The readings are from the Catholic lectionary for daily mass while the headlines are chosen to keep my thinking real:
Ephesians 2 Contemporary English Version (CEV)
From Death to Life
2 In the past you were dead because you sinned and fought against God. 2 You followed the ways of this world and obeyed the devil. He rules the world, and his spirit has power over everyone who doesn’t obey God. 3 Once we were also ruled by the selfish desires of our bodies and minds. We had made God angry, and we were going to be punished like everyone else.
4-5 But God was merciful! We were dead because of our sins, but God loved us so much that he made us alive with Christ, and God’s wonderful kindness is what saves you. 6 God raised us from death to life with Christ Jesus, and he has given us a place beside Christ in heaven. 7 God did this so that in the future world he could show how truly good and kind he is to us because of what Christ Jesus has done. 8 You were saved by faith in God, who treats us much better than we deserve.[a] This is God’s gift to you, and not anything you have done on your own. 9 It isn’t something you have earned, so there is nothing you can brag about. 10 God planned for us to do good things and to live as he has always wanted us to live. That’s why he sent Christ to make us what we are.
I’ve used the CEV tranlsation today because it spells out Paul’s message without any technical vocabulary. In particular the the Greek word “charis” often translated “grace” is translated here as “kindness”. The theologies of the Christian church have made grace into some kind of almost mechanical operation of God designed to effect our “salvation”. This translation makes it clear that grace is not a thing but rather God being kind.
Paul is unsparing about sin, which he defines as the human drive to turn in upon oneself in selfishness and to miss the life which God desires for his children. Paul holds to his image of a God of love, and he cannot conceive of love not being angry if it is abused. The anger of God is a concomitant of his love for human beings not a departure from it.
God, according to Paul, has shared our lives, even to the extent of death, in Messiah Jesus, so that we can share in his death and resurrection: even now we share a place beside Messiah Jesus in heaven. This is all God’s gift which only asks for our trust (faith). We can’t make ourselves good but Christ makes us what God wants us to be through our trust in him. This sort of language can make our trust seem passive. On the contrary our trust in Messiah Jesus makes us active disciples of his way of openness to God in the practicalities of communal living. Of course we’ll still go wrong but if we maintain our trust we’ll never again shut out God’s goodness by turning in upon ourselves. We cannot work our way to true life, but we can allow Jesus Messiah to work on us.
A man in the crowd said to Jesus, ‘Master, tell my brother to give me a share of our inheritance.’ ‘My friend,’ he replied, ‘who appointed me your judge, or the arbitrator of your claims?’ Then 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.’
Here’s a man who decdes to turn in upon himself, forgetting that his true life, his soul, is meant to be open to God. The soul is that breath of life which according to the Bible God breathed into to dust-man Adam. Jesus depicts the stupidity of a human being who attends only to his own needs and imagines that his wealth can protect him from the all the risks of life. The soul that he is pampering by his selfishness does not belong to him, but to God, who wants it back, now. Now the soul will appear naked and open to God’s gaze. But will it have any credit in God’s eyes? Jesus suggests that it will be very poor indeed. Jesus parable humourously mimes the way the farmer turns in upon himself, “My soul, you have plenty of good things…”, but his warning is intended seriously.
After a lifetime a managing an average salary incompetently and causing myself a deal of worry it’s nice now in my retirement to know I have a bit of spare capital and time to relax. I can almost say, “My soul, you have plenty…” Jesus’ parables are never directed at others.