”Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's needs, but not every man's greed.“ ~ Mahatma Ghandi
“You were dead in your transgressions and sins in which you once lived following the age of this world,” Saint Paul tells the people of Ephesus in today’s 1st Reading (Ephesians 2:1-10), going on to explain how God, rich in mercy on account of his immeasurable love for mankind, brought us to life through his Son. It is by this sheer grace that we have been saved. You’ll oftentimes hear someone proclaim themselves a “born again Christian.” I would contend that we are all born again Christians (John 3:1-7), our rebirth made possible only by the grace of Jesus’ presence in our lives. Paul goes on to say that “for by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast. For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for good worksthat God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them.” It is from this passage that the inevitable “faith versus works” debate will so often emerge, oftentimes in contentious fashion. I would invite you to reflect upon this question in a slightly different way. Yes, Jesus died for our sins and in doing so opened the Gates of Heaven. He came to pay a debt he didn’t owe, because we owe a debt we cannot pay. Salvation through Jesus is a divine gift, one that cannot be earned. So the question I pose, plain and simple, is this one:
What is your response to this gift? What is your response to Jesus dying for your sins? When you stand before him one day in judgement, will the life you lead serve as your thank you?
Oftentimes, people who have a seminal encounter with Jesus, whatever it may be, are left to ask themselves, now what? I think of the words of the popular Catholic Radio Host Father John Riccardo, who in answering that question explains that we are called to be “active agents in God’s hands.”
Today’s Gospel (Luke 12:13-21) deals with the deadly sin of greed. Jesus tells the parable of the rich man whose land yielded a bountiful harvest. His response to God’s largesse was not to share it, to feed the hungry for instance, but instead to tear down his barns and build bigger ones. He thought in doing so, he could store up treasure and in turn “rest, eat, drink and be merry.” We go on to find out that this man would die that evening, prompting Jesus to ask rhetorically “...these things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?” Jesus leaves us with this thought in the waning words of the passage: “Thus will it be for the one who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God.” In the “greed is good” culture that prevails today, we clearly see many in our midst who are building their Kingdoms here on Earth, giving no thought to their eternal Heavenly dwelling place (John 14:2). They instead pursue that which “moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.“ (Matthew 6:19).
We see in this passage too that there is no “coasting into Heaven.” Every day, until we breathe our last, we must strive to know the Lord, love the Lord, and serve the Lord. To love our neighbors as ourselves. Those of you familiar with the story of Saint Isaac Jogues, who along with Saint John de Brebeuf and their Companions are memorialized today as martyrs of our Church, know that he was brutally tortured and imprisoned for over a year by the Iroquois Indians of Quebec as he sought to convert the Huron Indians to Christianity. Several of his fingers were cut, chewed, or burnt off. An unexpected chance for escape came to Jogues through the Dutch, and he returned to his native France where he was welcomed home as a hero and relieved of his evangelical duties. He would insist however upon returning to North America to continue his Missionary work, knowing full well the risk this entailed. He was in fact quickly captured by a warring Mohawk tribe and subsequently tomahawked and killed with fellow priest Jean de Lalande.
In this story and others like it, we are shown divine examples of what a vibrant response to Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross looks like. It’s highly unlikely that we will be called to make the kind of sacrifice that Saint Isaac Jogues and his Companions made, but we are nonetheless reminded of the words of Horace Mann, words that I will leave you with today, when he said “Doing nothing for others is the undoing of ourselves.”