In his beautiful homily for 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, Father Hanly shows us how being preoccupied with money is to miss life.
Readings for Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
- First Reading: Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:21-23
- Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9
- Second Reading: Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11
- Gospel: Luke 12:13-21
When I started at language school here to learn a second Chinese dialect, I was fairly on in age, in my mid-forties. And it’s hard enough in your mid-fifteens to learn Chinese, but in your mid-forties it’s quite an accomplishment even to say hello.
Anyhow, my teacher was very sympathetic and I said to him, “I’m never going to learn this language. I’m just never going to learn this language.” And he said, “No, no, no, no. I’ll tell you now. All you have to do is memorise the words that have to do with two things, food and money, and you’ll be in about eighty-five percent of all the conversations in Hong Kong.”
Well, I know he was trying to soothe me, but I found out that, not only in Hong Kong but in most of the world, this would be a very good thing to follow these days because, if you talk about money and you talk about food, probably in any Western and Eastern situation, you’ll find you’ll understand the language a lot quicker than if you talk about philosophy and theology and those other subjects.
I say this because sometimes we think that Jesus is sort of the enemy of rich. If you’re rich, you’re not following in the way of Jesus. Not at all. Jesus is not interested in money. He’s not interested in rich, He’s not interested in poor. He’s not interested in whether you’re successful or whether you fail. This is not His interest.
His interest is the things that are God’s. And the things that are God’s are you. God is interested in you.
So when Jesus speaks these things, He’s saying, “I’m telling you what God thinks of you. You’re not to be lowered to the thing of chasing after money, worrying about what you’re going to eat or what you’re going to do, or all these things. You’re too important. I’ve created you for eternity. I take you seriously.
“I’m not after your money. I’m not after your success. I’m not after these things. I’m only after you, that you will become like me, which is you will learn how to love and care for people, you will learn how to forgive, you will learn how to bring new life where there is darkness, you will learn how to bring pleasure where there’s fear.”
And that’s why Jesus came and that’s what He’s interested in. So if He seems a little bit harsh on the rich, it is not on the rich, because everybody knows that many of the greatest saints in the church today, that we respect with great reverence, came from very well-to-do families. It is not riches that are the root of all evil.
The Bible says the love of money is the root of all evil, because the love of money forces our attention on something that is not relevant. It’s not important and it brings about the misuse of the best things in ourselves. A preoccupation with money is, even in the most interesting people, it is a great distraction.
I remember my father. My father worked on Wall Street in an odd-lot house for a pittance of a salary for maybe forty years and, at the end of it, I asked him all about stocks. I said, “Did you ever buy any stocks?” “Oh no,” he said. “Forty years of Wall Street cured me. Never buy stocks.”
And I said, “Well, that seems kind of strange because, tell me, do you know how to make money on the stock market?” He said, “Oh yes, I can tell you that. You get a stock when it’s low. You buy it and then, when it gets high, you sell it. And then you become a millionaire.”
And then I said, “Well, how do I know when it’s going to go up and when it’s going to go down?” And he said, “Well, that’s the trick isn’t it. Probably we’ll never know and therefore it’s going to be a risk.”
So I said, “Well, why not take the risk?” He said, “Well, it’d be like your two aunties.”
My father came from a rich family in Ireland and he came all the way to America to become poor, because the Depression began when he entered the United States. But in Ireland, his two sisters married well. And he said, “Now you’d become like your aunties.”
And I said, “Is that bad?” He said, “Well, they get up in the morning and they have to look in the paper or hear on the radio whether their stock is going up or whether it’s going down, or up or down, or up or down, and, day after day, it’s up and down, up and down. Their whole life is passing them by and they get to be old and they don’t even realise what they missed.”
You see, that’s the thing, the preoccupation with money is to miss life. This is very serious.
So the reason we’re talking about it today is because what Jesus says… He gives us a parable.
A parable is a well-told short story. And a parable is for you to take into yourself and realise that you, no matter how bad it is, you are at the centre of the parable. You are the man who wants just a little bit more, and little bit more, and a little bit more. And then you’ll understand the parable.
And as you know the parable is very troubling. A rich man, he has a wonderful harvest and, instead of sharing it with everybody, no, he’s going to build a barn and he’s going to put it in the barn. And when he puts it in the barn he’s going to keep it, you see. And so it goes.
Well, each year, God blesses him with a bountiful harvest, and so he has to build what? New barns, so he can have the stuff and keep the stuff and make sure that his future will always be okay.
And then, of course, he finally decides he’s got enough barns and he’s got enough land and he’s got enough of everything and now he’s going to enjoy it.
And in the parable God comes and says, “You silly little man, time’s up. It’s time for you to come home,” you see.
Now what are you going to do with all that stuff? Are you going to leave it to all the people who didn’t work for it, they didn’t care about it, but they’re very happy to get it and spend it and go on. And then they become preoccupied by building the barns and getting more and more and more. And not only do you spoil your own life, you spoil the life of the people that come after you. Sounds very sad, but look around you.
I once asked my mother…She also came from a rich family and they fell on hard times after she left. But she always said this to us, she said, “Remember, it’s the first temptation. You want to make more, and then you kind of get hooked into more and more.” And then she said, “I never met a man or a woman who actually said, “That’s enough.” There was a little, “Well, just a little bit more.”
So what Jesus is trying to do is to save us.
Qoheleth, who is the writer of the first reading… I used to love that when I was a teenager, Qoheleth. Because it’s “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” And there’s no point in doing anything because you’re going to die. And there’s no point in working and there’s no point in that. And you sweat and you toil and your life is full of suffering. And it goes on.
And it’s really a teenage kind of approach to life. Because when you get to be a teenager you know you begin to… like the bloom of childhood has gone and now you begin to see the dark side of life and it becomes overwhelming.
But I was very happy because somebody told me, when I was going through this period, that Ernest Hemingway, the great writer, also this was his favourite part of the Bible.
Everything is vanity. Vanity means emptiness. No matter what you do, no matter how good it is, it’s empty.
But at the end of it, Qoheleth says, “What should you do?”
Love God and be with your friends and eat and drink and be happy. Just accept this is what happens. Don’t go striving to try to build kingdoms or fortresses or guardians or whatever it is that you’re trying to do.
So, even in Qoheleth, the idea is to focus on what? To focus on your own life, the day to day development of your life.
If you want to be a doctor, for goodness sake, be it, not for the money but be it for healing people. If you do it for healing people your life will be filled with joy. If you do it for money, you’ll just be mad when the next patient comes in after hours and is sick and you’ll say, “Well, I don’t have time to take care of them.”
Now there’s no point just singling out one but, whatever we are to do, we are to do it in the spirit of God.
Jesus tells us a happy man is the one who imitates Him, “He who follows me… I am meek. I am humble of heart. I have come to serve, not to be served. I have come to heal. I have come to care for you. I have come to show you how much God loves you, how worthwhile you are, how important you are, far beyond what any kind of piece of paper from a high college or whatever it is will give you.”
It is your inner self that God has created and will care for.
Problems? Yes, you’ll find a lot of problems, but you’ll never have to face a problem alone, because Jesus says, “I will be with you all days, even to the very end of time.”
Now what I’d like to close this with is reading to you something that is after this, this parable of the man, right after it, in the Bible, and I’ll take it out of the New Testament, because St Luke isn’t going to leave you feeling that we’re all hopeless people.
The next part is when Jesus speaks to us because what makes us what we are, very often, is fear. Do you realise that? Many of the things we do in life, we do out of fear. We need protection. We’re afraid of this, we’re afraid of that. And now this is what Jesus has to say…
And this gospel that I’m going to read to you is only read once a year in Hong Kong, and in no place on Sunday is this gospel read. And the reason it’s read once a year in Hong Kong, it’s read at the New Year’s feast. And this is the gospel that those who chose it wanted to leave to all of us to say this is the road to bring happiness.
And now I’ll read it to you. This is also Chapter 12. Right after the Parable of the Rich Fool comes the Dependence on God. And here it is now:
Jesus said to His disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life and what you will eat, or about your body and what you will wear.
For life is more than food and the body more than clothing.
Notice the ravens: they do not sow or reap; they have neither storehouse nor barn, yet God feeds them. How much more important are you than birds!
Can any of you by worrying add a moment to your life-span?
If even the smallest things are beyond your control, why are you anxious about the rest?
Notice how the flowers grow. They do not toil or spin. But I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of them.
If God so clothes the grass in the field that grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?
As for you, do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not worry anymore.
All the nations of the world seek for these things, and your Father knows that you need them.
Instead, seek his kingdom, and these other things will be given you besides.
Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.
This is the word of the Lord.