Year C — The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 13)

Commentary for August 4, 2013
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

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Hosea 11:1-11
Parent imagery is used frequently in Hebrew scripture to describe God and God’s actions. We have here the image of a very patient parent, indeed!

Faced with a rebellious teenager of a people, God says, “How can I give you up, O Eprhraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel?” The love of a parent is enduring, is unending, is always hopeful — even when the child is “bent on turning away.”

God acknowledges God’s fierce anger — which parent has never felt a bit of that? But, in the end, it is God’s desire to see “his children come trembling” home that wins. 

Psalm 107:1-9, 43
If we pursue the rebellious child/patient parent metaphor, the psalm text gives a little perspective from the other side. What happens when stubborn children try it their way, apart from the protection and knowledge of mommma and daddy?

Some wandered in desert wastes, finding no way to an inhabited town; hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted within them.” 

Mmmm, hmmm. That whole wandering thing is only exciting for a little while.

Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23
Ah, Qoheleth; gotta love the ironic wisdom of the Teacher/Preacher in Ecclesiastes! (I wonder if Qoheleth ought to be translated “Steven Wright” from the Hebrew?)

The view that God has given us “an unhappy business” as the course of our lives is not necessarily the upbeat message that most folks come to church to hear. Toil, strain, work, effort — not really the contents of a “Four Secrets to Successful Living” sermon, are they?

Of course, these words are selected to support and complement today’s gospel text, where the protagonist assumes that life is all good, a bed of roses, guaranteed to be full of happiness and prosperity.

Perhaps, taken together, these two texts sort of “average out.” Best listen to what the Teacher has to say, at least.

Psalm 49:1-12
The low and the high, the rich and the poor, the foolish, the wise, and the dolts — we’re all in this together!

Colossians 3:1-11
One of my favorite passages from Paul, I must admit. The cadence that opens Colossians 3 has always rung true in my heart.

It’s a classic “if…then” statement — maybe that’s why my semi-logically oriented brain is attracted to it. “If you have been raised with Christ…then seek the things that are above. That’s where Christ is!”

Of course, like many of the deeper disciplines of the spiritual life, that is easier said than done for us mortals who must live out our “unhappy business” of a life! (see Ecclesiates, above.)

This passage is one that may well be best read, absorbed, and sort of “soaked in” for a while — rather than stoically proclaimed and exegeted point-by-point. 

Luke 12:13-21
I am considering calling my sermon on this passage, “The Whiner and the Diner.” 

The opening of the passage features a wag in the crowd who wants Jesus to fix things for him in his evidently strained family relationships. I am reminded a bit of Martha’s plea to Jesus –“Make my sister come help me!”

Never one to miss a good opening, Jesus seizes the opportunity to talk about much more than getting our share of the goods of life — and, thus, the “rich man” who thinks that he deserves his fate in life, and will simply “eat, drink, and be merry” to the end of his self-satisfied days!

What is really important in life? It’s a tired old saw, but still pretty effective: if you knew for certain that this was your last day on earth, how would you spend it? What would you be doing that, perhaps, you are not doing now?

So, what are you waiting for?

by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

As we listened to our Gospel lesson for today, how many of us thought that the words aimed at the rich man were aimed at us? How many of us think of ourselves as rich? 

Some years ago Economist Robert Heilbroner came up with a little mental exercise to help us see what life is like for one and a half billion people in the world; 1500 million of God’s beloved children living in what the World Bank calls “extreme poverty.”

  • Take all the furniture out of your home, except one table and a couple of chairs. Use a blanket and   pads for a bed.
  • Take away all of clothing except each person’s oldest dress, pants, shirt, blouse, and coat. Only one pair of shoes per person.
  • Empty the pantry, the refrigerator and the freezer of all food except for a small bag of flour, some sugar and salt, and a few potatoes, some onions and some dried beans.
  • Dismantle the bathroom, shut off the running water, and remove all the electrical wiring in your house.
  • Take away the house itself and move the family into the tool shed.
  • Move out of your neighborhood into a ghetto of makeshift buildings and mud streets.
  • Cancel all subscriptions to newspapers and magazines and get rid of all your books. This is no great loss, since none of you can read anyway.
  • Get rid of TVs, cell phones, computers and all other electronic gizmos. Leave one radio for the entire community.
  • Move the nearest hospital or clinic to a day’s walk away. Replace the doctor with a midwife.
  • Throw away all your bankbooks, stock certificates, pension plans, and insurance policies. Your family has $10 of cash hidden in a coffee can. 
  • Give yourselves a few acres to grow crops on which you earn $500 a year. Pay a third of that in rent and 10% to loan sharks.
  • Lop 25 years off your life expectancy.

(Robert Heilbroner, The Great Ascent, Chapter 2, numbers adjusted for inflation) 

By this comparison, most of us in this country are the rich people in the world, and it is as rich people that we must listen to Jesus today.

As the text begins, Jesus is out and about, teaching and preaching. Someone in the crowd calls out and asks him to settle a family dispute about inheritance.Well, actually, he doesn’t ask him; he tells Jesus what he wants him to do and what he wants him to say.”Hey Jesus, Tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me!” He wants to use Jesus to give religious credibility to his own greediness.

Jesus refuses to be drawn into this family matter and instead warns the man and the crowd (and us), against the dangers of desire, the menace of materialism: “One’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”

Then Jesus tells the story of the rich man who just keeps on getting richer. He already has barns, and his barns are already full, and now he has all this other grain. What is he to do with it? He has more than most people, more than he needs. What to do? Well, he decides to build more barns. He decides to stake his future on the accumulation of more stuff. By tearing down his old barns and cashing in his CDs, he refinances and builds new and bigger barns and now he is set!

NT Professor Wm. Barclay says: “For the rich man, it’s all about me. Listen to the pronouns in vs. 17-19. I, I, my, I, I, my, I, my, I, my. The Greek for I is ego. Ego, ego, my, ego, ego, my, ego, my, ego, my.” (The Daily Study Bible)

The rich man thinks he’s got it made, then God comes to him and says, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”

Comedian Jack Benny established a character who was famously tight and cheap. He had a routine in which he is held up by a robber demanding, “Your money or your life.” Benny stands there, arms folded, fingers drumming his cheek, for several seconds. The robber demands again, “I said your money or your life; well?” Benny puts his arms out in exasperation, “I’m thinking, I’m thinking.” Sometimes we are like that. We seem caught between the demands of our money or our life, our eternal life. 

Jesus repeatedly told us you can’t serve both; but one can serve God through the use of one’s money. Everything we have, right down to the last breath we take, God has given to us. And God’s judgment of us will have little to do with what we have and everything to do with what we have done with it.

God has given us what we have, not for ourselves, but for the benefit of the community and for hospitality to strangers. This is true, whether we are talking about our personal, individual goods, or the goods we hold in common as a congregation, as the church.

In his parable, Jesus reminds us that we shall all die someday; it is not a question of if, only of when and how. And at the inevitable moment of our death, all of our accumulated possessions will be worthless to us. 

As a matter of fact, our possessions could be worse than worthless to us. If the care and maintenance of our stuff has diverted us from the care and maintenance of our souls, the very things we cherish in this life will have been that which has ruined us for eternity. As Jesus said, “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

God has made us a part of the rich people of this world. God has placed in our hands all that we are and all that we have. And the question for us today is essentially the same one the robber posed to Jack Benny: “Your money or your life.”

Amen and amen.

One thought on “Year C — The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 13)

  1. Pingback: The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, Year C (Proper 13) | The Lectionary Lab

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