It’s obvious that the Bible values our identity as the People of God, and our actions that conform to His rule, over any wealth and pleasure – although an abundance of wealth and pleasure is sought by the people in Old Testament narratives. Thus in today’s liturgical selections, the Psalm has us repeat, “The Lord made us, we belong to him.” Whatever we have is his gift. What is emphasized today is not even what we do, but What We Are.
Some 37 years ago I saved and framed the cover from the July 31, 1971, issue of The New Yorker. It had a prominent place in my kitchen for over twelve years. After we moved to our present home, I put it where at least I will see it, in hopes I’ll remember what the painting says to me.
The artwork by Saul Steinberg consists of the three phrases, “I Am, I Have, I Do.” At the top the “I Do” floats in the air, each multicolored letter surrounded by a rainbow halo of light. Doing, says this painting, is pretty glorious – and it’s out there, for all to see. Below, standing on the “ground,” the letters of “I Have” are made up of broken pieces of weathered wood and scraps of clothing (the “A” includes a torn shirt sleeve with three buttons). Having, it seems, is not worth very much. But the “I Am” in this New Yorker cover painting is the “ground.” The letters are painted as composed of solid bedrock, with grass and even one flowering plant growing on the top. What I Am is foundational, and fruitful.
So today’s first reading says, “We are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for good works.” And today’s Gospel starts as Jesus fends off someone who covets his brother’s inheritance, using the moment to tell the crowd “Guard against all greed.” He also teaches that What I Am is more than What I Have: “One’s life does not consist of possessions.”
“Then he told them a parable.” I don’t think this says that grain and barns are not good in themselves, or that it’s wrong to “rest, eat, drink, be merry.” But our good things and pleasures just aren’t worth much compared to the really “bountiful harvest” of eternal life. In the parable, God calls the rich man “You fool,” but I think he said it lovingly, like “You foolish child.” Surely I may hope that the man who had all the “grain and other goods” was also rich enough “in what matters to God.” And again I remember the Jesuit hymn, “Your love and your grace / Are enough for me.”
It’s all pretty obvious, we’ve heard it before, and unless we stop listening, we’ll hear it again in other readings from the Gospels. But now, today I pray: Let that which is generally obvious to my mind, in words, become keenly obvious to my heart, in action. Let me value as Jesus does, “guard against all greed,” and seek with all my heart “what matters to God.”
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