Readings: Romans 4:20-25; Luke 1:69-75; Luke 12:13-21
Most homilies and sermons are quickly forgotten, a few stay in the memory always. There are some stories and jokes one hears that hang around, illustrations and analogies that the good preacher or teacher will use to impress something crucial on the mind of his listeners. One such in my case is a comment by the Irish Dominican, Donagh O'Shea, speaking about the difference between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. It is the same river that flows into both bodies of water but one is dead whereas the other is living. The difference is that the waters of the Jordan flow through the Sea of Galilee, in at one side and out at the other, whereas when they run into the Dead Sea that is where they end: there is no outflow, the water evaporates, the salt increases, and the sea is dead. The sea that allows the water to flow through it is alive with many creatures and its waters are healthy. The sea that holds on to what it receives is dead.
It comes to mind thinking about today's gospel reading, in particular the comment of Jesus that 'one's life does not consist of possessions'. The foolish man who thinks he can store everything up for happy years to come has decided to stop living: 'this night your life will be demanded of you'. Clearly it means that he dies before he has a chance to benefit from what he has stored up. But it can also have another meaning, that in deciding to find his life in what he possesses, he kills his life. There is no longer a flowing in and a flowing out, no longer the exchange and commerce of life's activities, no longer the relationships that characterise any real living. Even if he were to continue to live physically, in every other way he would be dead.
In this he becomes like the rich man in the parable of Luke 16: turned in on himself and blind to what is around him. But to be 'rich in what matters to God' is to be rich in the way that God is rich, which means rich in generosity, rich in grace. Jesus speaks of this soon after telling this parable (Luke 12:32-34). The Father's good pleasure, he says, is to give you the kingdom (12:32). The purse that does not grow old is the purse that gives as well as receives, a purse whose owner thinks of others and not just of himself (12:33-34). And if we are to be alive as the heavenly Father is alive, then we will be alert and responsive to all that is happening around us, to everyone who crosses our path, to all that comes our way. 'Be merciful as your Father is merciful', Jesus teaches in Luke 6:36, and the Father is kind also to the ungrateful and the selfish.
The credit side of our account, Paul says in the first reading, consists in having faith in God that is something like the faith shown by Abraham. This requires a very different kind of calculation whose key principle is to believe in the one who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. Those who have received this gift establish their life not on what they possess but on the power of God who, as Paul says earlier in Romans 4, gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. Like the Sea of Galilee, those who believe are alive ('the righteous man lives through faith', Romans 1:17). The person of faith is ready to give and to share because they trust that the heavenly Father will give them whatever they need. They are ready to let go and to venture forth. They are ready to turn around and to try again. They are ready to listen and to consider. They have nothing but they receive everything. In the words of the prayer of Saint Francis, they become channels, rich in the gifts of God which they hand on, pass around, and share with others.