32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – B, Fr. Rick Sherman
1 Kgs 17:10-16; Ps 146:7-10; Heb 9:24-28; Mk 12:38-44
November 7, 2021
Reminder: Today special collection for the Annual Navajo Holiday Outreach. After Communion.
As mentioned in my opening remarks at Mass, this week continues the relentless call of God to make a TOTAL GIFT OF OURSELVES. Recall last week: ‘You shall Love God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and with all your strength.’ Everything, all the time. Oh, and love your neighbor as yourself.
This week is equally relentless. The poor widow is directed to give up her last bit of flour and oil to prepare some bread for the prophet Elijah. The other widow in the Gospel is giving her last small coins to the temple. And I’m sure that it did not escape our notice that the flour and the coins are going to the prophet and to the temple. In a word: to the Church(!). I’m equally sure that the thought of giving all our money to the Church raised the blood pressure in a few. We may have thought immediately of the parish, the diocese, the grade school or high school where people have had a wide variety of experiences over the decades. And then there are the many legal fees from law suits over the past decade….Give EVERYTHING to the Church?!!
Last week we talked about all the good work the Church does globally… and perpetually….. We have special collections every month to support mission work at all different points around our state, country and the world. We are a global Church with a global mission. It’s a mission given to us by Jesus Himself: to go forth and teach the nations. And to teach so effectively that people will want to be baptized. To desire baptism means to desire a new life; a new WAY of being in the world. The early Christians called themselves the People of the Way. When Christians go forth to all nations they take with them first and foremost their lifestyles, the values they actually live by. So to give everything to the Church means to put your whole life at the service of the Gospel. To be part of a vision that deliberately and effectively makes the world look more like heaven than hell. Shaping the world your grandchildren inherit. That sounds really worth doing.
This weekend the Lord is particularly chastising the rich for merely giving of their excess, their ‘surplus wealth’. Even though they gave substantial sums of money, many times more than the widow could even conceive of, they still had not made the TOTAL GIFT OF SELF which is the essence of discipleship. Several weeks ago in the Scriptures we were reminded that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, as high as the stars are above the earth are how much higher God’s thoughts are to human thoughts. EVERYTHING good comes from God and we are then charged with sharing in proportion to what God has given us, that is EVERTHING. When we forget this, we have just marginalized our lives and the whole mission of the Church.
Let’s take a closer look at this idea of ‘surplus wealth’ that Jesus mentions in the Gospel. It’s interesting that it mentions that the rich gave FROM their surplus wealth. It doesn’t even say they gave away all their surplus, but rather FROM the surplus. It probably didn’t affect their lifestyles at all.
As I was listening to some of the explanation of budget issues and stalled legislation this past week, the idea of ‘surplus’ sort of jumped out. One of the Democratic proposals was to get some of the surplus of the rich by taxing capital gains even if you don’t sell the asset. The general principle of capital gains is that if you buy some stocks or bonds for instance and hold onto them for over a year, when you sell them your tax rate on the increase is lower than if you held the asset for under a year. But you don’t have to pay the tax until you actually sell the stock or bond. The new proposal is that for certain levels of wealth the government will charge a tax even if you don’t sell the asset and realize a profit. Part of the reasoning is that especially during the pandemic when so many people are suffering so much, the people with ‘surplus’ money are making loads of profit because despite all the suffering the stock market has continued to climb to new highs.
According to the plan a big chunk of tax money needs to go toward providing more and better child care for working parents, especially single parents. If we didn’t already know how many young families are struggling to provide the basic necessities for their children, we certainly became aware of it during the pandemic. There are far too many living on the edge. One could make the case that immediate assistance and the associated tax dollars are needed for the immediate crisis.
But more tax subsidized child care doesn’t solve any real problems. I think most studies by social scientists and child psychologists show that children tend to do better when at least one of the biological parents is spending most of the day with the children. So how did we get to the place we are in?
Those of us who have this color hair (white, while pointing to my own) can remember living through some major social changes in the past 50 or 60 years. We have seen the explosion in consumer culture and consumption economy that demands that we get and stay in debt for most or all of our adult lives… in order to buy the growing array of redundant consumer goods that are arguably not needed in the first place. Most Americans work at jobs that have us designing or producing unnecessary consumer goods. When our work lacks meaning of a higher social purpose, it is not good for our souls. Such work for too long a period contributes to anxiety and depression. The increasing debt loads and the increasing demand for what is not needed has led us to believe that two-working-parent families is a necessity.
The explosion of pop culture has distracted us from a deeper sense of a biblical and sacramental foundation out of which to live our lives.
And then of course there was the sexual revolution that had us totally redefining the nature and purpose of sexuality. Chastity is no longer a concept and perhaps it never was taught or modeled particular well. As we have socially engineered a whole new idea of ‘family’ where it can be whatever you want it to be, we have had an explosion in the number of single parent families whose stress is compounded with the enormous weight and complexity of work and childrearing. Combined with lots of debt and boring work, we have a prescription for stressed out young people and a brewing social catastrophe.
This of course is a ten-day discussion which has many more threads than what I have just mentioned, but the point is that we have allowed these changes to happen under our noses; on our watch. We have allowed human thinking to drown out the presence of God’s Wisdom. We are thinking the ways humans think, not how God thinks. When we don’t make a total self-gift to God or the Church or the total vision of the WAY, we slide into the Kingdom of Satan, as Jesus describes our earthly existence prior to conversion.
These human problems really have been masterminded by a force much more intelligent and clever than humans. Taxes and human-made legislation will never solve them. Only the wisdom, knowledge, understanding and strength of God can adequately solve our problems and put us on the path of true peace and prosperity.
We too often forget the larger mission of the Church. In Truth we are not particularly well-prepared for the mission of nation teaching and Kingdom building and that can also be said to some degree about the clergy. We’re trained to administrate a domesticated, institutionalized, and all too often tepid Church. Our preoccupation with institutional survival can usurp the type of energy necessary to launch a truly missionary vision.
This however is changing with a newer, younger remnant of Church emerging to actually address many of the issues I have just mentioned.
This might be a good time to cash in some or ALL those capital gains and support the larger vision of life that our grandchildren need.
Reread today’s psalm very slowly and in the meantime, please be especially generous in our special collection today.
Watch our website for regular suggestions on how to better participate in the Church’s mission and to build up the Kingdom of God.