Weekly Meditation: 31st July 2016
Psalm 107:1-9, 43
Psalm 107:43 tells us to ‘consider the great love of the Lord’ who delivers us in times of distress (107:6) and who goes to great lengths to redeem his people (107:2). God’s love is never better demonstrated than in Hosea 11:1-11. Here are the heartbroken words of a father concerning a wayward child – God speaking of Israel. Although this child has not acknowledged his father (11:3), has left home far behind (11:2a) and given his allegiance to others (11:2b), yet the Lord cannot carry out his anger against Israel (11:9), and he anticipates the time when the people of Israel will return to him (11:11).
God is great, and loving, and those of us who know him as their heavenly Father should trust him. Writing to the Colossians, Paul reminds us to set our hearts on ‘things above … not on earthly things’ (Colossians 3:1-3). Becoming specific, he tells us to shun immorality, impurity, evil desires – and greed which he equates with idolatry (3:5). Further, we are told to be rid of much of what is common in our society – anger, rage, malice, slander, filthy language and lying. To do so is to put on the new self (3:8-9). These are timely warnings for us, whose media are full of many of those detestable qualities. And it is easy to get swept along by the shallow celebrity culture which extols the famous simply for what they own and what they wear.
The ‘rich man’ of Jesus’ parable was one such (Luke 12:13-21). He exemplifies the attitude that is common today. He believed his future was secure because he had ‘plenty of good things laid up for many years’. In his case, it did him no good at all because that very night he died. His riches were of no use to him any longer. He had ‘stored up things for himself but was not rich towards God’ (Luke 12:21).
Many have echoed his words however. They have made investments, paid into pension plans and trusted in their job security as if these things are all that matter. They have then felt that all they had to do was to ‘take life easy, eat, drink and be merry’.
This parable of Jesus was initiated because a man asked him, ‘Tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me’ (12:13). No doubt the man had a legal right to a share of the inheritance and believed that Jesus’ authority would impress his brother. Jesus, however, was not interested in arbitrating in a financial case. He warned the man – and us – to ‘Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.’ (12:15).
In 2001, the then RC archbishop, Cardinal Cormack Murphy O’Connor, made a speech in which he described Christianity as ‘almost vanquished’. He said that in our society we have the attitude that ‘what I have is what I am’ – our possessions define us as individuals, they proclaim our status, they declare our worth. That attitude flies in the face of Jesus’ warning to beware of greed. In the popular estimation, a person’s life does consist in the abundance of his possessions. We have caused ourselves heartache in this uncertain world by giving glory to wealth and glamour. There is a temptation to rest our security not on Jesus, but on money.
Suppose, however, that the words of Jesus – ‘a man’s (or woman’s) life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions’ – were written over every shop doorway, on the cover of every glossy magazine, plastered all over the internet, on every advertisement for shoes, cars, mobile phones, wristwatches, exotic holidays, properties, clothes, and on all the ‘celebrity’ news about what some vapid woman is wearing now. Perhaps then we might reset our priorities and begin to convince ourselves to believe and trust in what Jesus is telling us.
And then, perhaps, humankind will return to their loving Father, as he hoped Israel would (Hosea 11:11).
By Susan Thorne