18th Sunday: Rich and Poor

18th Sunday We only have to look at so-called reality television to see just how far some of our compatriots will go to be famous, to be wealthy or to be part of the popular imagination. We should never be surprised when our media culture reflects this back to us. And by watching these programs, reading some newspapers and magazines, listening to the shock-jocks and buying the merchandise, we need to be aware that we are part of the problem, not part of the solution. In today’s Gospel Jesus tells us just how deadly riches and greed can be. Our own experience tells how right he is: think of how many children fight in the playground because everything they see "is mine"; the families who have fought over an estate; the number of friends who have fallen out over even small amounts of money; colleagues who no longer speak to each other because of a failed investment; and nations who have gone to war to get what their neighbors have. The issue with money is not in having it, because money, and the health, education and welfare that flow from it, is a good thing whereas poverty is an evil that God wants wiped off the face of the earth. The problem is what we do with money and what it does to us. Some Christians think that just because they are financially comfortable from legitimate earnings, they do not have to take any responsibility for the world’s poor who are often stereotyped as being lazy, war-mongering and irreligious. These images may justify not sharing more of the excess we have, but it does not remove the moral obligation Jesus demands of us today. Of the world’s 6 billion people, 1.2 billion of them live on $365 a year. We should try telling them they’re lazy, war-mongering and irreligious! In an attempt to get rich quickly or to stay rich, most western countries gamble away ten to fifteen times more money than they give to third world development--money that might help foster markets with just wages, and so provide an incentive for work, curtail or prevent some wars and help develop democracy. When faced with the enormity of the world’s poverty, the bad spirit can convince us that it is so large, there is nothing that we can do about it. Not true. Every moment of consciousness and each act of goodness toward anyone anywhere is a victory for God’s kingdom, and is God’s will being done ’on earth as it is in heaven’. No one can pretend, however, that throwing money around will solve the world’s problems. Everyone who works on the front-line says that dignity is the biggest obstacle in the war on poverty. And dignity, as Jesus reminds us today, has very little to do with money or possessions. Each time we make a claim for our own dignity and we give dignity to people who do not even claim it for themselves, we contribute to the generous and just world Jesus wants. And sometimes that can be as easy as turning the channel on the radio or the TV. Let’s pray that we feel the sharp edge of today’s Gospel and we accept its power to convert our hearts and minds. May we meet its challenges in regard to bestowing dignity upon the poor, and sharing our possessions with those who have a just claim on them. Richard Leonard, S.J.
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