The Life of True Happiness
A homily on Luke 6:17-26 by Tim Hoffmann, 15 February 2004
Do you ever have that great feeling when you hold that wad of notes in your hand as you leave the ATM machine?
Have you ever felt so satisfied when you look at your bank balance at that fat amount of money youve saved?
Or the feeling of newfound wealth when property prices suddenly soar?
Conversely do you ever get worried and anxious by the relentless concerns of our age:
Am I saving enough super for my retirement?
Will I have enough money to live on?
Is it a waste to rent or should I take the plunge and buy?
I am being paid what I deserve?
AND in relation to our possessions how much time, effort, money, effort and worry is taken up in maintaining, storing and caring for what we own? The car, the house, our clothes, our precious mementos, our furniture and everything else.
Really where does our security lie. Is it in the Almighty Dollar and our material wealth, or is it focussed on where it really matters on God and his will.
This is the question Jesus asks as he turns to his disciples. He looks at them and us straight in the eye and on our hearts and questions our way of life.
Jesus says to his followers that if you are to truly follow him this is the life to follow. A life radically different to the cultural mores, fixations and priorities of our time. For what the world admires is fundamentally devalued, and for what the world despises is spoken of highly. However this path, the Jesus way of life, leads to true happiness.
The Gospel reading contains four blessings and four rebukes. The four blessings are addressed to the poor and the destitute. The four rebukes are addressed to the rich. Let us look at the four rebukes, for surely as westerners living in Australia, in a world where 3 billion people live on less than $5 a day, these words are for us.
Before we encounter these words let us consider who are the rich?
The rich are not simply those who enjoy a life of cultural and economic sufficiency, I stress sufficiency. The rich are not simply those who do not suffer, habitual material affliction and deprivation.
Rather the rich are those who accumulate possessions without necessity; without necessity and beyond sheer need. It is never enough just to have what I basically require, I always want more. It is about excess; having more than what is sufficient and fair. This is like the man who stored up his treasures for himself in place of making himself rich in the sight of God (Luke 12.20-21).
The rich neither share their goods nor place them in the service of others as we learn from the parable of rich person (Luke 16:19-31). They have a selfish relationship with their money and possessions.
The rich are those who elevate wealth, power and prestige into values themselves into idols. As Jesus says Where your treasure is there will your heart be also. You cannot be slave both of God and of money (Matthew 6:21,24).
So what are Jesus words for us?
The writings on the wall for you who have got it all now. Thats it for you. Youve got nothing more to look forward to.
And the writings on the wall for you who consume to excess. Youve had your share. Youre going to go hungry.
These reproaches are like flashing alarms. Your riches and your relationship with them will lead you to an impending future if nothing changes. For life in the Kingdom and the service of riches is incompatible.
Jesus says: You may think that because of your riches on earth, you have no need of anyone or anything else least alone God. But your wealth is like a trap, for the accumulation of money and our possessions will remove you from focussing and gaining what is of ultimate value: the spiritual resources of life. Possessing these resources is what really matters in the end.
There is also a call to justice in these words. We are called to account for what we have and how we use it. We are stewards of the bounty we now enjoy. We are called to share what we have. There was a saying popular a few years ago Live simply so that others may simply live.
These spiritual issues face us daily both with the major and minor financial choices we make? How and what we spend our money on. Do we spend it on ourselves or on others? How comfortable does our life need to be? How much time and money do we spend on what gives us pleasure and enjoyment? For me, one of the challenges is how much money do I waste on food, that I could more responsibly spend on other ways.
The writings on the wall for you who think its all a big joke now. The smile is going to be wiped right off your face.
Jesus is referring to those who revel in their pursuit of pleasure. Those who benefit from the happiness, joy and delight they find in their possessions and what their money can buy, like beautiful clothes, the marvels of travel and expensive food and drink. However Jesus is challenging us to seek and know true happiness. Happiness that is not superficial, fleeting and on the surface, but that which is deep and abiding.
In addition, the Jesus way of life is one attuned and sensitive to the suffering of others. There are times for weeping and sorrow, times when we are called to identify with those who suffer and with our own internal struggles.
If everyone is fawning over you and saying how wonderful you are, then the writings well and truly on the wall.
To some extent this is the biggest trap of them all. How easily can we let ourselves be flattered and feted. The applause and acclaim from others make us feel so good, and what could be wrong with that.
What are our true motives in life? Do we do the things we do because we believe them to be right, or are they really in pursuit of other peoples approval and to make ourselves feel good.
Last year I sent off a chapter to be published. To what degree is that about getting a message out into the community about refugees and religious homophobia, and more about getting my name in print.
How self centred and needy are we really? Only by allowing God into our lives and listening to the deep voices within ourselves, can we truly examine our hearts and desires. Only by living a life humble before our God, can we grow in our understanding of ourselves and in our service to others.
Finally the Jesus way of life, the life of true happiness, is not something we do on our own. God calls us into community to know him and to serve him.
As we here, in South Yarra, emerge as a community of faith, may we have the courage to come out of own comfort zones and be more communal in the use of our individual resources.
Will we have the grace and humility to receive from others? For as the saying goes, it is so much easier to give, when we are in control and can determine the terms, rather that to simply receive from others, whether it is receiving money, goods or birthday celebrations. Will we trust in God and take the risks and share what we have with each other? Are we willing to be more that an assorted collection of individuals and place our trust in becoming the body of Christ?
These are the challenges before us.
For an enlightening study on the Beatitudes see Segundo Galilea The Beatitudes
To Evangelize as Jesus Did Orbis Books Maryknoll USA 1984