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You Can’t Take it with You – A Reflection

July 30, 2022
Stella helping me study/prepare for the upcoming Transitional Ministry course

One of the readings for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost is Psalm 107:1-9, 43. The psalmist reminds us that there is one thing that endures forever and that is the steadfast love of the Lord. (107:1) I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I find great comfort in those words. When I have experienced times of uncertainty, this has been a source of strength and comfort for me. Of course, I don’t always realize that right away! However, God usually gets my attention and reminds me that God’s love is constant, even when I am not constant in following the law of love in my own life.

In the gospel reading for this Sunday (Luke 12:13-21) Jesus was asked by someone in the crowd to tell his brother divide the family inheritance between the two of them. Friend, who sent me to be a judge or arbitrator over you? (12:14) was Jesus’ response to the man. That response may sound strange to our twenty-first century Christian ears, but the comment wouldn’t have been considered out of line in Jesus’ day. As a rabbi, Jesus would have been considered a go-to expert in the Law of Moses. Rabbis, along with Scribes and Pharisees, studied the Law, taught in the synagogues and in the Temple (Jesus taught the elders in the Temple at the age of twelve), and advised people on the Law. So why did Jesus respond the way that he did to the man? In my studying this week, I came across the following from the book, A Preacher’s Guide to Lectionary Sermon Series (vol one). In the parable of the Rich Fool, Jesus is asked to resolve a family dispute over an inheritance, but he refuses to be put in the middle of the dispute. Though the rich man appeals to Jesus for advice, his personal affairs, not the teachings of Jesus, are the supreme thing for him. (p. 228)

Notice how the commentator didn’t say that Jesus was condemning the man for being rich. The commentator said that the man’s personal affairs were more important than the teachings of Jesus. In verse fifteen, Jesus responded to the man’s question in a way that might have made the man uncomfortable. And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”

The question that Jesus was asking was a question of priorities. He then tells a story about the dilemma of a rich man who had more crops than barn space. Instead of looking at a way to share the excess with others (especially those in need) the man wanted to keep it all for himself. The man’s priorities were self-focused and not neighbor-focused which was one of Jesus’ main priorities in his teaching and ministry. Instead of loving his neighbor or caring for the poor he was thinking only of himself.

Was Jesus thinking about what the prophet Zechariah said in chapter seven? Thus says the Lord of hosts: Render true judgements, show kindness and mercy to one another; do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another. (verses 9-10) Or perhaps what the prophet Ezekiel said in chapter 16? This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. (verses 49-50)

The challenge for us today is how we prioritize what we have. Saint Ignatius of Loyola taught that even though we receive all gifts from God that we should hold them loosely, understanding that they aren’t ours to keep. Jesus, in Matthew 25:31-46 taught his disciples (through the parable of the sheep and the goats) a new way to live. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (verses 34-40) 

Early in Thomas Merton’s monastic journey, he struggled with his desire for fame as a writer and his calling to be a humble servant of God as a Trappist monk. He wrote the following in his journal entry from September 3, 1941. The more we love earthly things, reputation, importance, ease, success and pleasures, for ourselves, the less we love God. Our identity gets dissipated among things that do not have the value we imagine we see in them, and we are lost in them: we know it obscurely by the way all these things disappoint us and sicken us once we get what we have desired. Yet we still bring ourselves to nothing, annihilate our lives by trying to fulfill them on things that are incapable of doing so. — Run to the Mountain: The Journals of Thomas Merton (Volume One 1939-1941)

Merton joins Ignatius and Jesus in challenging me about my own priorities as a writer/blogger, chaplain, pastor, and Christ-follower. What I think might be important is passing. As the old joke says about the rich man’s funeral. You can’t take it with you and I’ve never seen a hearse pulling a U-Haul!

  1. Reblogged this on Anniegoose's Blog and commented:
    This is awesome 🙂

  2. Awesome. Thank you.

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