Proper 13

31st July 2022

Reflection (scroll down for readings)

Last week we heard how Hosea  chose as Gomer, a prostitute, as his wife and how their family rapidly grew in size as Gomer gave birth to two sons and a daughter. We can imagine then that Hosea had some experience of the trials and tribulations of parenthood, how as a parent you want the best for your children, and yet you know that if you are too rigid, imposing your own way,  it will lead to rebellion. It is hard as a parent to stand by and let your children go their own way and make their own mistakes. And often there comes a point where your compassion as a parent pushes to you to dive in and rescue your children. You forgive and forget their mistakes and offer instead love and help.

So it is, observes Hosea, with God: “My people are bent on turning away from me…[yet] my compassion grows warm and tender.” 

Hearing those words fills me with hope that we are not doomed because of our human rebelliousness (quite what our future will look like, I am not sure and it may not be that rosy for some time time to come). The psalmist too offers hope: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, and his mercy endures for ever.” The Hebrew word “חַסְדּֽוֹ׃” (chesed) here translated as mercy, has the meaning of kindness and steadfast love, of loyalty and of truth. It is not a word that might simply mean withholding due punishment, but rather a more proactive remedying of the situation. God wants the best for all of creation. The psalmist goes on to talk of how God does this, delivering those who ask for help, putting their feet on a straight path, feeding the hungry and satisfying the thirsty. 

Why is it that we do not seek God’s help? Why do we not attune our hearing and listen to God? Do we forget that in Jesus we have the lived out expression of God’s will, the Word?

The writer of the letter to the Colossians sees a divided world, a world in which some do good things and some bad. He contrast those things that are from above – heavenly – with those that are earthly.  In this I think he is drawing out the difference between those who consciously follow God’s way and those who do not. In this sense earthly things are not what God has created, but that way of living that ignores God, that does not wish to accept that God – like parents – knows best. 

In today’s gospel reading we don’t know what the parents of the two brothers have said or done, but there appears to be a dispute as to how what they have inherited should be shared. As is often the case, Jesus doesn’t give a straight forward answer but rather poses another question: this wealth that you are craving, is it going to make you happy? 

It seems as if this family’s accumulation of wealth might make one or other of the brothers happy, but more likely it will make both of them unsatisfied. Neither wants to forgo what they see as their rightful share of the wealth. 

When we look around the world today, both between regions and nations, and within our own country, we see a great inequality in the distribution of wealth. And when it comes to a question of sharing out that wealth more equitably, those who have are very reluctant to be generous with what they have – even though they can see that others are suffering from lack. We in the global north have accumulated great national wealth from years of industrial development that has relied upon the cheap import of labour and resources from the global south, and yet we are unwilling to share that wealth with people suffering hunger and starvation in east Africa. We are unwilling to share it with indebted nations such as Zambia and Sri Lanka. We are unwilling to share it with small islands communities in the Pacific whose lands are threatened by rising sea levels. We are unwilling to share it with people in Afghanistan, in Peru and Columbia whose livelihoods are being washed away by the affects of climate change. 

Instead we are like the farmer, with our multi national oil companies, continuing to build larger and larger oil producing sites, whilst ignoring that the scale of this greed is diminishing our chances of enjoying a comfortable future. Jesus in his parables, and the prophets before, all spoke of the foolishness of pursing wealth at the expense of others, and still we do not listen, still we do not change our behaviour. We persist with an ‘earthly’ rather than a heavenly mindset. 

Lord may our prayer that ‘your kingdom come’ be genuinely meant. 

Hosea 11:1-11

When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.

The more I called them,
the more they went from me;

they kept sacrificing to the Baals,
and offering incense to idols.

Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
I took them up in my arms;
but they did not know that I healed them.

I led them with cords of human kindness,
with bands of love.

I was to them like those
who lift infants to their cheeks.
I bent down to them and fed them.

They shall return to the land of Egypt,
and Assyria shall be their king,
because they have refused to return to me.

The sword rages in their cities,
it consumes their oracle-priests,
and devours because of their schemes.

My people are bent on turning away from me.
To the Most High they call,
but he does not raise them up at all.

How can I give you up, Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, O Israel?

How can I make you like Admah?
How can I treat you like Zeboiim?

My heart recoils within me;
my compassion grows warm and tender.

I will not execute my fierce anger;
I will not again destroy Ephraim;

for I am God and no mortal,
the Holy One in your midst,
and I will not come in wrath.

They shall go after the Lord,
who roars like a lion;

when he roars,
his children shall come trembling from the west.

They shall come trembling like birds from Egypt,
and like doves from the land of Assyria;
and I will return them to their homes, says the Lord.

Psalm 107:1-9, 43

1 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, *
and his mercy endures for ever.

2 Let all those whom the Lord has redeemed proclaim *
that he redeemed them from the hand of the foe.

3 He gathered them out of the lands; *
from the east and from the west,
from the north and from the south.

4 Some wandered in desert wastes; *
they found no way to a city where they might dwell.

5 They were hungry and thirsty; *
their spirits languished within them.

6 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, *
and he delivered them from their distress.

7 He put their feet on a straight path *
to go to a city where they might dwell.

8 Let them give thanks to the Lord for his mercy *
and the wonders he does for his children.

9 For he satisfies the thirsty *
and fills the hungry with good things.

43 Whoever is wise will ponder these things, *
and consider well the mercies of the Lord.

Colossians 3:1-11

If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.

Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient. These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life. But now you must get rid of all such things– anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!

Luke 12:13-21

Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, `What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, `I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, `Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, `You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

Green Tau: issue 38

29th March 2022

Am I Wealthy?

When we think of wealth our first thoughts are probably of piles of money – and if not actual notes and coins, them lots of zeros on one’s bank balance. When we talk about someone’s wealth, we do so in terms of pounds. According to The Times Rich List the wealthiest person in the UK for 2021 was Sir Leonard Blavatnik, with a wealth of £23 billion. The wealth of nations is also typically measured in pounds/ dollars etc. The wealthiest nation in the world is the United States with a gross domestic product of  $18.62 trillion. The UK stands in 5th position with $2.65 trillion. 

Although we talk in terms of pounds and dollars, these examples of wealth are not piles of money (whether as cash or bank balances). Rather they are investments in stocks and shares, investments in property, luxury yachts, art works etc – all of which can be expressed in monetary terms and could in theory be sold/ liquidated to provide cash. 

But are there other forms of wealth? 

Wealth has in the past had the meaning of happiness as well as financial riches, and the word developed from the Middle English ‘wele’ or ‘weal’ meaning well-being. 

As a resident of Richmond in south west London, many things have and do contribute to my well-being. They are a wealth that I have inherited through being a citizen of the UK.

  • I was born into stable middle class family. My childhood was happy with no traumatic events. My parents were supportive and encouraging. I had a happy extended family of grandparents, aunts and uncles. 
  • I spent my childhood in a rural part of the country where I learnt to appreciate the natural world.
  • Growing up I had the benefits of free health care (including dental care) and free education right through to my graduation from university. 
  • I continue to benefit from free healthcare – and can afford to access dental and other therapeutic treatments.
  • I am free to follow my chosen religion.
  • Even though I am a woman I can vote, I am free to work outside the home, and I can expect my husband to assist with domestic tasks and childcare.
  • I live in a country with reliable mains water, electricity and gas; with well maintained roads and a public transport network; with regular refuse collections; with dedicated emergency services and with a welfare and benefits system. I will in due course benefit from a state pension.
  • I live in a country with a respected police service and judicial system. 
  • I live in a country where bribery and corruption is not an every day occurrences.
  • I live in a country with well endowed schools, universities, museums and libraries. 
  • I live in a country with a free press. 
  • I live in a country where green spaces are protected, where there are rigorous standards for food quality and animal welfare. 

I am not saying that all the provision of all these in the UK is perfect and that there isn’t considerable scope for improvement, but compared to what is available for the average member of our global community, they are a significant source of wealth and wellbeing.

This wealth, from which I have and do benefit, arises from investments made by earlier generations and, to a lesser extent, from the current spending of tax revenues by the government and local authorities. It is a wealth that derives from the UK’s early investment in the Industrial Revolution, and from its exploitation of resources from other countries – either those which it colonised or those with which it arranged beneficial trading relationships. It is a wealth that has developed through the widespread use of, initially coal, and subsequently oil and gas, which has contributed significantly to the global climate crisis that we all now face. 

Is this wealth that I have something I can redistribute? I benefit from it but I don’t own it. I can’t realise its cash value and redistribute it. I can’t divide up or share my education or my good health, but I can use them to change the world. I can inform and campaign; I can recognise the injustices and inequalities that exist between people and across the world; I can volunteer and protest; I can influence by example; and I can effect change through my financial spending and donations.