This Sunday we contemplate the greatest Kingdom of all, God’s Kingdom on earth and in heaven. Yet even though God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit represents a mystery not given to us to fathom in its entirety, God the Son – God made human – was sent to enable us, with all our imperfections, to seek out truth and perfection and to use this search to make better our world for all life, now and in the future.
Clues to the nature of God’s Kingdom engage us daily with their transient beauty, symbolic of a permanent, heavenly beauty to come. We see the life-giving presence of the sun, the incomprehensible vastness of the night sky, the glorious death of autumn leaves and their spring rebirth in dancing, fluttering green. We move to the rhythms of the days, the seasons, and the sea. We move also to the beauty of music which often accompanies important moments in our lives. We are bound together by love which comes from God’s love for all of us, whatever our condition or status. I am often reminded of an observation quoted by the late Cardinal Hume, “‘Yes, God is always watching you. Because he loves you he cannot take his eyes off you.’ That is a wonderful thought. God can’t take his eyes off me. Wherever I am and whatever I am doing, He keeps looking at me, not to catch me out, but from love. As lovers look for each other and then gaze at each other, so it is with God.”
It is through the – very different – kingship of Christ that we are given a supreme example of how our lives can help to bring about the Kingdom of God – on earth as it is in heaven.
The Conundrum of Rich and Poor
In today’s Gospel, St Luke describes the lifestyle of a rich man who dresses in purple and fine linen and is able to feast sumptuously every day. His table, however, does not seem to offer fellowship and companionship but rather isolation and exclusion. Lazarus, the beggar, ill and starving, subsists on almost nothing and has dogs, rather than humans, as companions. Loneliness remains a major issue for many in our society who are poor and marginalised.
Things are the opposite in heaven for Lazarus. He joins the company of Abraham and the angels. He had almost nothing on earth and is now richly blessed in heaven. For the rich man, however, existence has become a torment. He remains alone – the hell of loneliness – and no longer has his fine possessions and sumptuous lifestyle. Yet, he still carries with him his earthly assumptions. He attempts unsuccessfully to speak to Lazarus, his perceived inferior, through an intermediary, Abraham. He wishes to warn his brothers on earth about the prospects of hell but doesn’t make any connection between their privileged, uncaring lifestyle and its inappropriateness for the life of heaven, a point made very powerfully in today’s reading from Timothy.
In essence, the Gospel reading is less about inequality and more about connection. Those who are rich have within their power the capacity to offer benefits to the poor. The Church has within its power the capacity to reach out to all and commend to them the reality of God’s concern for all and the unqualified gifts of love and grace that God offers to all. This offer transcends all our earthly difficulties and inequalities. It is a breath-taking reality.
Wealth and God’s Economy
Our Gospel reading deals with the management of wealth – a subject that preoccupies almost all societies both historically and today. Wealth can be very divisive and it clearly threatened the relationships between the corrupt steward, his master and his debtors.
Today we worry about wealth, having sufficient to lead a reasonable life, the widening gap between rich and poor in our society and many others, the management of our national wealth and the stewardship – good and bad – of corporate wealth by companies and banks. Within the retailing sector we have recently seen the devastating effects on tens of thousands of people through the closure of BHS, in part at least through individual greed. In contrast the John Lewis Partnership offers a model of shared wealth where all employees are partners and benefit from the profits made by the business and their efforts within it. It is interesting that two current Sunday evening TV series, ‘Victoria’ and ‘Poldark’ both have as their subtexts the relationship between rich and poor, opulence and destitution and the power and privilege that wealth and social position confer.
Then there’s spiritual wealth. We are familiar with Matthew 6:21 (or Luke 12:34). ‘For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’ The Church encourages the accumulation of spiritual wealth or ‘spiritual capital’ as it is often called. Such wealth or capital is renewed and augmented by our life as a Christian community. Through prayer, worship and a constant awareness of the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives, it truly becomes wealth to be shared for the greater good of all.