Ordinary Time 18, Year C-2010

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For all their riches, if mortals do not have wisdom, they perish like the beasts (Ps. 49:20)

Before he became a bishop, a Vincentian missionary I know used to tell friends who never failed to wonder why he preferred smoking cigars to smoking cigarettes: “If you are going to have a vice, pick one that is worth the trouble; should you decide on becoming a thief, you might as well steal a lot of pounds and not settle for a few pennies.” He said this jokingly, of course.

Seriously, however, vices or disordered desires seem to me to be, by definition perhaps, neither discerning nor distinguishing. Greed, for instance, latches on to what is at hand, and within reach, without regard really to the worth of the object of its clasp. Greedy, no doubt, is the rich fool of the parable in today’s gospel reading. But they may be just as greedy those missionaries with a vow of poverty who harbor inordinate desire for comfort and clamor, “My room, my books, my Mass!” as they think themselves deserving of it all for the extra work they are given to do (1). Such missionaries, forgetful of the hardships their masters—the poor—endure daily, may be just as self-absorbed too as the rich fool and, like him, engage moreover in self-congratulations that their rules explicitly prohibit (2). Hence, followers of Jesus must be forewarned of opposition not only from without but also from within their ranks (3).

But regardless of where the opposition comes from, it appears that without the wisdom that discerns and distinguishes, the poor, no less than the rich, are susceptible to vanity and capable of demanding that Jesus be their advocate (not so much a mediator) regarding a matter of dubious legitimacy (4). These fools who, according to Ps. 49, trust in their wealth, boast of and are so pleased with their possessions—whether of great or little value—and congratulate themselves for the praises heaped upon them because they are doing so well, end up being herded, like sheep, into Sheol, where death will be their shepherd. But God, as the same psalm also teaches, will redeem the lives of those who, whether rich or poor, of lowly birth or high estate, heed wisdom and put to death their disordered desires or the parts of them, in the words of today’s second reading, “that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry.”

Wisdom supposes, therefore, doing as did the one whom the second reading also tells us to look up to, Jesus Christ. “He emptied himself, taking the form of a slave” and consequently was greatly exalted by God and bestowed a name that is above every name (Phil. 2:6-11). For indeed, God fills the hungry with good things while the rich he sends away empty (Lk. 1:53). Being wise does not mean storing up treasure for oneself; rather, it means being rich in what matters to God, which consists in having nowhere to rest one’s head, in utter detachment and determined discipleship, in courageous confidence that God will provide for the “little flock”, in embracing the folly of the cross and relying ultimately on God alone, into whose hands one commends one’s spirit (Lk. 9:57-62; 12:32; 24:46).

In summary, to have the wisdom that will prevent us from perishing like beasts is to be as self-sacrificing as Jesus who gave his body up and shed his blood and now lives forever and is seated at the right hand of God. Jesus has the words of eternal life and he gives us his flesh and blood so that we may live forever (Jn. 6:54, 68). He is our wisdom and our life (1 Cor. 1:24; Col. 3:8).


(1) Cf. P. Coste, XI, 125. One could add to “My room, my books, my Mass” “My cappa magna” (see three letters to the editor of America, two in the May 31, 2010 issue and one in the June 21, 2010 issue.
(2) Common Rules of the Congregation of the Mission, XII, 3, 4, 9, 10.
(3) Cf. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1990) 43:133.
(4) Cf. http://www.biblegateway.com/resources/commentaries/IVP-NT/Luke/Discipleship-Trusting-God (accessed July 29, 2010).