Are we just a drop in the ocean? – 12th Sunday after Trinity
Today’s gospel message seems to create extreme pre-conditions for entry into the Kingdom: a willingness to break family ties, a willingness to face radical self-denial, and a willingness to renounce all material possessions.There may be some consolation in the fact that Luke was employing a typically Palestinian form of expression of its day, where the word ‘hate’ denotes not so much the emotion as a sense of priority, but nevertheless this is strong stuff. In wrestling with the passage we need to confront our notions of self, of society at large and lastly what, who, how we conceive God to be. We may come up with different answers to the people of Luke’s day – as well we might. But are we just a drop in the ocean?
By chapter 17 of Luke’s gospel, we are now approaching the end of what is called the journey narrative. Jesus’s disciples will soon welcome him into Jerusalem, for some brief moments of triumph, and so it is fitting that the main focus of his teaching now moves to them. By now his audience is well primed to favour the ‘poor’ over those of riches and privilege. But, just because you might be considered among the more blessed poor, Jesus warns them, don’t think for a moment that you are exempt from responsibility and judgement. Even in the Kingdom there is opportunity for scandal and the need for repentance and forgiveness. How might that warning apply to us in our own time and very different circumstances?
The idea of the ‘gated community’ has grown enormously in recent years. They are a symptom of societies that are so divided, so unequal, with such a small proportion of those who might be called well off and a vast number of those living in poverty, where such communities fear that at any moment the dreadful reality of their society could come crashing into their lives and homes. Gated communities are an attempt to deny the truth, to create a bubble of existence, that shuts its ears and eyes to the pain and suffering of society, in which one is actually involved and of which one might be also a cause. In today’s gospel reading Jesus confronts the timeless reality of injustice and indifference.
In Amos, the guilty are directly addressed – “…. you that trample on the needy and bring ruin to the poor of the land.”
And as he continues to travel towards Jerusalem, preaching as he goes, Jesus tells those with him just what it means to be a ‘disciple’.
Many of those with him would be the poor, the outcast, the oppressed, so a story about a rich man, moreover the most hated kind of all, the absentee landlord, would go down well. The master directs the cruel policy, the manager, the steward enacts it.
A tragic story not unknown in this land too.
And Jesus goes on to speak of money, how in their case, but also how for us, our attitudes to money can reveal who we are.