Tag Archives: greed

9 March. Jesus and Zacchaeus III: Personal History

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We all have a history, including Zacchaeus. We do not know what his history was, but it is probable that this friendless man had an unhappy one. Why choose a profession that guarantees the hatred of one’s fellow-man otherwise? Perhaps he was tossed out of the home at a young age by an abusive parent, or perhaps he ran away from a situation of poverty and violence, had to fend for himself, become street-wise, learn to manipulate situations to his advantage. Whatever happened, he became, for reasons we will never know, a rich man, but also a dishonest man in a despised profession. No doubt he was intelligent and competent – too competent, maybe, at getting money – but wealth and the power to ruin people does not attract friends. Sycophants, maybe, but not friends. And not even these were with him that day. He was alone, unsupported. No wife, no servant. No colleague. No one.

Let’s fill in some other details about this man. Working backwards from what the text tells us, it’s not too far-fetched to imagine Zacchaeus as a wiry little boy, able to run fast and scale obstacles easily as he escaped from the angry adults who wanted to thrash him for some misdemeanour – or none. I think he knew what hunger meant as a child, and although he survived by his wits, perhaps his nutrition was dubious, and bodily growth was affected. Now he is a well-to-do adult, but Zacchaeus is a small man. He is abundantly energetic, though, and is both crafty and agile enough to solve his current difficulty without reference to anyone else (it is the story of his life): he cannot see Jesus because he is too short and the crowd is too big and unyielding. Fine. He dashes ahead and swings easily into a sycamore tree, as the text tells us – a tree well furnished with thick branches radiating from a central crown. Here is a resourceful person with few inhibitions. Here is someone determined never to allow his desires to be thwarted. Here is a man who has never cared what people thought of him as he ruthlessly made his fortune – why start now? He climbs higher on the sturdy branches. Yes, excellent view, he thinks smugly. He can see Jesus perfectly now.

And what is happening with Jesus? What is Zacchaeus apt to be seeing? St Luke tells us in the immediately preceding passage that Jesus, on entering Jericho, had healed a blind man, and that ‘all who saw it gave praise to God.’ The formerly blind man then followed Jesus, we are told. He was probably now part of Jesus’ joyful entourage walking down the main road of Jericho. I expect this group might have included many of the people who had known the blind man all his life and had now witnessed his healing. They would have joined Jesus’ group, already consisting of the Twelve, without whom he rarely went anywhere. The gospels also report that there were women among Jesus’ constant supporters and followers, and I image that some of them would have been there now, too. Chances are, the collection of people coming down the road with Jesus was a large one.

As we have seen in our gospel passage, Jesus already seems to know Zacchaeus’ name when he starts the conversation with him. No one introduces them. We do not need to assume that this is a demonstration of Jesus’ divine omniscience. Zacchaeus was infamous. The apostle Matthew, reformed tax collector himself, probably knew him, even if Jesus didn’t. He would probably have warned Jesus about Zacchaeus as he approached the town: “Rich man, but the very devil for getting tax money from people – and then some. Ruthless,” Jesus might have been told. He was probably also told that Zacchaeus lived a big house. I can see Jesus listening quietly to such information, and forming his own plans. Jesus had nothing to fear from notorious individuals.

SJC

Favella image from CD.

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21 January: Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Day 4: Be content with what you have

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Be content with what you have (Hebrews 13:5)

  • Hebrews 13:1-5

  • Matthew 6:25-34

Starting point

God’s goodness has provided ample food and fresh water to sustain life for all and yet many people lack these necessities. Human greed frequently leads to corruption, injustice, poverty and hunger. Jesus teaches us not to be concerned about accumulating more material things than we need. We should, rather, be concerned with proclaiming the Kingdom of equity and announcing God’s reign of justice. Christians are called to live lives which enable the waters of justice to flow.

Reflection

I scrape together

the crumbs of my excess,

perhaps enough to feed the sparrows?

I soak up

the spilling over of my cup,

perhaps enough to drown my sorrows?

I ask myself,

when is enough

ever going to be enough?

You ask me

if I can spare any change

and I worry

that I do not have enough

enough good reason

enough good will

enough compassion

enough empathy

enough humanity

enough energy

enough desire

enough courage

to make the change that is sorely needed.

Prayer

God of the seasons,

whether in bountiful harvest,

or when there is no yield for what we have sown;

let us be content,

that your grace is sufficient.

Help us to have the generosity of spirit,

to share what we have

with those who have not.

May we all be blessed

with love, grace, compassion and mercy,

as we seek to walk humbly

and do justly,

for your name’s sake. Amen.

Questions

  • Share a story of a time when you did not have enough – how did you feel?

  • What do you find the most difficult thing to share?

  • What do you find the most difficult thing to receive?

Go and Do

(see www.ctbi.org.uk/goanddo)

Pay attention to the advertising messages you receive, on buses, billboards, TV, newspapers, online. Reflect on the messages that we are absorbing everyday about what we supposedly need.

Reflect on your identity as a consumer and consider the steps we can take as individuals and as a community of churches to live simply so others can simply live?

Plan a Lent journey between the churches in your area that involves a fast from buying and how we might count and share our blessings instead. Visit Go and do to find out more.

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11 November: Poppies for remembering

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We took a walk in South Manchester, going  to the Fletcher Moss Park along this footpath. Here it crosses over the tram lines; not only has the bridge been decorated with poppies, but where the overgrown verges of the path have been cleared, three local primary schools have sown poppy seeds, ready to come up in the next few weeks. (I was writing this in March, but the poppies did indeed flower during the summer.)

There were poems by some of the children attached to the fence, just out of sight.

On this centenary Remembrance Day, what should we teach them about events that no-one alive remembers? In an increasingly aggressive world, do we say ‘Si Vis Pacem. Pare Bellum’ – ‘If you want peace, prepare for war’? That makes a certain sense, but it is not the way we expect them to behave in the playground.

A sense of injustice can lead to war; but there is also greed. And there is romanticising of self-sacrifice in battle which all too easily prevents the asking of difficult questions. (How dare you suggest my father/brother/son died for nothing.)

There were reasons why our fathers and grandfathers did not speak of their wartime experiences: because romantic it was not. As well as pain, loneliness and fear, a man had to be ready to kill fellow human beings, individually or en masse. Many hated this duty but there was also bloodlust; something we have witnessed, and continue to witness, in today’s conflicts.

Perhaps it’s good to introduce the children to the idea of self-sacrifice, while diverting them from the glorification of war and from the aggressive war games we used to play – in times when the nation had not got the Second World War out of its system. That of course is too easily said, when immersive shoot-up games are readily available on computers and on line. Do these dissipate aggression or reinforce it?

MMB

 

 

 

 

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6 March:Human Will II: The Will and the True Self

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 We are trying to understand what our will is, and are enlisting the help of St. Augustine.  Yesterday we were looking at St. Augustine’s notion of the ‘divided’ will.  In Confessions he admits that he was enamoured of this idea for a while, because in allowing himself the emotional “leeway” which the idea of a divided will gave him, he found himself in the emotionally comfortable position that comes of blaming something else for his sins and failures.  But Augustine ultimately rejected this idea. His relentless pursuit of truth just would not allow him to rest in an untruth.  Eventually, he admits that his will was one and that it was whole.

This kind of will – single and undivided – demanded that Augustine take full responsibility for all his actions.  In one way, this was a much less comfortable position for Augustine.  But by this time, he had found that, paradoxically, a certain kind emotional discomfort is no bad thing, if it enables one to come to a deeper level of personal truth.  His words in the Confessions that we looked at yesterday have a modern sound to them.  ‘I was the only one involved,’ Augustine declares, in describing his moral wrong-headedness.  He is saying here that the desire to blame his wrongdoing on a flawed will is simply a dishonest cop-out.  His words also ring with a kind of healthy, joyful spiritual freedom, as anyone will know who has begun the process of accepting the truth about himself and of undergoing a deep interior change.  Augustine lived in the fourth century, but his words and experiences are timeless.

I recall the words of a teenage boy I knew when I was a teenager – a boy who had been caught stealing on a rather grand scale.  When he finally began to turn his life around he admitted frankly, ‘I stole.  I did it because I wanted to and because I was greedy.  I deserved the punishment I received.’  The acceptance of personal responsibility for his actions, the complete absence of blaming anyone or anything else for his decision to steal, the honest naming of the greed that impelled him, paradoxically, strengthened him on the level of his will and of his true self.  This boy really did turn his life around.

So, what kind of light does this shed on the concept of the human will?  The boy’s very conversion of heart was inseparable from something that originated in his will: the act of taking personal responsibility for his behaviour and attitudes.  This resulted in giving him a sense of himself not as a thief, but as an honest person, allied to truth and goodness.  For this teenage boy, as for Augustine so many centuries before, the will was both the instrument of change and the locus of a new sense of self.  Our will, then, is quite an important endowment.

SJC

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29 December: Thomas Becket 1170, Oscar Romero, 1980.

 

 

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On the evening of this day in 1170, Thomas, Archbishop of Canterbury was hacked to death in his Cathedral. In March 1980, Oscar, Archbishop of San Salvador was gunned down while celebrating the Eucharist.

Two big names from the recent and distant past, both remembered as saints: but what of the thousands suffering persecution and death for their faith today? Not just ‘professional Christians’ like the two archbishops but men, women and children, starved, beaten, exiled, murdered.

Let us pray for those suffering persecution and those trying to help them, including the Franciscans of the Holy Land in Syria. Let us pray, too, for a change of heart among those who are persecuting their brothers and sisters, choosing hatred and fear over love as their way of life. And let us pray that our own hearts be changed, our eyes opened to see what our part might be in this mess: cheap bananas, means low wages, means workers repressed; or cheap petrol,leading to  invasion of Iraq, leading to persecution of allegedly ‘West-sympathising’ Christians.

And we can ask for the support of the martyrs as we pray:

  • Holy and blissful martyr, Thomas of Canterbury: pray for us
  • Blessed Oscar Romero: pray for us
  • All holy martyrs: pray for us.
  • Mary mother of the Church: pray for us.

MB

 

 

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26 December: Christmas Prayers.

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This  battered Madonna and the star come from the cemetery chapel of the former French Jesuit School in Canterbury, whose pupils helped Saint Thomas’s through some lean years in early days. 

When I was writing the history of Saint Thomas’s Catholic Primary School in Canterbury I found in 1970s parish magazines these prayers written by children:

 

Dear Jesus, please help me to go to Mass at Christmas. Give my family a happy day without any fighting or fussing. – EMc

Dear Lord, please make my Christmas joyful and happy. I will try not to be greedy, but I hope I get enough. – JG.

O Lord, thank you for a happy year. I ask for 100 good new ones. – LE.

Surely LE’s childhood was happy: to ask for a hundred good new years implies that the nine or ten she had lived so far were good. Deo Gratias indeed!

JG’s prayer suggests that he knew his attitude could contribute to a joyful and happy Christmas. Perhaps greed had blighted Christmas or other times past?

Greed will never admit to having enough. Let’s pray for an attitude of gratitude! Christmas gifts should be tokens of love, not awards for being good.

I hope EMcC knew only the sibling squabbling and bossiness that drives parents mad but is not deep-dyed animosity.

He clearly valued being at Christmas Mass. When I was little, Midnight Mass was long anticipated. An army of altar servers somehow managed not to trip up each other or the priest, deacon and subdeacon. The MC had to be creative in allocating duties, so that everyone had something to do: all those torchbearers? Well, we had a place to kneel, out of the way, our hands out of mischief; perhaps those flames added a little to the solemnity?

(When Friends of FISC visited the cemetery chapel this summer, we lit candles as we prayed; they certainly added to the solemnity.)

Let’s pray, finally, for something deeper than solemnity: for awe. Awe at the bundle of cells that has become baby Jesus; awe at who Jesus is, and that his coming tells us how ridiculously the Father has loved us. 

MMB.

 

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24 October: Mammon, money, need and greed.

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God’s greatest rival: the religion of Mammon.  “You cannot serve God and money,” Jesus said (Matthew 6:24; Luke 16:13).  This is because money has the capacity to touch the very depths of our soul.  How can it do that?  It has no poetry!  There are no poems about money: I can’t think of a single example.  It could be that it only takes over souls that have no capacity for poetry.  “If you want to see what God thinks of money,” someone said, “look at the people he gives it to.”  In itself it is not an interesting subject.  It is need and greed that lend it interest.  It is, above all, a promise: that essential of any religion.

Its promises, however, are always just for oneself (or one’s family: one’s larger self).  Listen to the advertisers.  The underlying creed is that life has nothing to offer but what can be purchased or won, and that there is nothing either good or bad beyond that.  All others are either partners or competitors: people who can help or hinder you in your search for more of the same.

I am thinking, of course, of pure devotees.  Many, as in every religion, are not true believers, or have mixed motives.  There are wealthy people who have a real care for the half of the world that is malnourished.  But there are others, like the rich man in the parable, who don’t even notice Lazarus at their door, and who are therefore able to step over him without malice, keeping their own self-esteem intact.  And there are others again who notice Lazarus but keep their self-esteem by throwing him a few scraps.

The religion of Mammon is a destructive cult.  It not only destroys the poor by enriching its devotees at their expense, but it destroys the devotees themselves.  They are creating “a great chasm” between themselves and the rest of humanity, so that “those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.”

Which characters does the story ask us to identify ourselves with?  The rich man, Dives?  In fact he is given no name in the gospels: ‘dives’ is just the Latin word for ‘a rich man’; the rich man has no identity except his wealth.  No, we are not being asked to see ourselves as Dives.  Lazarus, then?  No, neither is it telling us to lie down at the rich man’s door like Lazarus.

The parable is telling us that we are the rich man’s five brothers.  We have Moses and the prophets  – but above all we have Jesus  –  to tell us to live by a different religion, a subversive religion that “casts down the mighty from their thrones and exalts the lowly, that fills the hungry with good things but sends the rich away empty.”  We are not told whether the five brothers changed their lives around.  Why?  Because we are the five brothers, and the story isn’t over yet.

AMcC

By Meister des Codex Aureus Epternacensis

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October 10: CONSCIENCE III: Under the Microscope

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There is good news and bad news about our conscience.  The good news is that our conscience has an affinity with what is good, and on this level of our being we “are alone with God whose voice echoes in our depths,” as The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us [no. 1776].  This wonderful “sanctuary” is given to us by God, we only need to put aside our many distractions in order to enter it.

But, if that is so, then why do good people sometimes go off the rails?  Surely, so much God-given moral integrity should keep us pretty steadily on the right path in life, once we have made the decision to take it.  Thus, the bad news about our conscience is this: its wisdom can be ignored, as St. Thomas Aquinas remarks [Summa Theologia, I, 79, 13].  He points out that conscience is not like our intellect and our will, because these two faculties of the soul have permanence; the powers of our mind and will are always functioning and cannot be laid aside.    Conscience is something else again.  It requires, St. Thomas implies, a certain depth of spirituality in order to do its work well; otherwise, its promptings can simply be tuned out.

Why is this so?  Recall, we do not live in a state of harmony within ourselves.  The true voice of conscience can be out-shouted by other parts of ourselves: our emotions, for example, can, and often do, overwhelm us and can make the judgement of conscience difficult to discern.  My emotion of anger, say, when someone offends me, might cause me to fail to take into account the fact that the offender did not intend to cause hurt.  I may find myself lashing out unreasonably, without listening to my own conscience telling me to give the other person a chance to explain.  Or, say, my greed for a new, stylish pair of shoes might be more insistent than the voice of my conscience telling me that I cannot really afford these designer stilettos, and I shouldn’t add the price of them to my credit card debt.

What do we do about this state of affairs?  Perhaps we need to view our conscience as we view our muscles.  Weak muscles need exercise in order to become strong.  Our conscience is something like that.  Ignore its voice and the voice becomes weaker and harder to hear.  Seek to follow the voice of conscience, and its guiding voice will strengthen and become easier to discern.  

SJC.

 

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