We all have a story about a family member seeking more than a fair share of the family inheritance. Greed around money and property can bring out the worst in us unfortunately. In the gospel reading Jesus objects to the younger sibling’s request not because he demands fairness, but because he seeks more than his share. Jesus refuses to intervene in family business and not do the will of someone trying to defraud his sibling.
The parable of the rich man is relevant for our time. Both for individual decision making and also for collective decision making, how we organize our society. One thing Jesus takes issue with the rich man isn’t simply being rich, but he’s engaging in hoarding. He is driving up prices on commodities by artificially reducing supply. He could sell his crops in the marketplace but instead he decides to hold onto them and invest his money in infrastructure that enables him to help drive up prices. His existing barn isn’t large enough so by tearing it down and building more storage, he’s going out of his way to throttle supply for neighbours.
We see this happen all the time in the way we continue structuring our society. For example we hear prices are going up because of inflation and supply chain issues. We also hear prices are going up because companies are making a savvy calculation they can get away with it. In fact there are few consequences for companies overcharging especially in a country like Canada with a relatively small population relative to the US. As a result grocery store companies, cell phone and internet providers, etc. don’t really need to offer the most competitive products. We are forced to buy whatever they offer us because a handful of companies have virtual monopolies.
Perhaps the original monopoly are the ways Canada as British and French colonies used the Doctrine of Discovery in order to make illegal land claims on a huge landmass inherited by Indigenous peoples. This week has been hard to avoid the news of Pope Francis’ visit to Canada in order to further the church’s aims towards reconciliation. Making sense of this visit and interpreting it’s relative success is incredibly fraught for us to do as non-Indigenous people. I’ve never seen so many hot takes - people basically writing the same op-ed often without centring Indigenous voices. And I want to avoid giving just another hot take no one asked for. So better for us to listen to Indigenous voices and interpret the visit through the lens of the gospel.
One such voice is that of Pam Palmater, an Indigenous leader and attorney. She recognizes that the pope’s visit meant a great deal to some residential school survivors and doesn’t want to take that away from them. She writes in an article in the Toronto Star, “These survivors — who have experienced horrific acts of violence, racism and oppression at the hands of the Catholic priests, nuns, clergy and staff, deserve to have whatever they need for their own personal healing journeys. This papal visit is a very painful and trigger time for Indigenous Peoples and we must continue to support them.”
“At the same time, it is important that we acknowledge that many other survivors, families and communities want more than an apology — they want justice. Indigenous Peoples have said countless times that true reconciliation must include substantive actions by the church to end the ongoing abuse and make reparations for the hardship done. Apologies are empty sentiments without corresponding action. In other words, this trip should have been about penance (actions), not just penitence (regret).”
Palmater deftly describes ways in which Indigenous peoples continue to be pitted against one another by the church. On the one hand they are meant to feel grateful there is any apology at all, against which any criticism seems tasteless and ungrateful. On the other hand, Indigenous people are right to demand real justice and actions, not just a very expensive PR campaign funded by the church and various levels of government. We heard that northern communities often lacking good roads and infrastructure received freshly paved roads along the route of the pope’s motorcade. In this sense the the partnership of church and Canadian levels of government remain the same. Both church and a colonial power advanced through exploitation of Indigenous people and land, including the warehousing of Indigenous children in residential schools from which many never survived or were left traumatized and robbed of culture and language.
Jesus At Work
Where do we find Jesus at work in the midst of all this? Part of the challenge of talking about systemic issues around racism, reconciliation, and economics is that we’re overwhelmed. At times we binge troubling news stories while at other times we ignore them reading another grim headline. Neither approach seems to lighten the burden or solve the problems we are facing collectively.
Jesus offers one approach we hear about in the Letter to the Colossians. Namely the promise of renewal in baptism. We hear that in baptism we strip off the old self and put on the new self. Not that this renewal is one of escapism. It’s not about burying our heads in the sand. But rather it’s admitting, even confessing, that we can’t tackle life’s problems on our own. Quickly we feel overwhelmed, overburdened, and outmatched. When we her fossil fuel companies are responsible for a huge percentage of carbon emissions in the world and that BC continually sides with these companies rather than Indigenous land defenders it can feel defeating. However giving in to this narrative is self-defeating. We need to be recharged not defeated.
Church is a rare place offering a home to ritual and sacrament. The promises of baptism offer us reprieve from the onslaught of the world. Baptism gives us the space we need to recharge and gird up our loins for the work that lays ahead. And sometimes we need to rest. How fitting to think about the importance of resting during summer months when many of us typically take time for travel and vacation.
Jesus is inviting us to give over our old selves, all the stuff that weighs us down, in order to be transformed by the promise of the gospel. The gospel opens up gaps for creativity and unexpected responses. Just as we don’t know what the future will bring, so too we don’t know the ways in which the Spirit is imagining new worlds and new ways of being church through us. In that sense we live in an exciting and fruitful time. We’ve seen all the ways the emperor has no clothes in terms of political and business leaders not rising to the challenges of our time. All the more important for us to speak openly about such realities and imagine ways God is calling us to take action together with neighbours.
Wrapping Up how is Jesus tending to your needs today? Don’t hesitate to reach out to Pr. Lyle, me, or a lay leader here at Church of the Cross. The body of Christ is about building up relationships. Mainly I’m trying to say we all need to talk about our spiritual journey. We aren’t built to go it alone. We need to build one another up, to life up one another.
Even if it’s about dividing the family inheritance and things aren’t going fairly, talk to someone about it. Jesus never shies away from conversation.
Remember that you are loved and God desires for us to build a world collectively in which everyone flourishes, not just a few individuals. Amen.