11 October, 2010

Homily for the Ninth Sunday after Trinity (C)

(Common Worship Readings: Eccles 1:2 & 12-14 & 2:18-23; Ps 49:1-12; Col 3:1-11; Luke 12:13-21)


I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store [...] my goods. And I will say to my soul [...], you have ample goods [...]; relax, eat, drink, be merry.
I am not sure how many of you know I have a collection of china and pottery, a relatively expensive set of fragile items which span the last two hundred years of British History. More noticeably is the fact that some of you often accuse me to be the “tat man” because of my constantly expanding collection of vestments. “All this is vanity”. I bet any of you has a particular interest, some type of collection, whether of prayer ropes, brands of gin or even real estate properties bought with yet another mortgage. Or perhaps even an intriguing variety of tiny little acronyms after your surnames. “All this is vanity”. Indeed, collecting things and storing up possessions is a typical, inherent component of human behaviour. So we recognise ourselves in the in the epic struggles of the sabre-toothed squirrel of the Ice Age trilogy, who chases after one single acorn throughout the films; or in the dichotomy proposed by the German psychologist Erich Fromm “To have or To be?” “all is vanity and a chasing after wind”.
So today’s scriptures should come as cold shower, as the smell of a strong brew to reawaken us; to put us “on guard against all kinds of greed”. To be sure, our human struggle for economical safety, for artistic beauty and for some sorts of worldly pleasures is not necessarily bad. However, it can become a pointless exercise of our talents, “a chasing after the wind”. More dangerously still, it can become a slippery slope towards greed and all sorts of other sins. The writer of Ecclesiastes may not have been a cheerful chap, nor may have been the cantors who wrote psalm 49, but both of them warn us about the fleeting, unsatisfying character of human activities when these are alienated from God. These writings also point towards the true fulfilling of life in Jesus Christ, in whom we have died through baptism and in whom we live through grace.
Indeed, it seems that the direct answer to dreary complaints of the psalm and the first reading is given by Paul in writing to the Colossians. 
“Seek the things that are above, where Christ is, [...] for you have died, and your life is hidden with [Him] in God”.

In our Lord Jesus Christ we have the assurance of life and life to the full; we have certainty of storing up riches with God; however, the ball is in our court. To live this life of grace we must divest ourselves of the logic of rich fool, either by pondering the words of Ecclesiastes or simply by realising that this very night our lives could be demanded of us... of course, whichever you prefer...
Don’t get me wrong, this is not to say we ought to be dreary or bunch of sad gits, it just means that we have to imitate our Lord in his single-mindedness, striving for the ultimate goal; to reach the finishing line which lays ahead of us and to which both “Greek and Jews, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free” are call; the blessedness of doing God’s will and being in full, visible communion with Him.
Let me illustrate briefly what I mean by this. Joshua the son of Mary and Joseph could have stayed in the Temple to argue among the scribes, to become a prodigious child with the best schooling offered in Israel at that time. “All this, [would have been] vanity”. Instead, he returned with his family to Nazareth and there, in the workshop of a carpenter, he grew up in wisdom.
Jesus the ascetic, young man in the wilderness could have become the ruler of all the kingdoms of the earth; he could have become a celebrity who did wondrous things from the pinnacle of the Temple. All this, would have been vanity. Instead he started his own journey towards Jerusalem. Jesus, the leader of the pack, could have escaped Gethsemane; he could have used his followers to protect him. All this would have been vanity. Instead he let himself being handed over. Jesus, the king of the Jews, could have come down from his cross; he could have reclaimed the throne of his ancestor David; ultimately he could have chosen not to die in that way. All this, would have been vanity. Because of this, Jesus could not have been forgotten in the Sepulchre. The renewed relationship with the creator, inaugurated within Jesus Christ had to be vindicated through the resurrection.
So now, what about us? What about our china mugs, our houses, our cars and iphones? What about our little lives hoaxed by worries about building up better things, expecting for the next gadget or eBay auction? Well... more earthly worries and possessions – of whatever kind – can make for a burdensome journey and they may distract us from carrying the essentials. At the end of the day, to reach Calvary we need only one thing. Our cross.

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