Wednesday, September 21, 2016

PENTECOST XIX (Proper 21) 2016

Parable of Lazarus - Fyodor Bronnikov
The readings for this Sunday have a greater thematic unity than is often the case, and continue with the topic of last week's Gospel -- prosperity and its dangers. On this Sunday all the readings, apart from the Psalms, have to do with the possession and use of wealth in one way or another. The reading from Jeremiah concerns the purchase of that which is above all worth purchasing. The passage from Amos contains a prophetic denunciation of the rich. The Epistle contains the famous line ‘the love of money is the root of all evil’, and in the Gospel Jesus tells the story of the rich man who dies suddenly in the night.

The message to be learned from these passages is really very simple. The Epistle underlines the truth that the avid pursuit of wealth can easily ‘plunge people into ruin and destruction’, while the rich man in the Gospel learns a complementary lesson: that all the wealth in the world will not make us any less susceptible to death or to Divine judgment. Between those who put their trust in material well-being and those who put their trust in God, ‘a great chasm has been fixed’.

Mountains High and Streams Eternal - Wu Guanzhong
The choice with which we are confronted is plain enough. The difficulty does not lie in understanding it, or even making it, but sticking with it. It is easy to say that the love of wealth not wealth itself endangers us. Yet, psychologically speaking, it is hard to be wealthy without placing more and more trust in the things wealth brings. This is true even for those whose wealth is modest by contemporary standards.

One aspect of the Epistle is worth emphasizing. Contrary to any impression the Gospel story might give, this is not just about what happens after you die. The author of Timothy (probably not Paul himself) tells members of the fledgling Christian church to ‘take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called’. This is an instruction for the present, not the future. It is a deep mistake to think of ‘eternal life’ as a post-mortem state. Eternal life is a mode of living now -- a way of life that death cannot destroy because, through the Cross, Jesus has enabled us to participate in the life of one who alone 'has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light’. It is this great ‘prize’ that even modest wealth can put at risk, and it does so the moment we forget just how incomparable the two are.

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