This morning the newsfeed on my cellphone informed me the winning ticket to Friday night's almost $1.3 Billion Mega Millions jackpot was sold in Illinois, so I guess that means none of us is the winner. One news article about the lottery claimed a person was seventy times more likely to be attacked by a shark than to win the drawing’s prize, so be careful swimming at Hardings Beach.
The news reminded me of an incident back the last time there was such a large jackpot. I was waiting to check out at a local convenience store. Ahead of me in line were a couple of people buying tickets for that enormous jackpot. When they were done, they turned around to see me standing behind them, dressed in my Roman collar. They said, "Hey, we should have Father pray over our tickets!" They must have seen my eyes roll to the back of my head because they quickly claimed they were only joking.
It set off a conversation between the store clerks and customers about the tremendous jackpot and what they would do if they ever won. Most people said they would probably buy a new car and house and put some money aside for their children's education or to help family members. Everyone claimed they would donate some of the proceeds to their favorite charity.
They all agreed that the colossal prize would help them feel assured about their future. People said if they won the jackpot, they would never have anything to worry about in the future. They would quit their jobs, relax, eat heartily, drink well, and enjoy themselves for the rest of their lives.
The sad truth is that many winners of lottery jackpots end up bankrupt. By foolish spending and ill-thought-out investments, they lost most of their winnings and ended up right back where they were before they won the prize money. Winning the lottery was no assurance life from then on would be easy and without stress or concern.
The other day I read an article saying over 60% of millionaires don't feel rich. Most of them are very fearful of losing their wealth. Even though they have what most of us would regard as a great bounty, they are nervous about preserving their wealth and are held captive by it.
Musing over what we would do with our money if we suddenly became wealthy isn't what Jesus condemns in today's Gospel. Wealth and riches are neutral in Jesus' eyes. It is perfectly alright to dream about what we would do if we suddenly became very wealthy. It is okay to buy a lottery ticket when there is a massive jackpot and contemplate what we would do with the prize. It is what we do with our wealth that concerns God, and Jesus condemns becoming too engrossed in pursuing wealth.
We are all very blessed, even if we don't think we are well off. When we stop and reflect on our life situations, we see we have a bounty of blessings from God. We have much to be generous with; most of us have more than enough to survive on. The most important way to store treasure in heaven is by sharing that bounty.
In today's Gospel, Jesus condemns something easily missed in the English translation of Luke's parable. In English, we hear the rich man say to "'himself,' now you have comfort for years to come." The original Greek says something a little different. In Greek, the man says to his "'soul,' you have many good things stored up for many years."
The rich man believes because he has material goods, God has blessed him. He believes his soul must be safe because he is rich and has many possessions. He thinks because he has material things, he is blessed spiritually by God and needs not to worry about his relationship with God nor exercise generosity towards his neighbors. Jesus tells the crowd no! Material things are not a measure of our holiness. It is our generosity that measures our righteousness. At the final judgment, we will be evaluated not by the size of our pile of toys but by our charity.
As Paul tells the Colossians and the sage, Qoheleth tells his listeners in the Book of Ecclesiastes. The measure of our worth to God is our detachment from the things of this world. God measures our souls by our generosity. All the scriptures today tell us that we must set our sights not on the things of this world but on the things of heaven. We have to believe our spiritual worth isn't measured by our wealth but by sharing with others to help make the Kingdom of God more evident on earth.
Paul told the Colossians:
"If you were raised with Christ,
seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.
Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.
For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
When Christ your life appears,
Then you too will appear with him in glory."
How do we use our spiritual life to store up treasure in heaven? The first thing is to recognize that we have received a bounty of gifts from God; everything we cherish and hold dear in life comes as a gift from God's generosity. We are only stewards of these gifts, and after allowing them to grow, we must be ready to return them to God at the end of our lives.
How generous are we with our time, talent, and treasure? Have we created a yearly budget for how we will commit to using them generously? Recently, a parishioner called me to ask if I would be available to offer a reflection at the local Habitat for Humanity work site. She explained that she is recently retired and joined Habitat for Humanity as a way of sharing her time. They assigned her the duties of inviting local clergy to bless the beginning of their workday. The parishioner used just a bit of her time to address the housing issue, a crucial one worldwide. Could you donate a percentage of your time in a similar way?
While Chatham is a reasonably affluent community, the children in our schools often come from low-income families. Many of them could use academic assistance. You don't have to have talents as an educator to participate as a school volunteer. Something as simple as listening to a child read or helping tutor them is an excellent way to share your talents.
Do you have a budget for sharing your treasure? Since I was ordained, I have tithed. Each year I budget 10% of my income for charity. I give 5% to the parish, 2.5% to the annual Catholic Appeal, and 2.5% to other charities and organizations. If you are materially blessed, maybe you could donate more than 10% of your income.
We need to teach generosity to our children. Reportedly, Millenials, Gen Xers, and other young people are less generous than previous generations. Even young children can learn about being charitable by contributing 10% of their allowance or any money they receive. Help them to evaluate how to share their gifts to help build up God's Kingdom. Making the work of the Lord a beneficiary of our generosity is one sure way of storing up wealth in heaven.
The lesson Jesus wanted to teach the disciples and the crowds about greed was that we must consult God to overcome it. When the rich man was contemplating storing his great harvest, he only talked to himself and gave no thought to asking God to guide his actions. It didn't enter his mind, and its impact on his community wasn't considered either. The rich man didn't consider consulting God because he wasn't a man of prayer and had no relationship with God.
Do you consult God in prayer about your important concerns? As Christians, we need a relationship with Jesus and invite God's grace into our lives to guide us. With God's guidance, we use our gifts to their advantage in this life, but most of all for eternity. Prayer helps us put to death those sins Paul warns the Colossians to avoid and helps us prepare for eternal life.
If you aren't praying daily now, consider starting today. Set aside as little as ten minutes at whatever is the best time of day for you. Go to a quiet, relaxing spot and turn yourself over to being embraced by God's love. Listen to God and don't talk at God. God knows your needs. Let him tell you your gifts and how to use them. Gradually, let your prayer time grow. Maybe use the Bible to help you discern God's voice in your life.
In a few minutes, we will come forward to receive the greatest treasure imaginable. Jesus will come to offer us His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity as a generous gift of grace. In return, He asks us to present ourselves and the gifts God has given us to bring about the Kingdom of God's love. May we offer all our gifts back to God in the sure hope we are accumulating real treasure in heaven.