19th Sunday of Ordinary Time August 08, 2010 - Cycle C
Wisdom 18:6-9; Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19; Luke 12:32-48
Sigmund Freud, a famous Austrian neurologist, had a favorite story that touches on the point of preparedness. The story concerns a sailor who was shipwrecked and washed ashore on a South Pacific island.
He was greeted enthusiastically by natives. They clapped and sang, hoisted him on their shoulders, carried him to their village, and sat him on a golden throne. Little by little, the sailor learned what was going on. The islanders had a custom of occasionally making a man king for a year. During his kingship he could order his subjects to do anything within reason, and they would obey him without question.
The sailor was delighted that he had been chosen to be the king. He couldn’t believe his good fortune. Then one day he began to wonder what happened to a king when his year of kingship ended.
That’s when his excitement and enthusiasm came to an abrupt end. He discovered that at the end of his kingship, he would be banished to a barren island, called King’s Island. There he would be left to starve to death as a sacrifice to the gods. After the sailor recovered from his shock, he slowly began to put together a plan. As king, he ordered the carpenters of the island to build a fleet of small boats. When the boats were ready, he ordered the farmers of the island to dig up fruit trees and plants, put them in the boats, and transplant them on King’s Island. Finally, he ordered the stone masons to build a house on King’s Island. In this way, the sailor prepared carefully for the day when his kingship would end and he would be banished to King’s Island.
That story makes a good illustration of what Jesus is telling us in today’s gospel.
In the words of Jesus, elsewhere in the gospel, he is telling us to “save your riches in heaven, where they will never decrease, because no thief can get to them, and no moth can destroy them.” He’s telling us to do what the sailor did.
Today’s gospel invites us to ask ourselves how well we are preparing ourselves for that day when, like the sailor in the story, our life on this planet will come to an end. It invites us to ask ourselves, “If we were to die tonight, how ready would we be to face God?’’
And if our answer to that question leaves something to be desired, then we can be sure
that Jesus is speaking to us in a special way through today’s gospel. He is saying:
“Be . . . like servants who are waiting
for their master to come back. . . .
And you, too, must be ready,
because the Son of man will come at an hour
when you are not expecting him.”
"Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also….”
“Do not be afraid, little flock….Sell your possessions, and give away money to the poor.” But if we were to do that (I say to myself) wouldn’t we have even more reason to be afraid? Our greatest fear is that we will be left with nothing.
Still, money doesn’t bring happiness, everyone agrees. But then we go straight back to pursuing it as if it did. How is that? While perhaps not expecting it to bring us happiness, we hope it will at least take away our misery. But it doesn’t. It only enables us to be miserable in comfort - then we can really concentrate on our misery.
Be alert, be ready, be waiting: that is the advice given in today’s reading. “Be like those who are waiting for their master to return…. Be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour." A full purse, like a full stomach, makes you want to go to sleep. You become oblivious to everything except the stock market or your business - and that is a kind of sleep. All great religious figures kept shouting, ‘Wake up!’ It is not that everyone was dozing in the sun; no they were not: they were making money.
In an organised society money is necessary to live. It is a great convenience. It is about shortcuts. Instead of being a hunter-gatherer yourself, you pay someone to do your hunting and gathering for you, while you do some other useful thing. But we also know from experience that a shortcut can be the longest distance between two points. Some shortcuts lead you into the middle of a bog. Money is seductive because it appears to be the key to everything and everywhere: it is nothing in itself (it would be useless to you on a desert island), but it carries a promise of everything. Even when it fails you, it just changes its face (it has no face of its own) and seduces you in a different way. It lives on promise; it is a promissory note. And it has this additional quality: just as it never shows you its real face (because it has none), it never shows you yours. Instead, it flashes an image before you of what you could be. It never warns you that when you are rich you will still be just a poor man with money.
There was once a wealthy man who decided to donate a large amount of money to a monastery. To his great surprise, the abbot said, ‘No thanks, we have enough at present.’ The rich man pressed him to take it anyway, but he refused politely. Suddenly the rich man began to weep. ‘You have made me realise how poor I am,’ he said, ‘I have nothing to offer you except money.’
Jesus gave many warnings about the seductions of wealth. There is nothing wrong with the material things of the world in themselves. It is our greed that makes them seductive. If my purse is full, I will think about getting a bigger purse; and it will fade gradually from my awareness that half the world is hungry. And I may also fail to notice that I am hungry myself, because my heart is empty. “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” If money is my treasure, there will be nothing in my heart except money.