St. Luke in his Gospel has a way of being very direct. In fact, when you go back to the Beatitudes, you may remember Matthew says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, theirs is the kingdom of God." But Luke says, "Blessed are the poor … woe to the rich." He's very direct. In today's Gospel he has Jesus speaking in that very direct way, "Woe to the rich… avoid greed of any kind." Isn't much of our life taken up, in fact, with accumulating material goods?
That can reflect a kind of a greed that somehow the more we get, the better we are, the more important we are, the better person we are, everybody's going to look up to us. Be wealthy -- that's important. So we have this tendency to try to get more and more. It's greed and Jesus is saying avoid that greed. We can see the results in our world, I think. In our own country, the richest country in the world, we have so many homeless people on our streets.
Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
How is that? It's because some of us have a lot, probably more than we need, more than we really have a right to, and others are deprived. If you look at the larger world, it's even worse. How can it be that less than 100 people on our planet have more wealth than half of the world's population? Less than 100 people have that much wealth as 300 billion people have. There's something wrong. It's greed that causes us to accumulate like that.
Greed and what we get from it by accumulating it -- we learn very starkly in the first lesson today that it isn't going to get you very much; it's all gone when you die. For the person who has no sense of an afterlife, it's all vanity, vanity of vanity, and emptiness of emptiness. I think all of us would be convinced that if Jesus is right, we should try to get away from that tendency to want to pile up wealth, to want to get more and more, have the sense that we never have quite enough.
Maybe we've even tried various ways to share our wealth better than we have in the past. We try to avoid that sense of being greedy. But I think today's Gospel lesson helps us to understand what's behind the foundation, in a sense, for what Jesus says. If we listen carefully to that story that he tells, we get an understanding of why greed is just wrong and it doesn't help us and build us up. If you notice in the Gospel when Jesus tells the story, when he talks about the man who has the land, "His land had produced a good harvest."
It wasn't he who got it and made it happen; it was the land, the gift of God. Yes, he did work on it, of course, but without God's gift of that fertile land there would be nothing. It's really God's gift -- the land. That means, too, that as he says, "The land produced a good harvest," the harvest is also a gift. Yes, he had some share in making it happen, but without that gift from God of the land and the harvest, he would have nothing. It's a restatement of the basic truth: Everything we have is a gift.
We have a sense, "I've earned it; it's mine; I can do with it what I want." Not really. When you go down to the deepest level of where everything comes from, it's all a gift from God. Our whole universe, this planet, blessed as it is, is a gift from God. So everything we have is a gift. As the Vatican Council made so clear in the document The Church in the Modern World, God made the world for all and not for a few.
All this gift is not just for you or me or any one of us, it's for all. It's to be shared. You can see how wrong the person is in the story when he talks about, "I have all this extra crop now, what am I going to do?" What am I going to do? It's all about me. Then he says, "I'll build new barns. I'll tear down the ones I have and I'll build new ones. I'll store up everything and I'll keep it for the future and I can just sit back and have a perfect, joyful, full life."
But it's all about me. He's lost any sense of community, of a common good that the world was made for all and not just for some. He lost that sense. So what happens? It's almost like a foreclosure. He says, "I'll sit back and enjoy now." And God says, "You fool, this very night your life will be taken from you." That's a gift too, and all of a sudden it's going to be gone.
What has happened? The man has destroyed his relationship with God, understanding that God is the source of all the good things he has. He destroyed his relationship with his community. There's no sense of a common good. He's even destroyed his relationship with himself, "You fool, it's all gone now; your life is taken from you." His life is now empty and gone because he failed to understand that everything is a gift.
He failed to build up the relationship with God to start with. Our whole relationship to God should be one of thanksgiving. I'm receiving it every moment from God. I'm being blessed at every instant because I wouldn't even exist if it weren't for God. All that there is in this world is a gift from God and it's intended for all and not for a few. If we could get that sense of how everything is given to us and we are blessed when we truly understand that and then live accordingly, first of all responding with a spirit of thanks.
St. Paul in one of his letters says, "Be eucharists," which is a Greek word meaning, be thanksgiving. So each of us, our whole being should be thanks -- thanks for all that I have, all that I am, all that I can be. God has gifted me. When we get that sense and then we begin to understand that it's the same for every person, we begin to build up a sense of yes, we have to share, we have to work for the common good, we have to try to bring about a fullness of life for every person.
If we act against that, try to store up for myself, build my new barns, have it all for me, we destroy all our relationships. Isn't maybe that the reason why we live in a world where there's so much violence, hatred and war? It's a struggle very often over who's going to benefit from what gifts that have been given for all and not for a few. We can't change everything at once and we're not going to change our world immediately so that every person does have a full human life, which every person deserves because each person in our planet has been made in the image and likeness of God.
We can't change it all, but if we begin to change our underlying attitude and simply begin to realize everything I have is a gift and I need to be thanking God for that at every moment and understanding that all of these gifts that are in our world, on our planet, in our universe, are for all. And so then perhaps when we get that attitude we'll be able to hear more deeply what Paul says to the church of Colossi, "So then if you are risen with Christ, seek the things which are above where Christ is at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things that are above, not on earthly things." This is the way that we will begin to share most fully in all the gifts that God gives to us for our life now here on earth, but that God wants to share with us forever.
[Homily given at St. Philomena Parish, Detroit, Mich. The transcripts of Bishop Gumbleton's homilies are posted weekly to NCRonline.org. Sign up here to receive an email alert when the latest homily is posted.]