The OBVIOUS interpretation of the Gospel is that if you’re rich here you’ll go to hell later – and if you’re poor now, you’ll sit at the main banquet table in heaven in the next life.
Maybe – but I don’t think it’s about being rich or poor. In fact, I don’t think it’s really about the money. There’s a deeper message here. Jesus is giving us a lesson in spiritual physics. Physics is one of the most fundamental scientific disciplines, and its main goal is to understand how the universe behaves…. It looks at mass and energy and force and movement. Today’s lesson in spiritual physics shows us how the Grace of God flows – or doesn’t flow.
Did you see what I mean? It sure SEEMS like the theme of the first reading and the Gospel is that if you’re rich here on earth – you’re destined for hell. And if you’re poor here on earth, you destined for heaven. Anybody else feel like that’s the obvious interpretation?
But there is a good reason to think that’s NOT the answer – and there’s a clue in the beginning of the first reading – it says ‘woe to the complacent’. It does not say ‘woe to the rich’. Big difference. The complacent person smugly thinks they’ve got everything they need and their future is secure, so they no longer need to put forth effort.
Those are the people Amos chastises in the first reading. Let’s take just a little deeper dive into that reading: the prophet Amos was sent from the southern kingdom of Judah up to the northern kingdom of Israel. You’ll remember, the 10 tribes had broken off from the southern kingdom after Solomon’s sons made a mess of things in the kingdom. They actually did pretty well for themselves – experiencing an economic boom. They were living well – and even started developing their own form of religion. They were ignoring the Law that was given by Moses. That’s where Amos steps in…. he was just a peasant from the south, sent by God to warn them that they’ve gone off the tracks. They had been given every blessing, but they were not worried about the “collapse of Joseph”…what’s that about? The tribe of Joseph, which was usually referred to as the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, was not doing as well as the other tribes in the north. They were struggling with famine and misfortune – but the other tribes didn’t seem to care! Instead they lived it up in the lap of luxury while their ‘brothers and sisters’ suffered. They had become complacent. Literally, complacent means ‘with pleasure’. They’d become addicted to the pleasures of life, but They had forgotten who they were… the chosen people of God. They forgot that they had been given the Law from Moses….a law which explicitly implores them to look out for the poor among them. Since they chose not to bother themselves, and instead hoarded their riches for themselves, Amos pointed out that God was going to let them feel the effects of their bad decisions.
OK – keep that in mind as we quickly revisit the theme of the Gospel:
The rich man in the Gospel had also forgotten who he was – he’d also forgotten about
the instructions of the Law. He dressed in purple everyday – wanting to flaunt the fact that he’s rich. It even says he dressed in fine linen – the word in Greek actually implies he wore the best underwear…yeah – that detail is in the Bible. It’s gives an added clue to just how over-the-top rich this guy was. However, being rich wasn’t his problem… the problem was that he didn’t recognize his brother on his front door step. They both died and the poor guy went to the bosom of Abraham – representing heaven – and the rich guy went to the netherworld… representing well – not heaven.
But again, the problem here is not that this guy was rich! The problem is that he became complacent.
I propose that today’s readings are actually a lesson in spiritual physics.
Here’s the basic premise: We all receive Grace from God – grace is a free gift of God….free – meaning we cannot earn it. What are we to do with that God-given grace? Give it away…. Spend it… invest it. If all we do is sit on it, it loses its life-giving properties. Got that? Grace should flow THROUGH us… not stop in us.
A great example is the Dead Sea – the dead sea is ‘dead’ because it is so salty – like 34% salt. Ever wonder why it’s so salty? Because it has no outlet. It’s like 1400 feet BELOW sea level, so the water has no where to go. The Jordan runs INTO it, but then it just evaporates, leaving behind all the salt. A lake without an outlet eventually stagnates – or becomes salty.
Likewise, when we receive the Grace of God – the intention is for us to become a conduit – like a river – letting it flow Through us. If we plug it up – and hoard it for ourselves, instead of being a river – we become a lake…. And instead of giving life, we will stagnate.
So – is the answer that we need to give all of our money to the poor people? I don’t think so. God gives us blessings all the time – and many of them are for us to care for our families and look out for ourselves as we grow older. Having money is not a problem… but if we hoard it all for ourselves, we are like a lake – collecting the graces of God – where we eventually stagnate. Instead, we are to be more like a river – allowing the Grace of God to flow out of us, so that more grace can flow into us. It’s spiritual physics. The more we share the gifts we’ve been given with those in need, the more blessings we experience.
Make sense? Let’s give some concrete examples:
Our Grace Co-Op connects people who WANT to help with people who NEED help. A perfect example happened just recently: we had someone in the parish who was sick and had nobody to care for them. We put the need out to our Grace Co-Op, and our volunteers quickly mobilized a response that sent one or more visitors to this parishioner’s house every day for the next several days – delivering food – but more importantly – delivering human compassion.
I know this parishioner was greatly appreciative – and felt the love and connection of the community as a result. But how do you think the volunteers felt? I haven’t talked to them, but I can only imagine they felt honored to use their cooking skills for the sake of their brother. I imagine that after visiting, they felt the grace of God poured into their own hearts.
THAT is spiritual physics. The more we pour out grace, the more grace pours into us.
Another example from just this week: we have a prayer chain in our parish where several times a week- sometimes several times a day, prayer requests will come through in an email. Dozens of parishioners offer prayers for those who requested it. This week, we had three people write back to THANK our prayer intercessors for their help, as they were thanking God for answered prayers.
See – this is the message of today’s readings, I think. In order for us to live in the Kingdom of God, in order for us to remain in the covenantal relationship with God, in order for us to experience the Grace of God, we have to recognize who our brothers and sisters in need are – and then use the gifts we have from God to help them.
Bottom line for today: Don’t be stagnant like the Dead Sea. Be like the river – allow the Grace of God to flow through you.