Greed Grasps, Generosity Gains

Luke 12:13-21
Eph 2:1-10 / Ps 100:1-5

Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for though one may be rich, a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.
(Luke 12:15)

All wealth in life is an illusion,
Gold here on earth is in heaven dross;
If our faith lies in our possession
A greater treasure will be our loss.

A man in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.” Jesus replied, “Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator? Then He said to the crowd, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed, for though one may be rich, a man’s life does not consist of possessions.” And He told them this parable: “A certain rich man’s land produced a bountiful harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ‘But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded of you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ “Thus will it be for the one who stores up treasures for himself but is not rich in what matters to God.” (Luke 12:13-21)

Reflection

Our Lord’s preaching was rudely interrupted by this man who was more concerned about his worldly wants than the eternal lessons that our Lord was teaching. But Jesus always employed any situation as an occasion to impart His wisdom, and in this instance, He warned His listeners to be on guard against the sin of avarice. A man in the grip of greed is usually one who is concerned only of himself, and has little concern for others. The rich fool in Jesus’ parable is talking to himself, and even refers to himself (the words “I” and “my”) eleven times. There is no mention of thanks to God or others for his good fortune, nor even plans to share his bumper crop. In fact, typical of a shrewd Shylock, he even plans to hoard the harvest so that he can wait for a better price, instead of flooding the market to benefit the public.

Against this evil of avarice God gives us the grace of generosity. I remember one of our community’s worship assemblies, where the theme was “Generosity”. In the short personal testimonies that followed, we were touched to hear the many creative ways by which the Holy Spirit led some members to “give without counting the cost.” Our worship leader shared about their sense of gratification in providing scholarship to an indigent youth who later became his mechanic. Another brother in Christ expressed his gratitude for the generosity of friends who helped him in his hospitalization expenses. One senior lady member even rued how frustrated she felt that she could not lend a bigger amount of money to a colleague who sought her help. Many more shared about being charitable, but the most moving testimony was not about giving of her resources, but about sharing to a large audience in a mall a sister’s bout with cancer, and how good the Lord was for having healed her completely. What she gave was more valuable than money – to a lot of people suffering from afflictions– she shared her faith, and gave them hope.

Lord, give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Lest, having too much I deny You saying, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or being in want, I steal, and so dishonor the name of my God. (Prov. 30: 8-9) Thank You, Lord for everything in my life, especially for a loving family and a prayerful community. Amen.

Giving Witness to Jesus

Luke 12: 8-12
Rom 4:13.16-18 / Ps 105:6-9,42-43

I tell you, every one who acknowledges me before men, the Son of man also will acknowledge before the angels of God.
(Luke 12:8)

If we are not bold and willing
To declare ourselves for the Lord,
How can we make ourselves fitting
To have God’s eternal reward?

“And I tell you, every one who acknowledges me before men, the Son of man also will acknowledge before the angels of God; but he who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God. And every one who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious how or what you are to answer or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”

Reflection

Clearly, there are three things that our Lord teaches us in this Gospel passage of Luke. The first is the most fundamental requirement in every Christian’s life: to give witness to the reality of Jesus Christ in our life. God wants us to strengthen our faith not only by acknowledging the Divinity of the Triune God, but by proclaiming His love and saving power to others on all occasions, and in every opportunity. Failing to “confess Christ before men” as our God and Redeemer is equivalent to denying Him, just as St. Peter denied Him in the courtyard of the high priest. But like St. Peter, our Lord Jesus will still forgive us for denying Him if we just acknowledge Him again as our Lord and Savior, and resolve to overcome this weakness in the face of ridicule, enmity, or persecution.

Which leads us to the second message of this Gospel: that even if our God is all-forgiving and merciful, He will not impose His will on our freedom of choice. That is why there is a sin that cannot be forgiven, because the sinner chooses to reject or ignore God’s offer of repentance. This is what Jesus meant when He said, “He who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.” Blasphemy is like spitting on the face of one offering peace and forgiveness. It is a deliberate rejection of what is good and truthful because of pride, arrogance, selfishness and greed. The sinner has become totally encrusted in his own delusion of power and self-sufficiency that the Holy Spirit can no longer communicate with his soul.

Finally, our Lord teaches us that in the event we are brought before such men of power and arrogance, we must not be intimidated and subdued into silence. Even if they wield much power and influence, they are after all, mere mortals, while we have the backing of the Holy Spirit, and empowered by the Word of God. As our Lord has promised, the Holy Spirit will give us the eloquence to proclaim the Good News, ‘shame the arrogant’ and claim the repentant.

Lord Jesus, thank You for the beautiful lessons that You bring to us in today’s Gospel of St. Luke. May they strengthen our resolve to speak boldly in the marketplaces, so that other businessmen and professionals will also exercise true Christian values in the practice of their businesses and professions. Amen.

Nothing Escapes God’s Eyes

Luke 12:1-7
Eph 1:11-14 / Psa 33

“There is nothing concealed that will not be revealed.”
(Luke 12:2)

All things in darkness come to light;
No lie can ever be concealed.
What secrets can hide from God’s sight?
In time the truth will be revealed.

Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another, Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, saying: “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the rooftops. I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear Him. Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Luke 12:1-7)

Reflection

The hypocrisy of the Pharisees was what made them contemptible to God, because they thought they could fool God with their duplicity. Their “leaven” was what made them bloat with pride. To their fellow Jews they might have appeared great in piety and spirituality, but Jesus exposed them for what they really were — just a lot of air.

There is nothing unknown to God, whether it’s the number of our hairs or the countless stars. There is no secret hidden from the eyes of God. And He cares for all of His creation – even the worthless sparrows. How much more for us, whom He made in His image and likeness? Only one thing He requires of us to be worthy of His love – to be sincere in our faith. And that means being truthful in all our ways.

During the Baptism of the Holy Spirit in our brotherhood’s Christian Life Program. many of our participants break down in tears. This is the cathartic effect of finally coming face to face with our sins, and being led out of their darkness into the light of God’s loving forgiveness. Shedding tears is a natural outpouring of repentance, and the result of being released from the bondage of abnormal behavior, and restored into our rightful place in the arms of our Savior. They are tears of joy indeed!

Give thanks to the Lord on the harp; with the ten-stringed lyre chant His praises. For upright is the word of the Lord, and all His works are trustworthy. He loves justice and right; of the kindness of the Lord the earth is full. Happy the nation whose God is the Lord, the people He has chosen for His own inheritance. From heaven the Lord looks down; He sees all mankind. (Psalm 33:1-2, 4-5,12-13)

Commission From Christ

Luke 10: 1-9
2 Tm 4:10-17b / Ps 145

The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the Master of the harvest to send out laborers for His harvest.
(Luke 10:2)

In this life we’re called on a mission
To serve God in our words and deeds;
We do not worry for provisions,
God will take care of all our needs.

After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of Him to every town and place He intended to visit. He said to them, “The harvest is abundant, but the laborers are few; so ask the Master of the harvest to send out laborers for His harvest. Go on your way; behold, I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road. When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house. When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ (Luke 10:1-9)

Reflection

In the last chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, before our Lord ascended into heaven, He commanded and commissioned His followers by addressing them in these words: “Full authority has been given to Me both in heaven and on earth; go therefore, and make disciples of all nations. Baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Teach them to carry out everything I have commanded you. And know that I am with you always, until the end of the world.” (Mt.28:18-20)

As members of the Church, we all have a specific mission to make all men Christians. Jesus’ directive is clearly addressed to all the members of His Church in no uncertain terms. If we truly believe, then we have been drafted into God’s Army. Through His Commission, Jesus has ordered us to the warfront to do battle against the forces of hell- to liberate others from Satan’s evil influence. As soldiers of Christ and members of His Church, we have the responsibility to teach and proclaim the Good News to all as we have learned it from others, or was given to us by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” (John 20:21) God the Father sent Jesus, His Son, to proclaim the Good News. Now Jesus gives the same commission to us to bring the light to those who still live in darkness.

Evangelization is life’s mission entrusted to every disciple of Jesus Christ. He said, “If you wish to be a follower of mine, deny yourself and take up your cross each day, and follow me. For if you choose to save your life, you will lose it, and if you lose your life for my sake, you will save it. What does it profit you to gain the whole world, but lose your soul? If someone feels ashamed of me and of my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Glory and in the Glory of his Father with his holy angels.” (Lk.9:23-26) Jesus also said, “Whoever has put his hand to the plow and looks back is not fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62)

Grant us, O Lord, the grace to be bold in proclaiming your Word in the marketplace. As followers of Jesus, let Your Holy Spirit guide us in our life’s mission, so that we may be worthy of Your kingdom. Amen.

Of Pharisees and Lawyers

Luke 11: 42-46
Gal 5:18-25 / Psa 1:1-4,6

There will be glory, honor, and peace for everyone who does good . . . There is no partiality with God.
(Romans 2:10-11)

Those seats of honor in high places
Will never put us in God’s graces.
Nor man-made laws can guarantee
Man’s passage to eternity.

“Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone. Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and respectful greetings in the marketplaces. Woe to you, because you are like unmarked graves, which people walk over without knowing it.” One of the experts in the law answered Him, “Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us also.” Jesus replied, “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them. Then one of the lawyers present reacted: “Teacher, by saying this you are insulting us too.” So Jesus included them in His condemnation: “Woe also to you scholars of the law! You impose on people burdens hard to carry, but you yourselves do not lift a finger to help them.”

Reflection

By exalting themselves, the proud consign themselves to oblivion, like forgotten graves, dishonored by trodding feet. But those who conduct their affairs with humility will be “loved more than a giver of gifts, for the more humble you are, the greater you will be in the eyes of God and man. For great is the power of God; by the humble He is glorified.” (Sirach 4: 17-19)

In the case of lawyers and judges, or the so-called ‘scholars of the law’, they share the burden of guilt, as most of them love to muddle the affairs of men with laws they themselves craft and interpret for their own benefit. Truth and Justice are often sacrificed in the salas of legalistic manipulations and compromises.

My elder brother is a judge whose integrity and forthrightness I admire. So was my father-in-law. There are also many lawyers in our running club and brotherhood that we hold in high esteem. But every now and then one meets a ‘practical professional’ of the law who would rather use connections than true merits as a leverage to win a case. Like the trial lawyer I once met. He was from out of town and had a case being tried in one of the local courts. He was gloating with confidence that day because according to him, by the use of hand signals, he discovered that he and the judge trying his case belonged to the same “brotherhood”. I was incredulous and bluntly asked, “You mean your ‘brotherhood’ places connections above justice and the law?” I hoped it would not take him long to realize that he had not only given the word “brotherhood” a bad name, but had put his profession in a bad light.

Lord, grant us the grace to realize that there is no substitute for what is honest, just, and moral, and no amount of human laws crafted by the most brilliant minds can ever change even one letter of these timeless values of Your Divine Law. May Your greatest law of love rule our lands now and forever. Amen.

Alms for Atonement

Luke 11: 37-41
Gal.5:1-6 / Psa 119:41-48

. . . give alms, and behold, everything will be clean for you.
(Luke 11:41)

What rituals in our religion
Can lead to our purification?
All that we need is compassion
To the poorest for our salvation.

After Jesus had spoken, a Pharisee invited Him to dine at his home. He entered and reclined at table to eat. The Pharisee was amazed to see that He did not observe the prescribed washing before dinner. Then the Lord said to him, “Oh you Pharisees! Although you cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, inside you are full of plunder and evil. You fools! Did not He who made the outside make the inside also? But as to what is within, give alms, and behold, everything will be clean for you.” (Luke 11:37-41)

Reflection

Our Lord was fully aware that His non-observance of the ritual washing of the hands before a meal would shock His host, but He intentionally disregarded this outward display of piety to teach this Pharisee a lesson on transparency and charity as the way to genuine purity. External purification mattered little compared to the righteousness in a man’s heart.

The Pharisees had become so engrossed in the performance of certain rituals according to their Talmud that they believed being faithful in their observance was enough to keep them righteous before God and in the eyes of men, even if they indulged themselves in greed, envy and malevolent schemes (against Jesus). But our Lord knew their thoughts, and boldly called them “fools!” for failing to see that they cannot hide their plunder and evil from God, “Who made the outside (and) inside also”. The best way to cleanse the greed and all forms of evil in their hearts would be to practice charity and almsgiving. All their rituals count for nothing; according to St. Paul (first reading), “the only thing that matters is faith expressing itself through love” (Gal.5:6).

Charity has always been the message of God even as far back as the time of the patriarchs. “He who oppresses the poor blasphemes his Maker, but he who is merciful to the needy glorifies Him” (Prov.14:31). “Just as water quenches fire, so alms atone for sins” (Sir.3:29). The Pharisees had long neglected this important practice of the ancients, where a part of the tithes and remains of harvests were given to widows and orphans (Deut.24:17-22). Jesus was reminding them of their negligence due to their preoccupation with their empty rituals intended for their own “sanctification”. True holiness lies in positive acts of kindness and compassion to the needy, especially the widows, beggars and homeless orphans.

It is heartening to note that most if not all of our parish churches continue to provide charitable outreaches for the poor such as the Caritas program, through which those who have more in life can extend help to those who have less. Jesus has taught us in many instances in the Gospel that if we truly love God, then we must show our love and mercy to the least of His children. How much love and gratitude do we give back to God when the second collection comes around after the holy communion at Sunday mass? For our sakes, let us always remember His words, “Give, and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.” (Luke 6:38)

Teach us, dear Lord, to be generous and kind to the needy. If we can be generous in giving to our church, then we must also be as generous if not even more so to the needy who beg for alms. After all, in their want they are helping us to atone for our sins, so they must be there for our cleansing. Amen.