Summary: Jesus said some things that were radical then, and now. He said things like, "Sell your stuff and give to the poor."
Your soul -- not to mention your budget -- is in mortal danger as you approach the grocery store checkout lane.
You say, "How?"
You've carefully filled your cart with the needed items outlined on your list. You patiently wait in line, always seeming to pick the one that's slowest. Yet somehow, by the time the checker begins tallying up the items in your cart, it has suddenly filled up with a pack of gum, a box of Tic-Tacs, a new TV Guide, a four-pack of AA batteries, three candy bars and a magazine for enquiring minds.
If your 5-year-old is along, you may also have accumulated a new Pez dispenser, a Mylar balloon with a Disney character on it and a plastic "cellular" telephone filled with tiny bubble-gum pieces. Stores purposefully pack this kind of junky, funky, consumer gunk into the narrow gauntlet we must run to get to the checkout counter. Things we would never intentionally have gone in search of now languish under our fingertips -- inviting, no insisting, that we grab them.
Although impulsively buying a pack of gum or a candy bar hardly seems earth-shattering or soul-threatening, the truth is that the increasingly voracious appetites of this consumer culture are being methodically nurtured and stimulated by a crass and crushing consumerism. The worldwide ramifications of such little things as a checkout gauntlet are ominous.
After a bad day, our parents sighed, "The world is going to hell in a hand basket." Today we can sigh even more deeply on a daily basis that the whole world is "going to hell in a shopping cart." For an increasing number of people, self-identity and life-purpose are summed up by the mantra "I shop, therefore I am." Raging consumerism has left Descartes' "I think, therefore I am" far behind. Consumer culture has never even heard of, much less considered, God's revelation to Moses, "I am who I am; therefore, you are."
Like the rich young man in today's gospel text, we know ourselves, we identify ourselves, we define ourselves, by our possessions, our things, our "stuff." This young man was so possessed by his "stuff" that he could unstuff himself neither for the sake of the poor, nor for his own sake and his quest for eternal life. Faced with the choice between his old secure, in-control, in-charge self and the unknown possibilities of life as a disciple of Jesus, the rich man clung to his human illusions of power and control.
Who or what controls your life?
I’ve spent some time contemplating that question. Of course I would like to say that God does and at least most of the time that would be true. But, at the same time, it is also true that I am accountable to other people. I am accountable, to varying degrees to all of you. I am accountable to a district superintendent and a bishop. Though I have spoken to the bishop in only very brief conversations over the past nine plus years, make no mistake, I am accountable to her.
I also know that while society may say I am the head of my household, I am also accountable to my wife. Let me spend too much money in the wrong place and the wrong time and I can promise you I will hear about it.
I am also accountable to various people that expect me to pay my bills. If I fail to pay my bills, it won’t take long before they are coming to me or calling me wanting to know when they can expect payment and if I don’t pay they don’t hesitate to let me know that consequences could come my way in pretty short order.
All of that led me to think, what would I do if somehow, someway, I knew beyond any reasonable doubt that God was calling on me to sell all my stuff and give the money to the poor. My brother-in-law told me Cindy and I could come and live with him and my sister. I am not really sure that would be such a good idea. Anyway, I digress. Before about six months ago I think I would have answered that question without hesitation, “Yes, I would do what God was telling me to do.” After moving here and with the difficulty Cindy had in finding work, having to live on less money than we have had in a long time and seeing how difficult it could be to live that way, now, I am not so sure. To be honest, I rather enjoy the lifestyle I have grown accustomed to and while I am sure now I could live on less, I don’t really think I want to. So now, when I am honest with myself, I would have to answer the question, “I am not sure what I would do if God called on me to sell my stuff and give to the poor.”