Woody Allen once said: “It is not that I’m afraid of death. It is that I would rather not be there when it happens.” On this 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, our three readings deal with death and dying:
- For what profit comes to man from all the toil and anxiety of heart with which he has labored under the sun? (Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:21-23)
- For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11)
- You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you. (Luke 12:13-21)
Taken together they seem to indicate that there are only two options: to live in such a way that we are rich in what matters to God = LIFE, or to be rich in what matters to oneself = DEATH.
St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, is credited with the best method of discerning God’s will, i.e., of determining if we are going towards LIFE or towards DEATH. He teaches us how to make all the choices that will lead us to eternal life and to avoid resolutely all choices that lead us to eternal destruction.
Contrary to popular belief, since Jesus came that we may have joy and have it to the fullest (cf. John 15:11), the choices that lead to eternal life are also the choices that, past the momentary first impression of being challenging or scary or risky or painful, will bring us joy already on this earth.
While the choices that lead to eternal destruction, for awhile, look enticing, promising, fun-filled and convenient but, at the end, leave us empty-handed, disillusioned, numb, sick, bitter, lonely and isolated already on this earth. The wealthy man of the parable thought that his many crops could assure him enjoyment, plenty to eat, security, merriment, relaxation and all the rest that superficial people dream of having. He found out the hard way that life insurance is a misnomer, an oxymoron. The beneficiary is not the one who dies but his survivor.
True life insurance is in being rich in what matters to God. Since God is eternal and since God is love, it follows that the riches which matter to God are only genuine acts of love.
Jesus does not condemn wealth per se. He had rich friends himself. He condemns riches when they become one’s sole focus in life, a source of security instead of God; when they force the eyes of the wealthy to be shut to the needs of the less fortunate; when greed takes over one’s life. Here we see the ultimate foolishness: physical death reveals the fundamental poverty of the rich man.
Jesus’ original audience was completely shocked because they thought that riches were a blessing from God. They thought that poverty was a curse, the result of misconduct and sin. Jesus blessed the poor and chose a life of extreme poverty for himself: “Foxes have holes, the birds have nests, but the Son of Man doesn’t even have a place to rest his head.” “If you want to be perfect, go sell all you have, give it to the poor, then follow me.” “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.
These sentences and Jesus’ lifestyle leave us with no illusion or excuses for a life unmindful of the needy; is extravagant and is not showing proven detachment from material things.
Here is a wise suggestion: after a lengthy consideration on what is truly important and worth having vis-à-vis what seems an immediate source of happiness but, at the end, proves to be disappointing, we should ask ourselves: what should I really strive to attain for myself and my family?
The most joyous people are those who detach themselves intentionally from the material things they do not need and allow God to fill their hearts and life with His presence. Enviably, they are also worry-free, frustration-free and disappointment-free. Once we have adequate food, shelter, clothing and the things we need to make a decent living for ourselves and our family, we should seriously assess what we could give up to be freer so as to enjoy life more.
The world around us is very alluring and it keeps suggesting new “must-have” things. But, is there a single page of the Gospel where riches are praised and material possessions recommended as a “must-have” means for going to heaven?
Hence, we shall pause and assess the level of our present foolishness: “You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you.”
Oh, yes: we might have already made serious choices that are leading us to perdition. We would not be fully aware of that as we might have fallen back on a most foolish and inane excuse: “Everybody else is doing it; everybody else has one.”
When it is a question of life and death, do we go with the foolishness of the many or do we go with what Jesus teaches?
A few questions should help us set ourselves back on the right path to life.
Do I envy what other people have? Are there things I feel I must have to be happy? Do I set aside adequate time to improve the Christian calling of my caring and devotion to each member of my family or do I withdraw more and more into my niche? Do I safeguard the purity of my heart by filling it with love, generosity, compassion, forgiveness, consideration for others or do I spoil it with pornography and other selfish pursuits? Are there set times for individual and family prayer? And in our family decision-making process do I believe that life, health, prosperity, joy, are all gifts from God or am I still foolishly thinking that it is within my control to provide them for myself and my family?
Now, if the best things in life are all gifts from God and we are pursuing Christian wisdom, we would be content with what we have and allow the Lord to surprise us, with additional gifts from His hands. The most vital of all questions must always be the one suggested by Jesus: “Does this particular choice help me to be rich in what matters to God or to me?”
What makes us rich in what matters to God is our honest effort to be loving, generous, sympathetic, compassionate, reliable, faithful, frugal, dependable, endowed with willpower and a spirit of self-sacrifice. In newly-found wisdom we should each say: “My salvation depends on this and, tonight, could be the night my earthly life could be demanded of me.”