July 30, 2016
Tomorrow is the Eighteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time and uses readings from Ecclesiastes, Colossians, and the Gospel of Luke. I will be offering a homily to the parish tomorrow focused on vanity – not only the preoccupation with self, but also our obsession with what others have.
The following is the homily I delivered on these same three readings back in 2013:
I hate to do this, but I need to talk for just a minute about some concerns I have for two of the women in my life. I thought long and hard about whether or not this is the appropriate forum to air this dirty laundry, and have decided to move forward.
My wife, Carol, hoards chocolate. She goes to the store and purchases groceries, including chocolate. Upon arriving home, she proceeds to hide said chocolate, so that only she can enjoy it.
This has been going on for years. I won’t even mention the fact that others in the family have brought home chocolate that mysteriously comes up missing…
Next, my daughter Laura. She went through a phase during which she refused to share her shampoo. It was not shampoo that was specially formulated for only her. It did not come in a solid gold bottle. It was not the cheapest brand, but it was far from being the most expensive, or even in the Top 10. The only reason she would not share her shampoo was that it was hers.
Quick story: Before she was married, she went on a vacation with her boyfriend’s family. They paid for everything on this beautiful trip to Mexico. But there were people on the trip who had the nerve to use Laura’s shampoo. The relationship survived, but right before the wedding I whispered in the groom’s ear, “Do not use Laura’s shampoo.”
The theme of today’s readings is very clear: The message is about greed, and a misplaced focus on earthly things that have no real value.
Paul tells the Colossians to “think of what is above, not of what is on earth.”
We hear in Luke’s Gospel: “Take care to guard against all greed…one’s life does not consist of possessions.”
The movie “Wall Street” came out in the late 1980’s. Michael Douglas starred as ruthless corporate executive Gordon Gekko. In one scene, while speaking at an annual stockholders meeting, he says: “Greed works. Greed is good.”
The shareholders were mesmerized by Gekko, a millionaire who had all of the riches any man could ever want. His argument made a lot of sense. If greed is what got him to that level of wealth, than greed must work. And since they wanted what he had, and greed made it possible, than greed must be good. How could anyone argue with him?
Perhaps it is not greed that is the problem, but our definition of riches. If “riches” means lots of money, expensive toys, dining at the finest restaurants, buying whatever you want whenever you want it, or even keeping your chocolate or shampoo all for yourself, then greed is an excellent motivator.
For example: We say we want to provide our family with “riches.” So we take that promotion that means more travel, more responsibility, and more hours. We put in overtime and agree to work on Saturdays. We spend time returning e-mails and finalizing reports on Sundays.
The paycheck comes and it’s bigger. We are able to buy nice things for our family, and build up a nice bank account. The more money we have and the more things we have, the more we want…or in our minds, the more we need.
Greed serves as our motivator and we take advantage of every opportunity to work more, earn more, get more, and in turn, provide more. We have been effective in meeting our goal of providing riches for our family, if our definition of riches is having lots of stuff.
But maybe we define riches as giving more of ourselves to our family: offering them the richness of our presence, playing catch in the backyard and tucking the kids in at night, having a cup of coffee and enjoying time with our spouse, serving others together as a family, and being a living example to our children of what it means to be a loving, compassionate, moral, and humble human being.
The goal of providing riches to our family is the same, but we have a different definition of riches. Greed in this case would be ineffective.
Today’s Gospel warns us of the foolishness of greed. The rich man had so much grain that he decided to build bigger barns to keep it all for himself. He did that, only to find out that he would die that night. What would all that wealth do for him then?
When you check in at heaven’s gates, you won’t be judged according to how many hours you worked, how much wealth you have, or how many things you have accumulated, you will be judged on the time you spent on earth in loving service to God and others.
Herein lies the problem with greed: While greed may enhance your focus and drive you toward your goal, the focus is misplaced, and the goals have no real value. Because greed draws your focus away from things of real value, it undermines true happiness.
I remember seeing a black and white cartoon drawing many years ago. There were two cartoon panels side-by-side. The first panel was the drawing of a Christmas shopping mall scene. The mall manager had opened the doors for the start of a business day and had been trampled and flattened under the feet of the thousands of shoppers rushing to get through the doors. He lay there on the ground with the keys still in his hand, a big smile on his face, and visions of dollar signs dancing in his head.
The second panel was a drawing of a sad parish priest, standing in front of open Church doors, looking around for anyone who might be interested in coming to services. Running the length of both panels was the caption: “What if we were greedy for God?”
What a great question! What if we tried to accumulate prayer time like we try to accumulate wealth? What if we hoarded opportunities to serve like we hoard things? What if we were driven to love as much as we are driven to acquire?
I certainly don’t want to see Fr. Jim get trampled, but what if we truly were “greedy for God”?