit, we will see the face of God in each person we meet, feel His power and goodness in the world around us, and draw from His strength to overcome every evil.

Love is more than just being comfortable in our beliefs.  It is going the extra miles to reconcile with those who are different than we.  Love is not retreating into the past, but walking boldly into the future as Jesus did.  Christianity is not about having all of the answers, but rather about holding up a vision of hope and truth in the face of uncertainty.

Where have we stored our treasure?  Where have we committed our hearts during our journey through life?  Have we sought riches and power and prestige among the very elite of our community?   Or have we cast our lot with the poor, the homeless, the downtrodden and forgotten?   Where is our treasure?

The answer may lie in the message of Paul in today's Second Reading "If you were raised with Christ, seek what is above - "take off the old self with its practices and put on the new self, which is being renewed, for knowledge, in the image of its creator."

* The Rich Fool - by Eugene Burnand