Grace to you!
There is a funny African story about a preacher and a crying churchwoman. Since, I do not know the exact author of the story, it is sufficient to retell it with a declaimer that it isn’t my creation.
“A preacher notices a woman in the congregation who begins to weep as soon as he starts to preach. Thinking he has made a big catch, he preaches with even greater fervor. The more he preaches, the more the woman cries. Finally, the preaching over and it is time to give testimonies. The preacher points to the woman and says, “Sister, I can see you were mightily moved as we proclaimed the word of God. Now, can you please share with us what it was that convicted your spirit so much?” The woman hesitates, but the pastor insists. So she comes up and takes the microphone. “You see,” she begins, “Last year I lost my he-goat, the most precious thing I possessed. I prayed and cried much over it and then I forgot all about it. But as soon as you came out to preach and I saw your beard, it reminded me all over again of the he-goat. I still cry whenever I remember it.” She did not remember one word of what the preacher said.
Hilarious story, isn’t it? However, it has some lessons. Aren’t we sometimes reminded of how fleeting things are; things we held so dearly but then are gone like the wind when we least expected it? Aren’t we also, from time to time, distracted because of an attachment that doesn’t endure?
We read many stories of great people; we call them “our heroes.” Then, we see how a sudden twist of events changes everything.
The unpredictable nature of the stock market should teach us a lot about the nature of material possessions, so also the experiences of the terminally ill in hospices. “What are our priorities?” is always a good question.
Getting our priorities mixed up, so as not to hear the voice of true joy, peace and happiness, isn’t fulfilling. Fighting over inheritance, a more recurrent theme in many families today, both in the West and in many developing nations, is unfortunate. One wonders why people fight over the fruit of another person’s hard work, instead of building a legacy for generations that should come after them. We forget that “blessed is the hand that gives than the hand that takes.”
Fighting over stuff of this kind didn’t start today. Over two thousand years ago, Jesus spoke of it. A man approached Jesus asking him to be the arbiter between him and his brother over their inheritance. Read the story in Luke 12:13-21 (by the way, only Luke reported the story).
What did Jesus do? Distracted because of domestic and social concerns? Become narrow minded so as to be “the great politician” or the populist?
See what he did. He refocused the attention from “liberation theology” or social concerns with the tempting, slippery slope for greed, to a more enduring concern for which he has come. He said; “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15).
Greed! Who’s the greedy here? Wasn’t the man asking for his fair share? Shouldn’t the Christ be concerned about fairness?
Jesus is aware of the trick. Greed is sneaky. It’s like a chameleon. The poor can be just as greedy as the rich. “He became rich by ripping the poor of their resources and opportunities” is a Marxist brand of greed. Many poor fall for it. Some rich people’s claim that “I’ve worked very hard and wouldn’t stand someone giving my money to that lazy loafer” could also be greed in a camouflage.
The greed of the poor wants to seize the wealth of the rich and wishes the rich were poor. The greed of the rich isn’t satisfied with what one has. Like Oliver Twist in the second novel of Charles Dickens, it always “wants some more.”
Greed isn’t simply about money; it’s equally about position. Greed could manifest in gossip or backbiting to make a supervisor look bad because of envy of his or her position. It could equally come from a supervisor who is envious of the skills of a successor by the disparaging innuendos or attitudes suggesting that, “no one is as good as I am to fill my position.”
Jesus warns: “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed.” Because greed is very subtle, we must be on our guard. Always.
Sir Fred Catherwood once said, “Greed is the belief that there is no life after death. We grab what we can while we can, however we can, and then hold on to it hard.”
Here are a few answers to greed. First is detachment. If anything – power, fame, money or material stuff – causes you anxiety at the thought of losing it, practice a virtuous act of detachment. Reconsider the value you attach to that thing.
Second, use one’s wealth or blessings for God’s service in your Church and community. A generous heart has a way of crushing the demon of greed.
Third, faith in action or works of charity in various forms of spiritual and corporal works of mercy has a way of molding the heart for the Christ-like, the spiritual. The Christ-like is a heavy blow to greed.
Finally, when God has given us wealth, he wants us to use it not only for ourselves, but also for others. Almsgiving isn’t an option. It’s a vocation, a vocation equipping us to stamp out greed and build a lasting legacy because it is rooted in love. The joy of wealth is sharing.
As St Ambrose rightly says: “The hands of the poor, the houses of widows, are storehouses that endure for ever.”
Permit me to end this reflection with a story by Richard Wurmbrand: “Two Christians shivered with cold in a cell. Each had a thin blanket. One of the Christians looked to the other and saw how he trembled. The thought came to him, ‘If that were Christ, would you give Him your blanket...?”
God love you. God bless you!
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Eighteenth Sunday Ordinary Time C: Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:21-23; Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11; Luke 12:13-21]
Fr. Maurice Emelu
Father Maurice provides a daily blog of reflections based on the bible readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration and developing your own thoughts. It may also be helpful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.