Friday, August 12, 2022

Homilies

Seek That Which Is Above
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M.
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Seek That Which Is Above

Homily for the Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

This eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time brings us to the final passage from our continuous reading of St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians. As I mentioned at the outset, four weeks ago, this letter appears to be homily from a baptismal ceremony. The letter is filled with all sorts of references and verbal images that reveal St. Paul’s thinking about this sacrament of initiation into Christian life. As we have seen earlier, St. Paul writes even more strongly than in his other letters in recognizing the risen life which we inherit through baptism as already a present reality in the lives of those who have gone down into the water and have risen out of it washed clean of sin.

In the passage that we read today, St. Paul uses several imperative statements: “Seek what is above.” “Put to death the parts of you that our earthly.” “Stop lying to one another.” Through these statements, St. Paul reminds those who are baptized that being raised with Christ depends upon constantly and actively seeking to live out that risen life. Our life as a child of God is a new life in existence for others through participation in the being of Jesus who was the man for others. Jesus did not content himself with simply preaching about the things that are above, but he willingly gave himself up to his persecutors and was crucified to live out his relationship to God and his neighbor.

Hence the apostolic writer concludes, not with the individualistic ascetic that we might have expected from his initial prohibitions of immorality, but with an affirmation about the Christian community as a community in which there is not “Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, or free man.” In other words, the true Christian community sets aside such differences and recognizes that all were baptized into Christ and, therefore, Christ is in all. This truth was taken up by the Second Vatican Council which in its Apostolic Constitution on the Word of God reminds all of us that Jesus is present not only in the sacrament of the Eucharist, not only in the Word of God, not also in every baptized Christian. Those who wish to see the face of Christ need only look into the face of their neighbor.

The Gospel parable that we hear today presents us with a man who is the antithesis of what Paul teaches us in his letter. He does not “seek what is above.” Instead, he is concerned with how he will store the rich harvest with which he has been blessed. Instead of sharing that blessing with those who are less fortunate, he intends to build larger barns to store up the harvest so that he can spend the rest of his life eating, drinking, and making merry. This parable is not left open ended as is often the case with the parables of Jesus. Jesus tells us explicitly exactly what he means when he says, “Thus will it be for the one who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God.”

We find this attitude reflected in the first reading from the Book of Ecclesiastes. The passage we read today begins with the very familiar words, “Vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!” Just as Jesus has taught us in the Gospel reading and St. Paul has taught us in his Letter to the Colossians, one who toils all his life simply to accumulate things is foolish and lives a life full of anxiety and labor. We can substitute the word “meaningless,” “futility,” or “absurdity” for the word vanity. Because such a life is meaningless and futile and absurd.

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