Free for Today

By Jessica Coblentz

Throughout this Sunday’s readings, we find overt prohibitions of greed: “Take care to guard against all greed,” Jesus warns, “for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.” Undoubtedly, a good number of homilies will be preached on this theme. But I simply can’t think about the message of these texts as only this–a prohibition. You see, when I try to, I only get defensive. I find myself barking at the page: “Hey, Jesus–the character in your parable sounds responsible. Why is it so bad to store up for the potential costs of tomorrow?” I am talking back to the author of Ecclesiastes: “Why mock the poor guy who can’t sleep? Some of us worry about our jobs a little, okay? What’s wrong with desiring the fruits of arduous labor?” I just can’t take up these biblical assertions against greed without considering my own motivations behind moments when I am so greedy.

The fact is, I think my greed often has well-founded origins. Yes, I am greedy with my relationships out of an anxiety about my own potential loneliness. I don’t want to feel lonely. I mean no harm when I hold my money and possessions close; I simply worry about the impending day when this job and income will cease. I must admit, timidly, that I have been uncharitable to my colleagues when my fear of failure got the best of me. I don’t want to fail.

I can imagine that the sleepless man of Ecclesiastes, the inquirer who approaches Jesus, and the main character of Christ’s parable all suffer from some form of the same sickness that infects me too often: anxiety. About success. About money. About tomorrow. Yet even as our daily worries often originate from well-founded, real concerns, these readings confront me with the stark truth that, for many of us, even good intentions can breed malice. Malice towards others, and malice in our own lives. My anxiety is not enjoyable; it is exhausting.

Meanwhile, in these textual mirrors of my anxious life, I do find a radically hopeful invitation. In the gospel parable, the rich man invites himself to “rest, eat, drink, be merry” only after what must have been months or even years of grueling, worrisome labor. God seems to tell the man that he was so busy worrying that he gave up his chance at good, earthly pleasure. As I wonder what I have passed up while being so preoccupied with worry, God seems to invite us to follow our desires for the good things in life in a way that is reverent to the gift of the present moment. Surely, so distracted with stress, many of us have overlooked the great gifts of the moment. I’m sure I am not the only one.

The more I ponder these readings the more I am convinced that freedom from my anxiety would inevitably free me–and others–from my greed. For me, only this offer of freedom from anxiety can enable me to obey the prohibition of greed.

How good–restful, and merry–might life be if we take up this invitation to release our desires from anxiety?

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3 Responses

  1. […] Free for Today Jump to Comments Check out my reflection on today’s liturgical readings at From the Pews in the Back. It’s called, “Free for Today.” […]

  2. How would you fit the Epistle reading into this interpretation?

    I think the prohibition against anxiety, and your conclusion to enjoy life, find a culmination in the eschatological vision presented in Colossians. On the one hand, storing up our treasures on Earth is ultimately pointless, because they leave us when we die. At the same time, our preoccupation with amassing wealth (or even choosing to “eat, drink, and be merry” as an opposite response) blinds us to the needs and desire of those around us, and most importantly, blinds us to the Ultimate (there is a line in the Bible, the citation I can’t remember, that goes “how often have you seen men die, and yet not taken stock of the fact that you will die as well”).

    Considered together, the trio of passages reminds us that our end goal is eternal life in Christ, and that we should do what we can here to prepare ourselves for that (which includes…demands, really, providing and helping those around us…the sin of the rich man might not have been building the larger barns, but not sharing his excess with those around him).

    But that’s another interpretation.

  3. Terry, thanks for your addition to my reflection. I think your interpretation is right now.

    It got me thinking of something St. Catherine of Sienna said, though. It might shed new light on both our interpretations, I think. It was something like: “All the way to heaven is heaven”…

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