Not trickle-down

The Propers for the Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost
Please note: an entry in the People’s Missal Project

Missa Protector noster


GOD IS IN CONTROL. This is the message of this Mass. Yet this idea can quickly become one of victim-blaming. If God is in control then he made some poor and he made me rich, so all is well. If God is in control then he made some people white and while he may not think of others as “less” he clearly wanted white people to be in charge. This is not the message of this Mass although a homily along those lines could easily be preached if you totally disregarded the entire teaching of the Church and God’s preferential option for the poor.

We’ll start as always with the Collect for the Mass, pulling all our thoughts together. The first word of the prayer in Latin is Custodi. Sermonry renders this as “Keep”. Keep, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy Church with perpetual peace. The Baronius Press missal has it as “Favour.” Favour thy Church unceasingly. Both of these miss the point. The root is the Latin Custos which means “Guardian”. Keep is close, but weak. Do the verb thing that Guardians do. The St Andrew’s missal renders this as “Guard.” Guard your Church, Lord. From what? The next phrase speaks about human frailty and how, without God’s help, we always fall. I believe we’re asking God to keep his church safe from us. Keep your church safe from the ways that we would want to run it, contrary to your law. Keep your church safe from our tendency to want to be Americans first instead of Christians first. Keep your church safe from those of us who would harm it with our drive for political power, or social media power. Keep your church safe from all the stupid things we do.

Yes, the church is a divinely-inspired and divinely lead institution. She is also human through and through. This prayer asks God to assert his control over his church which is us. The Introit asks God to look on us and see the face of Christ. It asserts that the courts of God are better than all the wealth and favor of this world. There was a time when the church was mostly the poor of the city of Rome and of the eastern end of the Roman Empire. By “poor” I mean the workers: fisherman, tentmakers, weavers, dyers of cloth, merchants, all-night security guards, slaves, and the families of these. For these coming to a liturgy was a chance to experience the freedom that God offered and the chance to get away from the drudgery of their day-to-day life. A day in God’s courts (the Mass) was better than thousands of days spent elsewhere. Please, God, guard this heaven here on earth that you have given us in the Mass.

When we return to the Epistle for today, we certainly get an earful from Saint Paul! He reminds us that the Flesh and the Spirit contend with each other for mastery in our lives. Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are fornication, uncleanness, immodesty, luxury, idolatry, witchcrafts, enmities, contentions, emulations, wraths, quarrels, dissensions, sects, envies, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like. Those “enmities, contentions, emulations, wraths, quarrels, dissensions, sects, (and) envies” sound a lot like a day spent on Social Media, especially if you float around those quasi-Catholic circles that reject Pope Francis or Vatican 2! Those are in the Church, though. They are part of us. This is why we ask God in the Collect to guard the Church from us. The most damage can be caused not from rioters destroying statues, but rather from those inside the Church doing the opera carnem, the “works of the flesh”. They sow dissension among the flock, destroying the Peace of Christ. If possible they would destroy the very Church herself. Against these, Paul offers the Fruit of the Spirit; charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, longanimity, mildness, faith, modesty, continency, chastity. You’ll find none of those in any Matial Vortex.

The Gradual reminds us that it is better to trust in God than in any political power. Too often in these days the Church will cede her power to the local political authority instead of insisting that she has her own authority. Too often she will cede charity to the state, taking state funding for her work (and then having become addicted to that funding she will give up her moral authority as well). This is why we cannot trust princes or the sons of men. We have to trust in the Lord: God is our protector – not the state fund for child services or the Federal agency for XYZ. We are not in a Christian country. There’s nothing wrong with getting benefits from the State, but when the removal of those benefits means that the Church’s work has to be curtailed then something was wrong. Either the Church’s work was not being done in the first place or else the Church was overextending herself in a contract with Mammon. More on that in the Gospel before which let us joyfully sing Alleluia!

Jesus opens today’s Gospel with a commentary on serving two masters and the famous, stern line about God and Mammon. Following that are poetic and beautiful lines about the lilies and the birds. It’s possible (and I have heard it often) to preach on either of these sayings ignoring the other. English translations, though, join these two sayings into one with a “therefore”. I remember my Methodist pastor saying in the late Seventies (speaking of the KJV, of course), “When there’s a therefore always find out what it’s there for.” In the Greek, Jesus joins these stern and poetic lines with δια τοῦτο dia touto by means of this or through this. So: don’t try to serve two masters, God and Mammon, and then though trusting in God, all these things…

We are used to thinking of “Mammon” as meaning money, but it can also mean political power, family, or social position. Word studies on the Greek share the following context:

3126 mammōnás – a Semitic term for “the treasure a person trusts in” (J. Thayer) who is transliterated as “mammon.”

[3126 (mammōnás) is probably an Aramaic term, related to the Hebrew term ̓aman (“to trust,” J. Thayer).]

Even if it’s not related to the value of your income, do you put your trust in your job providing that income? Do you put your trust in what people think of you? Do you (like me) find value in “being seen” on the internet? Why did no one like that post – am I a failure? Do you worry about job-loss resulting in a loss of all the things you have? This is Mammon.

Jesus says God is in control. Things might suck, but trust God anyway. Always.

The way this becomes victim-blaming is when the poor ask for help and we say “trust God!” Keith Green sang his Asleep in the Light about this.

Oh, can’t you see such sin?!
’cause he brings people to your door,
And you turn them away
As you smile and say,
“God bless you!
Be at peace!”
And all heaven just weeps,
’cause Jesus came to your door,
You left him out on the streets
Open up! open up!
And give yourself away
You see the need,
You hear the cries,
So how can you delay?!
God is calling,
And you are the one
But like Jonah, you run
He told you to speak,
But you keep holding it in
Oh, can’t you see such sin?!
The world is sleeping in the dark,
That the Church just can’t fight,
’cause it’s asleep in the light!
How can you be so dead?!
When you’ve been so well fed!

Our failure to be Christ-like to be kenotic, self-emptying with our Mammon is a sign that we’re not trusting God. God has given you a superfluity of mammon exactly to share with the poor: you are God’s steward. If you think “I can’t give this away because I might need it later” you’re thinking of that other master you have: a personal sense of security. The current constellation of crises should prove to you that literally nothing can be used to prepare for any future. The only thing we can do is trust God. Our healthcare system leads to social collapse which results in economic collapse. We have not yet begun to deal with the economic reality of the lost of >2ook people from the US or millions who cannot work because of being sick. We will have a new reality in 6-8 months no matter who gets elected.

And our Mammon will fail.

Now is the time (while we have it) to give it away before it drags us down. Now is the time to feed the poor from your savings. Now is the time to entrust your stuff into the hands of Christ who begs at your door. Now is the time to say God is in control. Seek God’s kingdom first: live as if you are in the kingdom – because you are! You no longer need to care about the concerns of this world. Insert birds and lilies here. We are free. Rejoice for God has given us everything!

The Offertory reminds us that the Angel of the Lord is here defending us who trust in God. It also dares us to “taste and see” how good God is. Yes, certainly, this is a Eucharistic invitation, but it’s also a dare: let go of your Mammon and trust God instead. Try it: you’ll like it! The Communion repeats “seek ye first” promising that all these other things will be added to us: it’s not a promise to give a little and get more back. Rather it’s a call to give away all and God will keep giving you more to give away. Be kenotic – self-emptying – like Jesus and you will never run out.

This is the pour-out economics of the Holy Trinity and the Kingdom of God. God gives us infinity in a wafer: the smallest part of infinity is also infinity and no matter how much he gives us there is always more. God guards his Church from the evil not by kicking them out but by constantly pouring himself in so that they may be converted. God wants us to do the same: pour out everything to others so that there is always room to pour more in. This pouring in purifies: it’s not like pouring water into a bottle but rather like standing in front of a flame thrower to get your clothes clean. The spots go away… The Holy Spirit – God’s consuming fire – indwells. This leads, as said in the Postcommunion, to strength in this life and eternal salvation.

Author: Huw Raphael

A Dominican Tertiary living in San Francisco, CA. He is almost 59. He feeds the homeless as a parochial almoner and is studying to be a Roman Catholic Deacon. He is learning modern Israeli Hebrew and enjoys cooking, keto, cats, long urban hikes, and SF Beer Week.

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