Here are a few of the thoughts which struck me as I was preparing the homily for yesterday’s [Saturday] ECHO graduation at Notre Dame. I have edited slightly and deleted a large section which probably could not be understood outside of the context in which it was given but perhaps as you returned from Mass this week-end, still wondering about the Gospel, this may or may not help. I hope it will.
When I was studying theology in Boston in the mid-seventies, seminarians then as now were required to do apostolic work of some kind. My assignment was to Boston College where I and about six of my colleagues who on one week with about three hundred undergraduates in a huge lecture hall would listen to the presentation of a Master Teacher on the subject of the Four Gospels. Then the following week, we would break the large group down into small groups and discuss the previous week’s presentation on the Gospel. At the end of each semester, the Master Teacher, who by the way today teaches on this campus, would ask the undergrads this question: Which of the four Gospel writers would you most like to have as your pastor and why?
The result was overwhelmingly in favor of Luke and the reasons were markedly consistent and broken down into three primary reasons for the choice: Luke’s Jesus is more human and focused on doing his father’s will; Luke’s Jesus interacts with women more frequently, sensitively, and occasionally at some cultural and religious risk; and, finally, Luke’s Jesus shows the greatest concern for the poor. Three rather good insights into the Gospel, I thought then and now.
This afternoon we heard Luke at the top of his game. The farmer in the Gospel is not necessarily a bad man. He is rich but there is no sin in that. But in Luke’s Gospel riches can be a barrier to following Jesus (remember the parable of the rich young man?). There are two primary problems, however, with the farmer in the Gospel: admittedly he has all that he or his family will ever need but he suffers from an insatiable appetite for more and second, his rugged individualism has placed him outside of any community and he has little concern for others. To be without a community in the time of Jesus was to be without an identity. You were recognized by which community you were from, Galilee, Samaria, etc.) Consulting no one and with no obvious concern for those who have less, all the rich farmer wants to do is build more barns – not for his family, not for his community but seemingly for his own peace of mind. It might appear to many that this man has it made.
Jesus on the other hand understands the religious tradition from which he comes. He may or may not have been aware of the teaching from Ecclesiastes in the first reading. Certainly his response indicates as does Qoheleth that the ephemeral is precisely that – it is passing, fleeting, of no eternal value. I once had a married woman tell me of her husband, “Father, my husband brought home without asking a new BMW and he showed it proudly to all our neighbors. He was so happy, until four weeks later BMW introduced an even finer and more expensive version of the same model and then he became depressed.” Ecclesiastes draws our attention from this moment’s accomplishments and directs us towards those things which will last and enrich not only ourselves but our families, our Church, our nation – things that will make for a better world.
St. Paul to the Corinthians begs us to set our sights on higher things. Keeping things in proper perspective is what today’s Liturgy of the Word is all about. It can be a call not only to us as individuals to examine our priorities and values but it can also be a call to communities, local, regional and national, to churches (parishes, diocesan and universal) to see if our sights are clearly set on those things which are not vanity but are from and of God and that hoarding has no place among us, sharing does.
I shall look back tonight and throughout this week on these three readings, reflect on them, apply them.