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September 30, 2018 - With Great Riches Come Great Responsibilities

Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings

Who is the richest person in the world today? It’s Jeff Bezos of Amazon and Whole Foods fame. His net worth is more than $164 billion. Recently, he made news when he created a $2 billion fund to help the homeless and set up a network of schools. Jeff Bezos has often been criticized for taking a back seat on philanthropy. So when he made news with his new philanthropy, there were skeptical reactions. Imagine that I had $164 in my wallet. Now imagine that a very hungry family approached me for food. Imagine that I gave them $2. What would that look like? Even though $2 billion is a lot of money, not only did most influential people see Bezos’ action as too little, but also questioned whether his charity was meant to create a positive image in society. Either way, this story is a good starting point for my homily.

The reason that I begin my homily by talking about the richest person in the world is because James talks about rich people in today’s second reading. For the past four weeks, I have focused on the second reading from and James and I am choosing to continue with him. As you heard it being read, James was not kind toward them the rich people of his time. In my three points, let me reflect on James’ rationale and the practical implications for us.  

1. James’s Concern. James’ concern was threefold. First, let me say what his concern was not about. His concern was not that business leaders and traders were making a profit. He was not writing against them because they were rich. His first concern was that their they operated without any reference to God or God’s will. His second concern was for what they did with their profit and wealth – that they showed little or no concern for doing good with what they have. Third, and most importantly, James was revolting against some rich becoming wealthy by exploiting others. Hence, he says, “Behold, the wages you withheld from the workers who harvested your fields are crying aloud; and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. For example, Jeff Bezos has often been made aware of the bad working condition at the Amazon warehouses, and also about his obligation to pay just wages. Remember that I had said last week that James functioned in a society where everything was in limited supply. In this context, James reminds the rich that their wealth call them to greater social responsibility.   

2. With Great Riches Come Great Responsibilities. From the Christian perspective, whether we are rich or not, our relationship with wealth tells us much about ourselves. Our relationship with wealth can reveal our true self. Whether we are greedy or content, selfish or caring, good natured or ill-natured, and most importantly, Christians or unchristian can be evaluated by our relationship with wealth. James invites us to examine our relationship with wealth today, and ask ourselves two questions: What has God to do with how I earn and spend my wealth? Second, with the wealth I do have, how much do I concern myself with doing good? Remember, the more we have, the greater our responsibility.  

3. Everything is a Gift. In reality, the readings today are about generosity – not just with regard to wealth, but with regard to our attitudes as well. In life, we must imitate the generosity of God. In today’s first reading, Eldad and Medad, who were not part of Moses’ seventy elders, began to prophecy. The Spirit of God rested on them too. However, Joshua, one of the chosen, got bent out of shape over it. He asked Moses to stop Eldad and Medad from prophesying. Moses, on the contrary, understood the generosity of God. The same situation is repeated in today’s gospel reading. John was upset that someone not part of them was driving out demons in Jesus’ name. He urges Jesus to stop him. Jesus showcased the generosity of God. He said, “For whoever is not against us is for us.” These two stories, along with James’ tirade against the rich people of his time, are telling us to imitate the generosity of God. Can we? Shall we? Our response will tell us much about our Christian character. 

Every Eucharist is an act of God's great generosity. God does not just give us something. God us gives us God's own self. As we partake in God's generous act, may we ourselves be generous... like God. 

- Fr. Satish Joseph