SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ Rom 4:20-25
; Luke 1:69-75
; Luke 12:13-21
In the gospel, a man came to Jesus seeking His intervention to restore his right of inheritance from his brother. He said, “Master, tell my brother to give me a share of our inheritance.” Such a request is understandable. Many of us in that situation would surely fight for our rights. This instinct for justice is deeply ingrained in our DNA. We all have a penchant for justice and especially when it affects our rights.
It is not wrong to demand for our rights, but it is also not the way of the gospel. Although Jesus came to champion the cause of the poor and the marginalized, He refused to intervene in the case of this man. He replied, “My friend, who appointed me your judge, or the arbitrator of your claims?” Clearly, Jesus did not want to take sides and get Himself embroiled in a family squabble over money and property. Instead, He went to the root of the problem, which lies beyond the question of strict justice. He said to them, “Watch, and be on your guard against avarice of any kind, for a man’s life is not made secure by what he owns, even when he has more than he needs.”
So what is the root of the problem? Whether it was the one who violated his brother’s rights or the one who was deprived of his share of the inheritance, it had to do with greed. In the first place, inheritance is a gift; not a right. The deceased need not have bequeathed his or her property to us. We never worked for it and we have no right to it. It is given purely as a gift, not for anything we had done. So strictly speaking, we cannot make a claim to it. At the bottom of this family quarrel is greed. We want to have more and we want to possess more and more. We can never satisfy this animal called greed. It is like a well that can never be filled. No matter how much inheritance we receive from our loved ones, we will feel jealous when others receive more than us, even though what we have been given is more than enough to sustain us in our lifetime. But the truth is that the word “enough” does not exist in our vocabulary.
The cause of greed is the lack of faith and trust in the divine providence of God. We want more and more; and we hoard money and things because we are insecure about our future. By holding on to things, money and property, we feel more secure about our future needs. We are afraid of pain, suffering, illness and hunger. So we keep money for our future so that we will not be in need. In other words, we rely more on ourselves than in our trust in God’s providence. We do not really believe that God will provide. Hence, the tendency to keep more and more because nothing is secure in this life.
This explains why Jesus told them the parable of the rich man who stored his produce in the barn. He “had a good harvest from his land, thought to himself ‘What am I to do? I have not enough room to store my crops.’ Then he said, ‘This is what I will do: I will pull down my barns and build bigger ones, and store all my grain and my goods in them, and I will say to my soul: My soul, you have plenty of good things laid by for many years to come; take things easy, eat, drink, have a good time.’” He was over-confident of himself. He thought that security was in his hands. But God said to him, “Fool! This very night the demand will be made for your soul; and this hoard of yours, whose will it be then?” We all never learn from this lesson in life. Many of us hoard our money and things and we never get round to enjoy the labour of our hands. Instead, all that we have are passed on to undeserving people!
That is why Jesus came to the heart of justice. What is justice? It is to be in good relationship with everyone, including God and our neighbours. “So it is when a man stores up treasure for himself in place of making himself rich in the sight of God.” To be rich in the sight of God is to be rich in love, in freedom and in forgiveness. A person who is spiritually rich is not attached to things. He sees them as means to be used to enrich people’s lives, for them to develop themselves, to grow in kindness and generosity, and most of all, to be like God, generous and giving. To be truly rich, we must be free from all things.
This was why Jesus taught us to let go when we feel like retaliating and seeking justice for ourselves. He said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you.” (Mt 5:38-42)
St Paul offers us a similar advice in countering evil by doing good. “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Rom 12:19-21)
Within this context, we can better appreciate St Paul’s doctrine on justification by faith alone through His grace. St Paul reminds us that what we are today is but by the grace of God. We are called to trust Him and His plans for us in our lives. We cannot earn this grace but we can cooperate by allowing His grace to work in and through us. In the case of Abraham, he accepted God’s promise to make him a great nation although this would not be realized until a 1100 years later when the kingdom was fully established by King David and fully realized 1000 years later in Christ. This is what the responsorial psalm said, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel! He has visited his people. He has raised up for us a mighty saviour in the house of David his servant, as he promised by the lips of holy men, those who were his prophets from of old. A saviour who would free us from our foes, from the hands of all who hate us. So his love for our fathers is fulfilled and his holy covenant remembered. He swore to Abraham our father to grant us that free from fear, and saved from the hands of our foes, we might serve him in holiness and justice all the days of our life in his presence.”
Abraham’s faith in God’s promises justified his trust in God’s divine providence and fidelity to His promises. Thus, St Paul concludes, “Since God had made him a promise, Abraham refused either to deny it or even to doubt it, but drew strength from faith and gave glory to God, convinced that God had power to do what he had promised. This is the faith that was ‘considered as justifying him’.” Abraham justified his foolishness in leaving Ur of the Chaldeans (Iraq) for a distant promised land that he could not see through faith in God. Hence, God showed forth His fidelity to Abraham by making him the Father of many nations.
For us too, when it comes to the question of being reconciled with God, it is also pure grace. On our own strength, we cannot do what the Law demands of us. We will fail and break the laws. But our hope of being saved does not come from our good works but from the fact that Christ our Saviour died for us and then resurrected for our sake so that through His death and resurrection, He may conquer the fear of eternal death and give us the promise of eternal life with Him. This thought alone can help us to let go of our fears and to trust in the promise of God to look after us. As St Paul wrote, “Scripture however does not refer only to him but to us as well when it says that his faith was thus ‘considered’; our faith too will be ‘considered’ if we believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, Jesus who was put to death for our sins and raised to life to justify us.” So the justice of God is not legal justice, but He sought to make us right before His eyes by winning us over in love, mercy and forgiveness. His mercy is His justice because He makes us right before Him unconditionally.