Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Luke 12:32-40
Fr. Sean C. Kim
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
7 August 2022
Treasure-hunting is alive and well. I'm sure you've heard about the most recent Mega Millions lottery, worth $1.3 billion dollars. Countless Americans bought the tickets, hoping to be the lucky one with the winning numbers. I read that someone in the Chicago area had the ticket. That person's life will change overnight, soon to be propelled into the realm of the ultrarich. Yes, we hear about how most lottery winners are not really happy and how many of them squander away their wealth. But, to be honest, how many of us would not want a quick billion dollars? Think about the benefits and rewards that would come with that kind of money: the power, the status, the freedom to pursue whatever we wanted.
It is human nature to desire wealth and possessions. And our society celebrates the acquisition of money. The media hypnotizes us with icons of wealth and status, from multi-billionaires to celebrity athletes and movie stars.
In today's Gospel, we have a counter-intuitive and counter-cultural message about wealth. Jesus tells his disciples: "Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treaure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Luke 12:33-40). In contrast to the message around us to accumulate wealth, Jesus tells us to give it away.
Why? For one, there is no enduring value in our material possessions. Wealth comes and goes. Jesus employs the colorful images of worn-out purses, plundering thieves, and moth-eaten valuables to illustrate the fleeting nature of earthly treasures. I heard somewhere that most family fortunes do not survive three generations. What usually happens is that the generations that come after the founder of the fortune usually lack the same kind of hunger for money and end up spending more than increasing the family wealth. In last week's Gospel, we read about the rich fool who makes all sorts of plans for what to do with his money only to die the next day (Luke 12:13-21). As the cliche goes, you can't take it with you when you go.
But there is another, more important reason for not placing our faith in material possessions. Jesus speaks of a different, far superior kind of wealth, "an unfailing treasure in heaven." Unlike the treasures of this world, this heavenly treasure has enduring value; indeed, it is eternal in nature. What is this heavenly treasure? It is none other than Christ himself. Jesus is our "unfailing treasure in heaven."
Jesus is the treasure of God's precious gift of his own Son to the world. Jesus is God Incarnate, God in the flesh. And as God Incarnate, Christ is the source of all creation, the source of all blessings. Everything that we have and enjoy comes from Christ. And through his Passion, Death, and Resurrection, he has become our Savior and Lord. We have the promise of life with him in this world and in the next.
Hence, compared to the treasure that we have in Jesus, everything else pales in comparison. In the parable of the Pearl of Great Price in the Gospel of Matthew, we read of the pearl merchant who finds one pearl of great value (Matthew 13:45-46). He sells everything he has in order to buy the one pearl. For the Christian, Jesus is the Pearl of Great Price, the treasure above all treasures for which we should be willing to sacrifice everything else. As we read in today's Gospel: "where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
Throughout Christian history, many believers have done just that, given up everything for their faith. In the Gospels, we read of the disciples who left behind family and possessions to follow Jesus. And we have the long and rich monastic tradition of monks and nuns who have given up everything to take vows of poverty and service to the poor and needy. Yet, at the same time, we also have examples of wealthy believers in the early church who, though they did not give away everything they had, were generous patrons of the church and its ministries. And throughout Christian history as well as in the present, we have believers on all points of the socioeconomic spectrum. Based on the experience of the Church, the degree to which we sacrifice our material possessions for the sake of the faith seems to depend on our individual conscience, to what we believe God is calling us to do. Perhaps because of my very Protestant background (I don't know any monks or nuns), I personally am not aware of anyone who has taken the radical step of giving it all up.
But whatever sacrifices we make, even giving it all up, they are nothing compared to what we receive in return. From the treasure that is Christ flows a stream of spiritual riches that no money can buy. He is our Redeemer, who grants us the the promise of eternal life. He has conquered death and offers us unending life with him. And in this life, we have the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, sent by Jesus to provide us in our daily lives with wisdom and guidance, and comfort and strength in times of trial. And just as earthly wealth can provide the resources to do what we want, the spiritual riches that come from our relationship with Jesus also empower us, not to do what we want but to carry out God's will. Inspired and empowered by Christ, we do God's work in the world, feeding the poor, healing the sick, visiting the lonely, committing ourselves to peace and justice.
Earthly treasures, like the lottery jackpot, derive their value from being rare and limited to the few. But the heavenly treasure that is Christ is available to all of us. It is God's free gift. And it is available to us now. We claim this treasure every time we come to the altar for Holy Eucharist. As we receive the host and chalice, we receive the precious Body and Blood of Jesus into our own bodies. We thus become bearers of the treasure that is above all treasures: Jesus, God-Incarnate. Dear sisters and brothers, let us now join together and come to the altar to receive our divine treasure, the source of all blessings. And bearing this treasure in us, let us go forth to be Christ to one another in love and service. Amen.
The sermons preached at High Mass at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!