An Exegetical Reflection on the Gospel of the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, Luke 12:32-48, August 11, 2013
WHERE, INDEED, DO true riches lie? In last Sunday’s Gospel, we saw that although secular culture and media of social communications drive home the point that true life lies in bonds, stocks, and bank deposit, Jesus denies that equation; instead, one must follow him in discipleship (Luke 18:22b) and grow “rich in the sight of God” (Luke 12:21). This, however, raises the question: if one must grow rich in God’s sight, what is our real wealth, in the first place? And how is it acquired?
Far from being found in earthly treasures, our true wealth is the kingdom of God. “It has pleased the Father to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32b). Not surprisingly enough, the Matthean Jesus admonishes: “Do not lay up for yourselves an earthly treasure. Moths and rust corrode; thieves break in and steal. Make it your practice instead to store up heavenly treasure, which neither moths nor rust corrode nor thieves break in and steal. Remember, where your treasure is, there your heart is also” (Matt 6:18-21). The point, of course, is not that one should not have treasures. After all, we are all earthly beings in need of earthly goods to survive. Rather, we are admonished not to make material wealth the primary concern in our life. For when we do, we not only forget all about the supernatural realities, but we also become involved in greed, social injustice, oppression and violence. There is much truth to the maxim of Honore Balzac that behind a great wealth is a crime. One can be super-rich only over the broken bones of many. Moreover, one may be wealthy, and have enough of this world’s luxuries, but that is not a guarantee of a tranquil life. He may fear bankruptcy, thieves, and the Mafia. Though he will certainly make it to the society page, he may still be deprived of wholeness in his very own being and in his relationship with others. Wealth does not guarantee a life of love. That is why the richest man is not necessarily the happiest, even if his wealth can provide him much pleasure in life.
Our real wealth is the kingdom of God. For Jesus, this should be the primary concern of our life. When we speak of true riches, though, two things are to be remembered. First, it is God who gives us this wealth: “It has pleased the Father to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32b). It is not acquired through our own efforts, unlike material wealth, which largely depends on our own toil. Heaven is not acquired by our own achievement—it is not our achievement. By contrast, in true wealth, it is God who acts. We can do nothing without him. Second, all we seek is that God establish his kingship over us: “Seek out instead his kingship over you, and the rest will follow in return” (Luke 12:31). Our role is passive, but it is exercised in active passivity. We allow God to rule our lives and our society. Not what you and I want, but what the Lord wants—this is what prevails in our daily life.
And what does the Lord want us from us? Today’s Gospel gives us two specific instructions. First, he wants the rich to make a radical renunciation of their wealth, and share it with the less fortunate or the disadvantaged: “Sell what you have and give alms” (Luke 12:33a). This will show that their heart, far from being a slave of possessions, is devoted to God alone and the kingdom, which is the only real treasure (Luke 12:34). It is obviously scandalous that billions of dollars are spent on lethal weapons, on star wars, when millions of people starve to death. It is not morally right that one man has an abundance of almost everything in life, while the man next door is starving. “I ask you, how can God’s love survive in a man who has enough of this world’s goods, yet closes his heart to his brothers” (1 John 3:17).
Second, the Lord wants us to allow him to establish fragments of his kingship through our service to others (Luke 12:36). Today’s Gospel, in which Luke introduces Peter who asks about the applicability of Jesus’ exhortation to vigilance (Luke 12:41), makes it clear that this especially pertains to those invested with authority. Instead of seeking to lord it over others, or dominate them (Luke 12:45), they are to serve the Lord who is of course present in those they serve (Luke 12:43). Thus Jesus: “Earthly kings lord it over their people… Yet it cannot be that with you. Let the greater among you be as the junior, the leader as the servant” (Luke 22:25-27).
In short, we allow God to establish the fragments of his kingdom when we share and serve. This will prove that his reign is the only treasure our heart hankers after, which is the real wealth (Luke 12:34). And for Jesus, we are to be faithful to this only treasure, every day in our life until he comes: “The servant is fortunate whom his master finds busy when he returns” (Luke 12:43). We need to be vigilant lest we fall back to greed and acquisition of earthly riches. Loving wealth is like riding on a lion: one eventually falls—to the delight of the lion. We need to be faithful instead to the service of the kingdom every day in our lives. This is especially directed to leaders of communities and nations who have greater opportunities to corruption and accumulation of wealth.
This invites us to think: suppose, for example, instead of building weapons of mass destruction, the rich take care of the poor, the homeless and the disadvantaged; suppose the United States and other first world countries seek the lifting of the poorer nations from misery by, for example, writing off their debts—will not the result be a world order that is entirely new, as the poor partake of the goods of this world? After all, these countries have much share of the world’s goods, and like leaders, much is certainly expected of them, for “much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded for the person entrusted with more” (Luke 12:48). If we are faithful to this, there is no doubt that we will be allowed to sit in the banquet of the kingdom (cf Luke 12:37) where we will find true life.