Wednesday, July 27, 2016

PENTECOST XI Proper 13 2016

Rembrandt - The Rich Man from the Parable (1627)
  • Hosea 11:1-11 and Psalm 107:1-9, 43  • 
  • Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23 and Psalm 49:1-12  • 
  • Colossians 3:1-11  • 
  • Luke 12:13-21
    • Generally speaking, people in the modern world are haunted by two great fears -- poverty and violent attack. Fear of the first, curiously, has grown rather than diminished as the world has become wealthier. One consequence is that economic growth is always a key concern -- and promise -- in elections and political campaigns. The second great fear underwent an important change in the course of the 20th century -- from war, to cold war, to terrorism -- each of them serving to sustain an intense anxiety about safety and security.

  • People in the world to which Jesus preached were far more vulnerable to both poverty and violence than we are. And yet in several places, including the Gospel passage for this Sunday, Jesus, far from promising prosperity, warns against the danger of wealth, and the futility of our efforts to protect it. In his letter to the Colossians, Paul takes up the same theme - 'Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth' and goes on to articulate a set of values that are to be preferred to the pursuit of sexual satisfaction and material wealth.

  • If these truly are 'Christian values', there could hardly be a sharper contrast with the values of our consumerist world which ranks sexual activity and material possession very highly. Could these 'other worldly' values have any relevance or pulling power in such a world? The answer is that they must. At the heart of the Gospel message is the perception that wealth is only as valuable as the things it is spent on, and that power is only as valuable as the things it secures. So deciding what things are truly valuable is inescapable.

Burne-Jones Love leading the Pilgrim
It is a profound mistake to interpret (and discount) 'things that are above' as some sort of imaginary 'pie in the sky when you die'. The heavenly 'things' include love, truth, beauty, integrity, grace -- values that every human being can meaningfully aspire to, even if ever increasing levels of economic prosperity or political security are at risk. The danger Christ alerts us to is that of mistaking means for ends. Possessed as we are of greater wealth and power than human beings have ever known, that is a different but no less real danger.

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