Faith and preparation. They go together, for sure. Is it even possible to proclaim faith in Christ, and then get caught off guard by not being prepared to practice it?
When we ponder the gift of our faith, a treasure we behold within, if we had lived before the time of Jesus, the first person we would have looked to for the best example of faith would have been Abraham. A person cannot read about the choices of Abraham and not be impressed by his deep faith in God.
Look at what this reading from Hebrews teaches us today about the ancient Patriarch: he went out not knowing where he was to go. Meaning, God wanted Abraham to pack up and leave his comfortable quarters, go out to the desert, and when he gets out there, “Then I’ll tell you where to go Abraham. I’ll inform you at that time the very spot where I want you to plant your roots.” And Abraham says, “Okay.” That takes a lot of faith.
Or, how about being too old to generate, to have children, as Hebrews says? And a wife that is sterile? In that reality of old age, would you believe God if he told you that you were to have descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky? Under those physical conditions? I think we’d all turn around to see if there was a young married couple standing behind us. We sure wouldn’t believe that God was talking to us old people. But Abraham did. He did believe it, without turning around. If God said it, Abraham had the faith to believe it.
Or this 3rd example from Hebrews: He (Abraham) reasoned that God was able to raise even from the dead. Remember, Abraham is mega-centuries before the life of Jesus. Abraham reasoning God having the power to raise from the dead is like a person living at the time of Jesus 2000 years ago sitting on their front cement step, say, in Jericho, looking up at a full moon on a clear night saying, “One day some human being is going to walk on that big round ball of mountainous dust.” Only crazy people think such thoughts. Or people with deep faith, thinking thousands of years before the Incarnation that God was able to raise even from the dead. That’s someone who’s ahead of their time.
Abraham reasoning that God was able to raise even from the dead is a belief that speaks to all of us who have lost someone we know and love, and it makes Abraham the first Christian without the benefit of knowing Christ. But he intimately knew God the Father, having faith that we dream about.
Faith in Christ is a Sunday topic that never grows old, like Abraham and Sarah. And the reason it shouldn’t grow old for us is the same reason why in the Catholic Church we have crucifixes, and not just crosses. The crucifix has Jesus hanging on it. The plain cross does not, symbolizing his Resurrection. We keep Jesus there because every week we’re in need of looking at it, and having a visual again and again what he did for us. We need this reminder, for we’re forgetful at times.
We need this reminder also because so many of us are carrying crosses right now. We know he’s risen. We have that faith, We’re not dumb in our faith. We believe. But the reminder of the crucifix never gets old, nor does the topic of our faith in Christ.
Where your treasure is, there also will your heart be. And in the context of this week’s Gospel, like Abraham, are we ever ready to put that faith into the practice of our culture and society, and not keep it a private faith? Is it a public faith, or do we grow shy when a response is upon us? Do we allow the thief to break into our homes where our treasure of faith resides, and allow this person or that group to steal what belongs to God?
Faith in God is not replaced by faith in people. I have faith that our bulletin company will mail us the bulletins every week in time for Sunday Mass, so you can read my column at some point and fall asleep. But our bulletin company, they cannot raise me from the dead one day. And if they thought they could, we’d be using another bulletin company.
What never grows old is believing what we place our faith in with Jesus: 1) That he never abandons us. Abraham walked the length of a desert to discover this truth that he already knew about God. 2) That he is with us until the end of the age, whatever age we die. Most especially with us in the Eucharist, his word, and in the body of the Church. 3) Faith never grows old believing that Jesus died for us. not for himself. Our God is not a criminal. He didn’t need redemption. We need him on the Cross. We need a crucifix. 4) May belief in the Resurrection never grow old in our faith lives. It’s the central tenet of our faith where all hope resides. Where life is worth living. And 5) What God the Father did for Jesus his Son in calling him out of Joseph’s tomb, he will do for us. If that gets old, then we’re way too old. We need to die right now before we get older!
And to think that Abraham, who never knew Jesus in his lifetime, believed all this, and had faith in all this. He was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and maker is God. Stay on the path of faith. The path of Abraham that leads to the presence of Christ, and, we pray, our loved ones.
So, if you ever do see a U-Haul riding behind a Funeral hearse heading to the cemetery, it’s purely by chance. Have you met the person who buys two plots of land in a cemetery, one for their body that will turn to dust, and a second larger plot for their possessions that will also turn to dust? I haven’t.
Throughout the length of our years on this planet called Earth, we earthlings go through a process of both building up and tearing down. At times this process can seem like a roller coaster that goes up slowly, building up steam, then goes down, tearing the track. The roller coaster is a good image for our possessions in that it takes much longer to build them up, like an uphill endeavor at a slow pace: building up that 401K or taking some time to buy a home you like. And then, the going downhill part of the roller coaster could be the speed at which we either lose it all or spend it all if we don’t take precautions along the way. Or, we give it all away like St. Francis.
Our readings this week for the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time reflect the ordinary process most of us experience; the building up and the tearing down; the profit and the loss; the buying and the selling. But our Lord lovingly reminds us in this awesome parable that in the midst of our building up and tearing down, in the midst of buying and selling, that we as Christians who follow Christ, do not cast aside the holiness called works of mercy. Thankfully, many of us do not cast aside this necessary part of our faith, so necessary that our faith in Jesus cannot reach its fullness without such works.
In the Gospel parable, this rich man is obviously blessed and loved by God. Not because of his capacity to build up many possessions. He’s loved by God by virtue of his humanity. God does not love the rich man more than any poor person. This is where the present-day Gospel of Prosperity tumbles down like the walls of Jericho. That gospel says that God loves you more by way of blessing you with large amounts of material goods and dollar bills. The truth, however, which can be proven time and again in the Scriptures, is that God favors the poor. The immigrant. The struggler. The one needs assistance. God’s love for those we call poor, and those who are poor, is a special divine love shown only to them, and it surpasses that of God’s love for the rich man.
The rich man in the parable is blessed, and he is loved by God. He has worked hard, which God gave him the capacity to do. He has built up his fortune with some healthy retirement figures, so much so that he needs bigger barns for storage. He needs more investment companies. All looks good.
But the shift in the parable is not his life being demanded of him that very night. His time was up no matter what. His heart attack was happening that night not because God was getting even with him for building bigger barns. God loves this man unconditionally. He’s dying that night because his time is up.
The shift in the parable, if you will, is found in these few words from St. Paul in today’s reading: “Seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.” The rich man sought what was above. But when he sat down and looked up, he saw bigger barns of his own possessions instead of the Son of God. We’re given this stark image in Jesus’ parable of a rich man looking up and worshipping his own goods.
When we seek what is above alongside the material blessings we gain, what’s demanded is not someone’s life. What’s demanded is sharing our blessings. What’s demanded are the corporal works of mercy, which, in the parable Jesus tells, there was none.
This parable of Jesus, like any other parable the Lords tells, can be understood in a variety of ways with all the parables the Lord teaches. In this one, the Lord mentions guarding against all greed. Greed on its own is like eating way more possessions than our stomachs can handle. Greed alongside the Person of Christ is a matter of not sharing the many blessings bestowed upon us. Rejecting works of mercy. And in my humble estimation, that’s the heart of this parable.
In seeking what is above, we adore not the material wealth we’ve gained in barns. We seek Christ, who cannot be separated from his special love for the poor and the material blessings we have. If we die from this world without a heart for the poor, like the rich man in the parable, I can just about guarantee you Purgatory at best. But the goal is heaven, alongside the likes of St. Mother Teresa, St. Vincent de Paul, St. Francis, and the countless others whose personal barns were empty, but looked up and saw Christ in the face of the poor.