Today a guest fell ill at the 9:30 Mass. Fr. Griffith ended his homily abruptly as the guest received medical attention while an ambulance arrived. We are very happy that the man who fell ill is recovering well. Fr. Griffith offers the text of his homily for the 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time.
“Store Up Riches In What Matter To God”
Homily for the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 31, 2022
Basilica of St. Mary, Minneapolis, MN
Fr. Daniel Griffith, Pastor
Yesterday, I was watching a golf tournament that was being held at Brandon Dunes on the Oregon coast. The players stopped for a bit when the fog rolled in, in part, because it was wreaking havoc on their “range finders” – the devices that shoot the yardage to the green. And then, the fog was gone, in a less than a minute.
In today’s first reading, we meet Qoheleth whose name signifies a teacher or sage. When he speaks of “hebel” or vanity he speaks of something like vapor or mist – it is short lived, insubstantial, ethereal, not unlike the fog on the Oregon coast. His “vanity of vanity” phrase – employing the superlative convincingly drives the point: all things are like this – things of this world – they are passing away – they don’t last. And yet, we put so much time and energy into things of this world: possessions, wealth, and yes – power and honor.
The main theme in all three readings today is quite clear and yet we continue to struggle with a preoccupation with things of this world. In the gospel today Jesus is continuing his way to Jerusalem and his message and teaching takes on an increasingly sharp edge – the prophet has emerged as Jerusalem gets closer. In response to a request to get involved in a dispute over family inheritance, Jesus quickly turns the page – “take care to guard against all greed – one’s life does not consist of possessions.”
One of the most important Greek words in today’s gospel is pleonexia – a type of greed that manifests itself in a desire for more and more, motivated by a false security in possessions. Luke, the great storyteller, presents a figure known by scholars as the “rich fool” as an admonition of Jesus to seek that which truly lasts and to place our security in God. Interestingly, this story is only found in Luke. The key to the story is that the rich man’s quest for security – wrongly placed in possessions – evaporates like mist as his life is demanded of him, having failed to store up riches in what matters to God.
A preeminent scholar of Luke – aptly named – Luke Timothy Johnson – had this this correlative comment to offer about today’s passage; “It is out of deep fear that the acquisitive instinct grows monstrous. Life seems so frail and contingent that many possessions are required to secure it, even though the possessions are frailer still than the life.”
We know of course that wealth itself is not sinful, but attachment to wealth, greed, and the failure to place our security in God, or to simply take God out of the equation as the rich fool does, ends in destruction and emptiness.
The passage from Luke and indeed all the readings today are robustly relevant to our modern day. Many seek security and even happiness in what they have and what they achieve or accomplish – but both are fleeting and tenuous. According to St. Paul in today’s second reading, this was also a problem for the Colossians. Paul says – you have been baptized, seek what is above and put to death what is earthly – seek God’s divine life and grace. This is where true security and happiness are found, and yet we seem hard pressed to learn this valuable lesson.
The desire to amass more and more is how our wold is ordered – the market, constant production, the economy – often stealthily destructive to good ends. This feverish pursuit takes our gaze away from the divine horizon and eternity and keeps us in a trap – it keeps us wanting but not finding true fulfillment. This constant churning for more and more, while many go without, does great damage to our souls, to the poor, and to the dignity and sustainability of our created world. It’s not storage “barns” that we are building but storage “units” – they are omnipresent in our modern day – and point to the same false security in possessions.
So, what is the way out the trap? And by the way – I am not taking shots or throwing stones. I like nice things too – I drive a nice car, live in a nice home, and after Mass and fellowship today, will travel to Wisconsin to a cabin I own for rest and relaxation. These readings today are as relevant to me as anyone in this Basilica today.
The way out of this trap is the good news that was shared last week and will be shared next week too – it is the good news of a good and gracious God who desires our good and happiness and indeed eternal life for all of us. This is a God who would not hand us a snake when we ask for a fish and invites us to knock and to seek good things. This God, our God, invites us to place our trust and security in him and store up treasures in what maters to God. This is the only true path to happiness and peace for all of us.
It is also the right prescription and path for our parish at this time of transition and possibility – to place ourselves and this beautiful and historic community of faith completely into the hands of our loving Father. From this foundation of trust and security in the one who made us and desires our good and flourishing, renewal and a vibrant future await all of us. True riches in God is the only path forward for those who believe.