“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. Luke 12:32-34
Scarcity versus abundance. These are terms that have fascinated me in recent years. They are terms that shed light on how we live life. Am I living a life that focuses on what I do or don’t have? Do I look at the resources available to me as a fixed pie – only so many slices to go around and I better get mine now? And more – just in case – for the sake of feeling secure? Because my security depends on how much I have, doesn’t it? And that’s what living a life of abundance is all about, isn’t it? More is better, right?
Of course, that’s what our society, our culture, teaches us. We are a consumer oriented people. The images that bombard us, the advertising, the marketing, the media are all designed to stimulate us to buy, to consume and then to buy more. The messages, visual and verbal, are designed to create desire in us – a desire that can only be satisfied by acquiring the product the message is trying to sell. The idea is to make us feel that our life is lacking if we don’t have what they are selling, to make us feel that our life will be happy, joyful, abundant if we buy what they are selling. Sounds rather harmless, doesn’t it?
But, make no mistake, the subliminal and seductive message is much deeper than the obvious pitch of “Buy this item.” The intent of any promotion is designed to work its way into our consciousness and to stimulate action. But the reality is that the message worms its way into our deeper unconscious. The message is designed to create yearning. And then we are led to the psychological and emotional place where we are to conclude that only this item, this item placed before us, will satisfy that yearning.
Scarcity or abundance: Are they opposite poles on the same continuum? Or are they simply ways of looking at life at any given moment. Somewhat like the AA slogan that seems to cut to the chase: “Is my glass half empty or half full?” And, maybe, the answer to that question lies in examining what the contents are.
Scarcity is actually a feeling. It’s a feeling about how we look at and how we feel about what we have, followed by a realization that something’s missing in our lives. Only when we can fill in the missing pieces will we feel full, will we feel abundance.
“Sell your possessions and give alms.” Jesus throws a radical thought into the gospel mix for his first century audience. It’s also a radical thought for us in the twenty-first. And there seems, unfortunately, to be a sense in Jesus’ tone that he wants us to go beyond our comfort level with this. That’s the problem we face.
Downsizing is not an easy concept for most of us. It’s not an idea that seems appropriate in certain stages of our lives, for example, when we’re building our families, our early life, maybe even our careers. But where it get ticklish is when we become concerned with building our image and we see that as defining who we are. For the most part it seems easier to leave downsizing to the empty nesters, to the older folks who need a master bedroom on the first floor, to those whose physical needs suggest smaller, easier to maintain spaces and less things to dust and care for.
Downsizing our wealth? Now, that’s another issue. We think, isn’t that only relevant to the segment of the population who needs to consider the tax benefits and intergenerational wealth distribution that constitutes good estate and tax planning? Giving alms, the charitable giving that can result in so much good, is certainly an acceptable, noble and appropriate concept. But, how often do we think, “Let’s not do too much so that it disturbs our comfort level, our way of life.”
Unfortunately, (for our comfort level that is) there’s a sense in Jesus’ tone today that he wants us to go beyond our comfort level with all of this. He wants to disturb us.
And come to think about it, wasn’t that what was happening last week in the gospel? We took a look at that poor man, the one who had all the barns. But almost immediately after the last nail in the last storage barn was hammered home, there was a disturbing knock on his door. A Divine intruder (intruding into such a nice, comfortable, secure lifestyle) thunders, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you.” (Luke 12:20).
And come to think of it, if we peek ahead at Gospel passages to come, doesn’t our discomfort level mount. “I come to bring fire to the earth . . . .” Jesus will say next week. And, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No . . . .” The implicit message, “That is, not the peace you think you want.”
And a little while after these distressful Scriptural reflections, we’re going to worry about the poor withering fig tree. And we become disturbed by the possible withering thought that Jesus isn’t really talking about a tree, after all, but about those of us whose roots are withered and branches drooping with unfruitfulness. And soon after that we’ll hear about that narrow door – the entrance gate to the Divine Kingdom – and Jesus’ observation that few will fit through. Not because of who they had the potential of being, but because of what they’d done. It’s the baggage they carry, that they can’t give up — the baggage that has mis-formed, dis-formed them, added so much bulk to their lives that they can’t fit through the doorway.
We want to feel that Jesus is the Divine Comforter; the Compassionate one; the one that scoops us up and holds us close in his arms, close to his beating heart; the one who finds us when we are lost; the one who blesses us; the one who teaches us to pray and leads us into relationship with a Divine Abba, father, whose arms are always stretched out in welcome, to us the prodigal sons and prodigal daughters. Jesus, Divine hope of our world — a tiny baby tucked in the glow of a stable cradle at birth who will bring us love and kindle a warm never-to-be-extinguished glow inside of our very lives. Jesus; the one who calls us his “little flock”.
We yearn for this, don’t we? The warm glow in our hearts, acceptance, blessings. We want to know that the door is always open wide to us and that there is always a “last chance.”
We are Christians, each of us. We have bought into the hope that Jesus holds out to us. We want to feel his love and acceptance. At our Baptism we were set onto a road, the Christian Way . The Christ message is deeply imbedded in us. The Christ message, the yearning for the Divine, is a seed deeply planted in us – not by anything we have done, but as a gift of grace, a gift from God. Planted within us is a yearning that draws draw us to Him in whom we can find wholeness – the true wholeness that embraces us as both physical and spiritual beings. A yearning for true abundance of life in that Divine peace that only God can give.
There is a strange combination in our Gospel message today, like in most of the Gospel messages. There is a tension. We see a warm, loving, beckoning Jesus, but also a Jesus who makes harsh demands. And those demands boil down to a radical message that will, if we listen, turn our all so human world upside down.
“Get rid of anything that stands between me and you,” Jesus says. “Make me the priority in your life and you will find an abundance and a peace you can only imagine now.”
It’s not really about what possessions, what things we have, but about what we do with them. Do they stand as barriers between us and God? Do they stand as barriers between us and our neighbors (neighbors expansively defined)? The Gospel message is that it’s not really about the things we have, but about their place in our lives as “treasure.” When we make them our “treasure,” we are possessed by them. They become our idols – that in which we place our faith and trust. Idols in place of God.
We Christians are on a battlefield. The struggle is internal and external. What will be our orientation to scarcity? Will the yearning to live a life more abundant in Christ, to seek that which feeds us not just physically but spiritually, is that going to be our orientation? Or will it be to seek, acquire and hold onto that which only the secular world has to offer. Because deep down inside we know that what the world has to offer is never really enough? The Gospel message is that the first leads to wholeness (spelled with a w), the latter to a continuing holeness (spelled without the w).
Two mottos were early woven into the fabric of my life. They are long threads that have appeared and reappeared pervasively and persuasively throughout my life. One is the motto of St. Catherine’s School. For every morning of every school day for twelve years I repeated in unison with others, the motto: “What we keep we lose and only we give remains our own.” The other is the Scripture passage, the motto of this church, not only emblazoned here in this Sanctuary, but also on my heart, as I grew from birth to early adulthood in this parish, sitting in a pew just over there, with my family. “Be ye doers of the Word and not hearers only.”
Neither motto is simple, not if I try to live by life by them. Both are demanding. I have struggled for so long, struggled all these years, to try and grasp their meaning — for life in general and for my life in particular. And then when I graduated from St. Catherine’s and left St. James’s and went to college, the motto of that place was “Life more Abundant.” What a trajectory!
I offer this in some sense that it incorporates the Gospel message we face today, one in which we hear the voice of God. “Give of the gifts that I your God have given you. Do not just listen to my words, but live them. And you and all will have life more abundant.”
Let us pray:
A Prayer attributed to St. Francis
Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; whether there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen