By the Rev Msgr Harry Entwistle
Eighteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time Sunday 4th August 2019
Christians are negative, boring, plastic people who need to lighten up and get with the programme. The readings for today give the impression that those who say these things about Christians may have a point.
The reading from Ecclesiastes is depressing – we are born, we live, we die, then nothing! Why not live it up then? The reading from Colossians isn’t much better. This gives us the impression that we can do anything so long as it is not illegal, immoral or it makes us fat.
Superficially these readings are depressing so we need to scratch beneath the surface. The key word is ‘choice.’ We have free will so we can make choices. One of the first choices we make every day is whether to get out of bed or not! Most choices we make are minor, but some create paradigm shifts on our life so it is vital we make good choices.
Today’s epistle and gospel tell us that making the choice to take our Christian discipleship seriously is the choice that shapes all significant choices we make. Jesus is asked to make a judgement in a family property dispute between two brothers, one of whom received nothing in a will. Jesus didn’t adjudicate but pointed out that the value of a person does not lie in what that person has, but I who he is. The choices we make reflect where our values lie and so shape who we become.
Jesus then goes on to tell the story of the farmer who harvests a bumper crop. He chooses to build bigger barns, live of his assets and jump on the pleasure bandwagon. His great plans collapse because he dies and all his wealth passes to those who had not worked for it. Jesus said this man’s sin was covetousness. Not that he coveted his neighbour ox, ass or wife. He had more than wealth than he needed so he coveted luxury and pleasure. Gambling in all its variations is also covetousness because it is trying to get something for virtually nothing. It is not surprising that St Paul considers covetousness to be idolatry because focussing on and worshipping self lies as its centre. We become our own god.
In today’s reading, St Paul presents two lists that he considers troublesome. He lists immorality, impurity, passion, evil desires and covetousness. These are physical sins belonging to the lives of those for whom God is of no consequence. He also lists anger, wrath, malice, slander, verbal foul talk and lying. These vices are connected to relationships, and if left unchecked they can destroy personal relationships as well as communities, including Christian ones.
We live in troubled times, but as Christians united in Christ, we have died to the world even if we still live in it. We are risen with Christ, so the choices we make must be in tune with Jesus and the Kingdom, not those of the world which are more connected to the culture of death rather than the culture of life. The Kingdom of God is creation that has been healed which is the life of the resurrection. Christians are called to live this life, not because we hate the world, but because we love it and are called to transform it.
Our way through these troubled times is not to be found in tinkering with the externals of church management or trying to be relevant by creating into 9 hole putting courses, art galleries or fine dining restaurants in our cathedrals as other Christian denominations do. It is standing firm on the rock of faith in how we live as much as in what we believe, so that the world may know who God is.
Rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic is nowhere near as effective as melting the iceberg.
Monsignor Entwistle was the first Ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross. Educated at St Chad's Theological College, he was ordained a priest in the Church of England Diocese of Blackburn in 1964. After reception into the Roman Catholic Church, he was ordained to the priesthood in St Mary's Cathedral, Perth on 15 June 2012.