"You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand." -- Woodrow Wilson: 1856 – 1924: was an American politician and academic who served as the 28th President of the United States from 1913 to 1921)
Gospel Text: (JN 12:1-11)
Six days before Passover Jesus came to Bethany,
where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.
They gave a dinner for him there, and Martha served,
while Lazarus was one of those reclining at table with him.
Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil
made from genuine aromatic nard
and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair;
the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.
Then Judas the Iscariot, one of his disciples,
and the one who would betray him, said,
“Why was this oil not sold for three hundred days’ wages
and given to the poor?”
He said this not because he cared about the poor
but because he was a thief and held the money bag
and used to steal the contributions.
So Jesus said, “Leave her alone.
Let her keep this for the day of my burial.
You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”
The large crowd of the Jews found out that he was there and came,
not only because of him, but also to see Lazarus,
whom he had raised from the dead.
And the chief priests plotted to kill Lazarus too,
because many of the Jews were turning away
and believing in Jesus because of him.
Do you believe that all our resources are gifts?
Not just money and property, but talent, family, education, aptitude – everything we have to work with – all gift.
I want to steer clear here of the emotionally charged battlefield of unregulated capitalism vs. centrally controlled socialism. Both are systems developed for the management of resources – systems located at the opposite ends of an economic continuum. Our job as followers of Jesus is to find a middle ground somewhere along that continuum that both recognizes the fact behind Jesus’ statement and creates an economy that best serves us all. Yes, “creates”. Economies don’t have absolute existence. They are human creations. As Pope Francis stressed in Laudato Si, they can – and must – be crafted to produce certain outcomes, such as maximizing access to purchasing power (e.g., employment). That’s what is behind the criticism of current economic systems by Pope Francis (and his predecessors). Objections that he’s not an economist, while correct, are beside the point. He is not specifying how to devise such a system, just saying what its purposes ought to be. And those purposes are what lies behind Jesus’ statement about the poor in today’s Gospel. For Christians, those purposes have to be taken very seriously.
Very briefly, those who have resources must help those who have not, not out of generosity, but out of responsibility. I’ve always thought “charity” was the wrong word to use here. The kind of sharing is a matter of responsibility, not generosity.
Getting that sharing right is not easy. We each must work at it as best we can. After all, that’s what we pray for when, in the Lord’s Prayer, we ask God to inaugurate His reign – His ways of running the world He gave us. It’s quite appropriate that we introduce that prayer at mass with “We dare to say . . .” His ways are not ours, and running things God’s way will surely disrupt our tidy value systems – will take a lot of daring.