Ordinary Time 18, Year C
- We do not know how to pray as we ought (Rom. 8:26)
“You ask but do not receive,” points out Jas. 4:3, “because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” He must have asked wrongly, the person who said to Jesus: “Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.” Jesus did not grant his request.
The teacher, nevertheless, offered him, and the others in the crowd, wisdom. Jesus taught: “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.” This wise saying, along with the parable that Jesus subsequently told, could very well be the key to the resolution of the conflict between the brothers and the restoration of their communion.
Conflicts and wars, as Jas. 4:1-2 warns, come from greed. But folly, too, as illustrated by the parable of the rich fool, can easily result from greed. This is the folly of one obsessed with amassing wealth and given to selfish, effusive and self-congratulatory soliloquy. This is the folly of the self-sufficient and self-complacent who has not been taught by the Lord to count his days aright (Ps. 90:12) and has lost sight of God, without whom nothing is holy, nothing has value—as last Sunday’s collect prayer acknowledges—and everything else is but vanity and life becomes no more than just worthless toil and anxiety. This is the folly that prevents us from recognizing our hunger and need and of identifying what or who can satisfy us. This is the folly of those who have not really been raised with Christ, and therefore can think only of what is on earth and cannot seek what is above. Says Frederick Buechner in his entry on “Poverty” in Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC (1973):
- In a sense we are all hungry and in need, but most of us
- don’t recognize it. With plenty to eat in the deepfreeze,
- with a roof over our heads and a car in the garage, we assume
- that the empty feeling inside must be a case of the blues
- that can be cured by a weekend in the country or an extra
- martini at lunch or the purchase of a color TV.
And if greed can make for folly, it appears that poverty, for its part, can make for wisdom. Continues Buechner:
- The poor, on the other hand, are under no such delusion.
- When Jesus says, “Come unto me all ye who labor and heavy
- laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28), the poor
- stand a better chance than most of knowing what he’s talking
- about and knowing that he’s talking to them. In desperation
- they may even be willing to consider the possibility of
- accepting his offer. This is perhaps why Jesus on several
- occasions called them peculiarly blessed.
So, then, as St. Vincent de Paul points out, as greed is one way we are led astray, so also its opposite, the spirit and practice of poverty, is an effective means to our staying on, or being brought back to, the right path (cf. Common Rules of the Congregation of the Mission, II, 18; III, 1). And those who are headed in the right direction, according to St. Vincent, hardly engage in foolish self-congratulations (Ibid., XII, 3, 4, 9). And guided by God’s wisdom, they are deeply and wholly trusting of God (Ibid., II, 2). Their poverty precisely keeps them from becoming like the one whom St. Basil the Great characterizes as “destitute of all real riches” in a homily on charity that in part says (cf. the non-scriptural in the Office of Readings for Tuesday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time in the Liturgy of the Hours):
- How grateful you should be to your own benefactor; how you
- should beam with joy at the honor of having other people come
- to your door, instead of being obliged to go to theirs! But
- you are now ill-humored and unapproachable; you avoid meeting
- people, in case you might be forced to loosen your purse-strings
- even a little. You can only say one thing: “I have nothing to
- give you. I am only a poor man.” A poor man you certainly are,
- and destitute of all real riches; you are poor in love,
- generosity, faith in God and hope of eternal happiness.
Unlike the rich fool, the wise poor are rich in love, generosity, faith in God and hope of eternal happiness. They are not content with their possessions, not even with their huge storehouse of sure doctrines that they can be quite passionate about. Their satisfaction lies in God who is their portion and cup, their only absolute certainty, ultimate hope, and one and true teacher. They possess because they ask. And they receive when they ask, because they ask rightly.