19th Sunday Reflection: What Shall We Do?
Franciscan Reflections From The Hermitage – 19th Sunday In Ordinary Time – What Shall We Do? – (Luke 12:32-48)
Many of us are fearful and anxious as we face rapid price increases for food, fuel, medications and all the other little necessities of life are steadily pushing millions of ordinary working people into poverty and desperation. Almost 300 million stand on the threshold of extreme poverty this year. Yet, at the same time, the global wealth indicators point to a record increase in global wealth.
Household wealth and macroeconomic indicators seem to be on different trajectories. The contrast between what is happening to household wealth and what is happening in the wider economy can never have been more stark. In plain terms, this means that huge profits are being made by a few which is dumping the rest of the world into poverty. The lie and the scandal of the supposed trickle-down effect of wealth are clear.
The gap between rich and poor in Palestine during the time of Jesus was equally obvious and distressing to the poor. Jesus speaks to this situation … do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. ‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. (Luke 12:29-32)
We may respond in various ways, and even sometimes, in our desperation and fear, in ways that are in themselves contradictory. With the disciples of Jesus, we may also cry out, “Do you not care, Jesus, that we are sinking?” We may play the blame game so close to the heart of religion, blaming evil … “the serpent, the devil, made me do it!”… or blaming God… “The woman, the woman you gave me, made me do it!”
We may even play the more deadly game of twisting the Gospel of Christ to disguise our complicity in the corporate scramble of acquisition. Thus we grandstand, “God helps those who help themselves”, a phrase coined by Aeschylus, the Greek father of tragedy in the sixth century BC. This is a direct contradiction to the Gospel of Jesus, the Christ, and leads to pride, arrogance, false values, and illusions of control and self-reliance. Ultimately this leads to the sin of presumption that claims that redemption may be attained either through my striving or through God without any personal cooperation.
How then are we to face the anxiety and fear that we experience; what are we to do?
Practising the contemplative stance we begin by quieting the chatter, facing reality … knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5)
This encounter changes and expands us. Any mystical experience of God, is an experience of the transcendent, something that is eternal and beyond any limitations. Such an encounter with God both empties us and then expands us to love as God loves and to see as God sees.
It is only then, with this expanded heart of love that can hold the suffering of our world, that we are empowered to act, to forgive the unforgivable, to share what we have even as we face our own shortages.
There is a battle going on in our world that says freedom is to be found elsewhere. We are witnesses of a war that seeks to dominate our minds. Those who ponder the gospel reading of this day are given another way… following the Master who becomes the Lamb, taking on the duties of a slave, obedient to the will of God that creates the Kingdom of God that begins within me. Love is a choice.
Our choice forms our identity. Are we children of the kingdom of God, or do we choose to follow the nations of the world?
The apostles and the Saints have been given to us as the foundation of our hope so that we also can only say, “Where shall we go O’ Lord, for you have the words of eternal life?” These are the words that bring us to freedom to become that for which we were made; by love, out of love, to love, and at the final point, to become love in union with the one who is Love.