Sunday, September 26, 2010

The flesh wants what it wants

Abraham replied, `They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.' He said, `No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.' He said to him, `If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'" Gospel from Luke 16, assigned for this Sunday

The rich man in today's Gospel is not condemned for being rich. What did him in was doing whatever he wanted, with no attention to what God had to say about it.

"The Law and the Prophets" are Biblical shorthand for what Christians call The Old Testament; they are fulfilled in the one who rose from the dead, Jesus Christ.

The Epistle (New Testament Letter) read today assumes that there will be some rich people in the church. They are not commanded to liquidate their wealth, but

...not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.

It is not a gloomy message. It says "enjoy what God provides." But it assumes that the rich are blessed - given a gift - not "self made." And so there is a purpose for the gift, a right use for it, and this is to use it to lift the circumstances of others. It is to reflect the generosity of God, who has entrusted the affluent with much.

The rich man in Jesus' story had a poor beggar right outside his door, and ignored him. "The flesh," the self-centered human condition that fights against the Spirit of God, convinced him to ignore the Law and the Prophets, the Word of God, by ignoring his neighbor's need. As the Epistle warns, the trouble comes when the flesh asserts itself over the Word of God:

...those who want to be rich fall into temptation... the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil... in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains... set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches...

Our flesh wants what it wants. As a Christian who writes, I can get caught up in getting published, getting compliments and other selfish goals rather than making sure to write what God wants. The flesh can corrupt any gift God gives.

But we are not without hope or help. Timothy, the recipient of the Epistle, is reminded of his baptism:

Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

It will be a fight. The flesh is assertive and persistent. As our current baptismal liturgy says, it is not a matter of "if" but "whenever" we fall into sin, surrendering to the wants of the flesh. But Timothy can win because he belongs to the winner, the one who overcame the flesh, did the perfect will of God, and now lives forever to help those on the battlefield,

...Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession... he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords.

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