19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 11, 2019
God’s timing can be utterly ironic. A week ago, Tuesday evening, I was struck with a blast of fiscal prudence and went to my computer to check on my retirement monies. Still there, growing ever so slowly. The very next day, at our staff meeting, we read Sunday’s Gospel story about the land owner who was doing the same thing I did the night before. In his accounting he had stored up great wealth and so could now ‘eat, drink, and be merry.’ As for me, I am a long way from taking down my barns and building new ones to store all my riches. Still, I felt a chagrinned at the timing.
And the lesson continues this week as we hear one of Jesus’ most famous lines, “For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” But did you hear? It follows on the heels of words that I had never really noticed before, that seem to say, “Place your heart in mine, and there you have true and lasting treasure.”
So, I am compelled to ask:
Where is my treasure? Where is my heart?
Where is our treasure? Our heart?
As a people that has become addicted to opioid medications while physicians and big pharma collude to make billions . . .
As the richest country in the world that allows thirteen million children to go hungry . . .
As a society that has more guns than people, and a gun fatality rate far higher, by a factor of ten or more, than any other first world country . . .
As a nation with a prominent landmark, visited by millions every year, that proudly proclaims, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free . . .” – Statue of Liberty – and yet separates immigrant children from their families and cages them in holding pens where the floors are concrete and the lights are always on . . . where is our treasure? Our heart?
As a church willing to systematically cover up decades of sexual abuse of children and clerical abuse of parishioners in order to maintain an antiquated and unjust leadership structure . . .
As a neighborhood filled with hard-working, family loving people, but who are afraid to answer the doorbell or mention where they work or even send their children back to school for fear of being separated by deportation . . .
And, as an urban Catholic parish that has a rich, 100+ year legacy of service, support, and spiritual nurture for all in our community, but also finds itself victim of the mass social exodus from institutional religion . . . where is our treasure? Our heart?
As a white, well-educated, hetero, male showered with privilege that my diverse friends and neighbors could only dream of, I am forced to ask where is my treasure? Where is my heart?
So many layers to this question. I’m on the lookout for people who seem to know the answer.
A couple of Saturdays ago, I met Bethy (Bethlehem), a teenager who is part of a small group of Eritrean families who worship in the Parish Center each Saturday. She’ll be a high school senior this year, and plans to go on to Spellman College, an HBCU school in Atlanta once she graduates.
HBCU? I didn’t know either. Stands for “Historically Black Colleges and Universities.” Along with Spellman, there’s Howard, Hampton, Morehouse, Fisk, and others.
Personable, poised, and articulate are three good words to describe Bethy. Then her brother Simon walked in. Two years younger. I’d met Simon before, but while he remembered my name, I failed to recall his. Also, very confident and comfortable around this older guy with white skin. Meanwhile several little kids came into the room and each introduce him or herself to me. And we were chatting and chilling.
And then, an elderly woman of the Eritrean community came into the room, and while I remained seated all the kids stood up and looked toward her. Yet at the same time, in a soft voice, Bethy said, “Stand up, you guys.” I looked around and they were all already up, and I realized that was her way of telling meto stand up to honor the elder who had come into the room. I am sure my face was red as I stood to greet her.
Point? Through one simple gesture, I saw a personable, poised, and articulate teenage woman who has anchored her treasure and her heart squarely in her family and community. Look out Spellman College! Look out world. If Bethy could help me put my heart in the right place in the right moment, in such a tactful manner – “Stand up you guys!” – then there’s no telling what good she can accomplish for us all. This daughter and granddaughter of immigrants will surely be a role model everywhere she goes, and then one day, I imagine, decades from now, she’ll walk into a room and the youth and children will stand and greet her with honor and respect.
I don’t have the capacity, all by myself, to get my treasure and my heart in the right place. We need others to show us, to give us glimpses of it.
Similarly, I am quite sure that corporately, as a country, as a church, as a neighborhood, as a parish, we don’t have that capacity all by ourselves. We need prophets and heroes to call us out of our collective selfishness and call us forward to align our treasure with God’s ideas for the world.
On the national level, as political rhetoric only gets more divisive, I remain inspired by such events as when:
Inside our tribe, the Catholic Church, my heart is touched by the faithful remnant parishioners at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in SE Portland, who, this afternoon, are doing all they can to push back against clerical decisions that are stripping them of their mission of service through the St. Francis Dining Hall, and forcing them to change the way they worship.
And close to home, in our neighborhood and parish, my treasure and heart are aligned by many, many people, but today I want to mention two:
For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be. There are so many layers to this statement. Your homework this week is to answer this question: Who is your Bethy? Who has recently inspired you to properly align your treasure and heart?
And as the Gospel indicates, don’t delay. The time is now, and the urgency is real. As our social challenges mount, it’s more important than ever to align our hearts with God’s work in the world.