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Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time: “Walking in Impassioned Purpose”

Ecclesiastes 1: 12-2: 3

Psalm 49: 1-12

Colossians 3: 1-11

Luke 12: 12-21

Jesus got asked a lot of questions. “What is the greatest commandment?” What must I do to be saved?” “Who is my neighbor?” “Are only a few being saved?” The Pharisees were quite good at asking critical questions: “Why do you eat with sinners?” “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” “Show us a sign!” Pilate had some questions for the Lord: “Who is this Son of Man?” “Are you the Son of God?” “Are You the King of the Jews?” “What is truth?”

And then there were the people asking favors, wanting something from Jesus. “Increase our faith!” “Teach us to pray!” “Have mercy on us!” “Heal my son!” “Heal my daughter!” Heal my mother-in-law!” “Remember me when You come into Your Kingdom.” “Tell us who is greatest in the Kingdom of God.” “When You come into Your Kingdom, grant that one of us can sit on your right, and the other on Your left.” “Sir, give me this water!” “Evermore give us this bread!” “We have left everything, what will there be for us?” And the question in today’s Gospel, Luke 12: 13: “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.”

Is this the reason Jesus became incarnate of the virgin Mary, and was made man? Just to fill up everyone’s bucket list? God is no miser and no scrooge, and many are the scriptures which remind us to make our requests known to God, but is this the real focus of the ministry of Christ? Is this the reason God brought us close to Himself, just to be our ‘sugar daddy’? A cosmic Santa Claus? A heavenly bellhop, if you will?

I don’t think so. Nowhere will you find the scripture that says, “For this purpose was I born: to make sure all the whims and desires of My disciples are met.” No! Although some might disagree with this and it might make some people mad, the fact of the matter is:

The focus of the Kingdom of God IS NOT who gets what!

That statement is all inclusive. The focus of the Kingdom of God is not who gets what blessing, who gets their ‘rights’, who gets the most favor from God (and who doesn’t) or – most shocking of all – who gets heaven and who gets hell. These are all things God has promised, to be sure, and He is faithful to provide to His faithful, but I will repeat:

The focus of the Kingdom of God IS NOT who gets what!

The focus of the Kingdom of God is that earth copies heaven; “Thy Kingdom, Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven,” as Jesus put it. This is where the focus lies; and when our attention is there, the rest will follow. (Matthew 6: 33) But the order, the priorities, must be observed. A focus on who gets what is a distortion of the Gospel – the Good News – that we are set free from all that.

Our Evangelical fore parents for several centuries have handed down to us this skewed focus. For many of them there was no other message, no other sermon, other than “Are you going to heaven, or will you spend eternity in hell?” That was it. And let’s face it, our Charismatic ancestors gave us the gospel of ‘Name it/Claim it.’ For them wealth, blessing, and favor was the only sign that one was right with God. With them, the formula was simple: favor = riches. If you weren’t getting all kinds of things from God, there was something wrong in your life. Every message was along one of these two lines. All of the Kingdom was about who got what.

This is the very attitude Jesus was warning us against in today’s Gospel. “So is the man who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” This man had been blessed way beyond what he could use. Yet, he failed to see the simple truth: If he didn’t need it all, he could find someone who did. To be rich toward God is to be ready to give. Why? Because ‘more than you need’ is more than you need. No one needs more than they need. Stockpiling or simply consuming more than we need is an act of indulgence, which is not rare, since we live in an age of indulgence. We have binge eating, binge drinking, binge watching, binge shopping, you name it. If it is pleasurable, people will binge on it. This is self-indulgence.

Notice, I did not say this is a generation of indulgence, but an age of indulgence. This has been going on long before the Millennials took center stage. Listen to some of the popular slogans of decades ago:

“I’m Worth it!” “Indulge!” “You deserve a break today!” “You simply must!” “Treat yourself!” “This I do for me!” “Be selfish!”

These are classic examples of self-indulgence; going beyond what you need. If that fifth slice of pizza was so good, the sixth will be even better. If the relationship you have with your spouse is satisfying, imagine how good an extra one on the side would be! If one scoop of ice cream is good, four would be divine! But self-indulgence, instead sating us, just leads to dissatisfaction, because the flesh can never be satisfied. This is exactly what Jesus said: “Not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.” (Luke 12: 15) Any satiety is temporary; before long you are wanting the same, and more of it.

The Gospel is not about self-indulgence, it is about self-denial! Luke 9: 23 cannot be read any other way. This does not mean that we must forever deny ourselves ice cream, a new article of clothing, or a few hours off once in a while. But remember, these things are treats, not entitlements – and overuse of them is an act of self-indulgence.

But to get the fullness of self-denial we need to go beyond these things. Let’s be honest, there are far more serious fleshly desires against which we battle. Closer to home, Colossians 3 illuminates the issue very well. First of all St. Paul tells us the true focus of the Kingdom of God: “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.” (Colossians 3: 2) If you want to indulge, indulge in those things!

But he also tells us things to deny ourselves. There is the obvious list in v. 5: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and - wait for it – greed. (It all fits together) But then comes a list of things we probably don’t realize that we have a desire to indulge in, but we do: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. And then there’s lying. (vv. 8, 9)

These are all evil desires, whether we realize it or not, and we long to indulge in them. Wouldn’t you just really love to vent that anger of yours on someone? That is a fleshly desire, and all too often we indulge in that desire. Wouldn’t you love to slander that arrogant boss of yours, abuse him verbally, and be just a bit mean to them? That is a fleshly desire that we need to deny ourselves. These are great areas in which to practice self-denial, and stop indulging ourselves in.

You see, if you love people, which we are called to do, we will not hurl these things toward them. When it’s all cut and dried, the focus of the Kingdom of God is not who gets what, but who loves whom. That’s the core. On loving our neighbor, we can indulge ourselves without limit. We need not deny ourselves on that point. But on the issue of who gets what, let’s just leave that to God, because that’s just not the focus of His Kingdom.

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