Sunday, October 14, 2012

Up On the Roof

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Wis 7:7-11
Ps 90:12-12, 13-15, 16-17
Heb 4:12-13
Mk 10:17-30

Some of the most exquisite imagery in scripture describes the attributes of Wisdom.  It should be so. Wisdom is one of the key elements of civilization. Wisdom is fundamental to being human.  Indeed, the capacity for Wisdom, more than anything else, separates us from all lower animals, no matter how cute, cuddly, majestic, or clever they might be.

Somewhere in the bowels of MIT and other engineering schools worker bees are slaving away at what they call AI--artificial intelligence.  Note:  no one is working on artificial Wisdom.  A computer can be programmed to check the spelling in, and even translate, the lyrical passage just proclaimed.  It cannot be programmed to create something as splendid.  Or to act on its meaning.

The Book of Wisdom, as well as the rest of the Wisdom literature such as Proverbs and Sirach, gives us advice about how to live and how to love God.
Wisdom, as described in scripture is not inert. It is not an historical curiosity that explained the world to the benighted, non-scientific and non-psychologically minded people of the Ancient Near East.  It was not, and cannot be, replaced by the so-called enlightenment.  Wisdom is associated with all that God does in the world.  It should undergird all that we do in the world.

Though there is a pragmatic dimension in it, the Wisdom literature is not a handbook along the lines of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.  It is much more than that. Wisdom is a revelation of the mystery of God.  And we cannot begin to approach the mystery of God through any literature other than the mystical, the numinous, and the poetic.  We come closer to understanding the mystery of God through the poetry of the psalms than we do through systematic theology or historical criticism of the Gospels.

Whether speaking of the Ancient Near East or the early years of the 21st century in the U.S. one must ask what Jesus meant by the startling and uncomfortable image associated with the camel passing through the needle's eye.  Does wealth automatically condemn? Are all the wealthy excluded from the Kingdom of God?

Jesus is not warning specifically against wealth.  He is warning against human behavior that hasn't changed in two millennia, that is the drive for more and more wealth.  The wealthier one is the more time and energy is spent in maintaining and increasing that wealth, oftentimes to the detriment of caring for, or caring about, others. Too often the more one has the less one shares.  We've become jaded to news detailing the latest financial scandals, the ones involving obscenely paid business executives who, it appears, want even more.

We tolerate, and even rationalize, the greed of disgustingly overpaid athletes whose whiny behavior and associated demands for astronomical salaries have pushed the cost of taking a family to a game beyond the ability of many.  (Based on their performance the Red Sox were certainly overpaid this year.  How about a refund?)  But there are also lower level atrocities that seek wealth; the kind, which even those who consider themselves poor, or middle class, might commit.  Consider the Little League treasurer or the secretary for the PTA who skims thousands or tens of thousands from the organization to support a "lifestyle."  When I first moved to D.C. the front page of the Post detailed the greed of a former president of the teacher's union and her minions. They used tens of thousands of dollars in dues for the usual: fur coats, vacations, jewelry and so on.

Money, it seems, wants more money no matter what the cost to others, no matter what the cost to oneself, be it prison or the loss of the Kingdom of God.  It is this mind set, wealth craving even more wealth, that is the opposite of what is needed to enter the Kingdom of God.  It is the behavior that Jesus is condemning.

Unlike membership in a country club, unlike a place on Forbes Magazine list of the 1000 wealthiest people in the country, salvation is not the result of human achievement. One is not automatically saved because of rank, bank balance, or the number of toys one has upon death.  Wealth is not one of the keys to the kingdom. It need not be an impediment.  But it will never move anyone to the front of the line.

True wealth is not what one possesses
but what one gives.

True wealth is not what one hoards
but what one shares.

As we share our treasure with those in need, the eye of the needle becomes enormous.  And the camel gallops right through.  With us seated atop.
Up on the Roof was written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King.  It hit #5 on the pop charts in 1963 (I was a freshman at Plymouth High School).  I was humming and singing (soto voce) yesterday on the roof at Campion.  I went up about 30 minutes before sunrise.  It was 27 degrees.  Had the tripod and lenses though I took most of the shots with the wider angle ones.  The leaves have not yet peaked.  Perhaps next weekend.  

The moon and (I think) Venus greeted me.  A few clouds would have made things more interesting.  None of the photos would have been possible without the tripod and cable release.  It was so cold that I was shivering and numb of finger most of the time up there.   This was looking east.
This was the view in the east a little later.  Sunrise was 6:55.  
This is looking northeast.  I think.  
The frost was heavy on the grass.
The source of much suffering at Campion.  The innards of the 90 year-old elevator.  We have a very close relationship with the elevator repair guys.  
On the way down I took this photo down the hall of the retreat wing.  
The frost did a real job on the rose that looked rather healthy a day or two ago.  The mums didn't seem to mind. 
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

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