Sunday, 22 September 2013
Reflection for the 17th Sunday after Trinity
Today's gospel presents us with a stark choice: you cannot serve both God or wealth.
The problem with wealth is that it gets hold of us and takes control of our lives, not just individually, but as communities, as a society. This is particularly obvious in a capitalist society of the sort that we inhabit. Our whole way of life is dominated by making money for people - relatively few people, it should be said, although that is not the only problem with the situation we find ourselves in. Everything else comes second to making money. Education, family, leisure, the worship of God and the fellowship of his Church - all of these things have to slot into whatever gaps are left after work and the pursuit of profit have had their share of our lives.
More than that, we are taught from childhood onwards to want wealth, to desire it. But the thing is, no matter how much we have, we're taught, we're formed, to want more and more and more. Nothing is ever enough: wealth ceases to be a means to an end, becomes an end in itself. Money, created by human beings, ends up ruling human beings. Our livelihoods, our food and shelter, our sense of who we are and our worth is entirely at the mercy of something we ourselves have made.
But look at what has happened here - we, who were created to have our desires fulfilled by the endless love of God (today's collect echoes Saint Augustine, "our hearts are restless until they find rest in you"), endlessly desire wealth which can never fulfil us. We, who have been given dominion by God over creation, are controlled by something of our own making.
Wealth acts as a false god. It has a dynamic of its own, which takes hold of us and which prevents us from living with God, whose service, as Morning Prayer from the Book of Common Prayer puts it, is perfect freedom. Wealth entraps us, enslaving us to its dominating worship at the expense of the liberating service of the God and Father of Jesus Christ.
This cannot be acceptable. We were created for something better than this and have, through Jesus Christ, already been set free from the sin of which this idolatry of wealth is a particularly glaring form. As Christians we have promised at our baptism to serve God rather than wealth. We need to learn how to do this on a day-by-day basis. This is a slow and painful process, as we - under God's grace - gradually lose the old way of seeing the world, focused on the accumulation of wealth, and learn instead to see the world in the light of the gospel.
Bit by bit we can refocus our desires and our attitudes, away from the wealth-orientated views of our newspapers and television screen - the views that blame the poor for their own plight whilst praising wealth, that reduce the infinite worth of human beings, created in the image and likeness of God, to a bank balance - towards the vision of the gospel, for which the world is a free gift of a loving God, who wills that "everyone be saved.. and come to knowledge of the truth", and in whose Kingdom the hungry are fed and the poor lifted up. Through receiving the sacraments, prayer, the study of scripture, learning about our faith, and Christian fellowship, we can learn to see the world anew, to desire anew.
And who knows, maybe then we might show those around us that there is something better on offer than the world we presently inhabit.