July 31, 2022
Revised Common Lectionary
Hosea 11:1-11 or Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23
Psalm 107:1-9, 43 or Psalm 49:1-12
Lectionary for Mass (RC)
Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:21-23
Psalm 90:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 14, 17 (1)
Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11
The United Nations reports that the 26 richest individuals in the world hold more wealth than the bottom 50% of the earth’s population—that’s nearly 4 billion people.
The wealth gap is no less serious in North America. The Federal Reserve reports that at the end of 2021, the top 1% of households in the United States held about a third of the nation’s wealth, while the bottom half held just 3%. In Canada the top 1% possess more than a quarter of the country’s wealth while the bottom 40% have just 1.2%.
The New Testament takes a generally dim view of wealth—the Gospel of Luke even more so. In the Canticle of Mary, we hear the praise of God “who has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty” (Lk 1:53). At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus announces that he has been sent “to bring good news to the poor” (4:18), and in his great Sermon on the Plain he declares, “Blessed are you poor” (6:20), “woe to you who are rich” (6:24).
These teachings sit squarely at odds with attitudes toward wealth in most North American societies. Media and popular culture tend to glamorize the wealthy, presenting them as models to be admired and emulated. Our economic systems are based on accumulation of wealth, allowing individuals and corporations to amass large amounts of money while others struggle for bare necessities.
Current disparities in wealth along with the teachings of Jesus in Luke provide a backdrop for today’s Epistle and Gospel readings, which call attention to greed. Wealth is of course not an evil in itself, but the desire for riches can all too easily lead to resentment of others, like the person in the crowd who wanted Jesus to intervene in a family inheritance dispute (12:13).
It can also foster an unhealthy obsession with money, investments, homes, cars, jewelry, or other kinds of possessions, much like the landowner who built bigger barns to hoard his grain and goods (12:16-21). Did you notice the pronouns in this passage? The landowner speaks only of I/me/my, and never of we/us/our. Jesus finds fault not with his success, but with his desire to hold on to wealth without regard for others—without seeing himself as part of a larger human family.
In today’s reading from Colossians, Paul singles out greed in his list of “earthly” things that keep us from fully embracing our new life in Christ, with whom we have been “raised up.” Paul regards greed as a form of idolatry (Col 3:5), an unbridled quest for wealth that draws us away from allegiance from God.
Greed can likewise separate us from others. Rather than engaging in harmful “earthly” practices like hoarding wealth for ourselves, Paul urges us to embrace the renewal that brings people together in unity. We are to live as part of a body in which “there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!” (Col 3:11).
The goods of the earth are a blessing that have been entrusted to the human family for the good of all. How can Christians today bear witness to the reign of God, in which there is enough for everyone, where all have a decent place to live, where no one goes hungry, and where healthcare is treated as a right? Are our congregations known for their service of the poor and advocacy for their needs? Can each of us live with attention to the needs of others in our local communities? How can we fulfill the teaching of Jesus today that we should be “rich toward God”? (Lk 12:21)
A Hymn for Today: “Like a Mother Who Has Borne Us”
Hymn writer Daniel Bechtel was ordained to ministry in the United Church of Christ in 1958 and began teaching religion at Dickinson College in 1964. This hymn was first sung in the Dickinson College chapel in 1986. The first two stanzas beautifully portray God’s closeness to us as we were brought to life and nurtured. In the third stanza, we confess how we have wandered from God in the search for power and might, leaving others behind. In the final stanza, we are called to embrace love of neighbor through sharing, peace, and justice.
This text is an appropriate response to the Scripture readings we hear this Sunday. To hear the hymn with its lovely, gentle tune AUSTIN by William P. Rowan, click here.
Like a mother who has borne us,
held us close in her delight,
fed us freely from her body,
God has called us into life.
Life a father who has taught us,
grasped our hand and been our guide,
lifted us and healed our sorrows,
God has walked with us in life.
Though as children we have wandered,
placed our trust in power and might,
left behind our brothers, sisters,
God still calls us into life.
When we offer food and comfort,
grasp our neighbor’s hand in love,
tread the path of peace and justice,
God still walks with us in life.
Text: Daniel Bechtel, b. 1932, © 1986, Daniel R. Bechtel. Used by permission under OneLicense #A-729857
Tunes: AUSTIN, STUTTGART
Image Credit: Grain Fields, Edwin Evans, 1844-1923, Brigham Young University Museum of Art
“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.
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