Thoughts on the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 4, 2019
by Rev. Jim Ryan, firstname.lastname@example.org
We have already heard Jesus’ parable of the farmer, his harvest, and his reckoning (Luke 12:13-21). Jesus used the parable, apparently and among other reasons, to teach against greed.
Well, here’s a little story, mostly true from what I hear, about greed. It’s a story of what is going on right now in the Summer of 2019 in Spring Prairie Township where Jean and I live. This township is the epitome of “Wisconsin Bucolic” lying between the Village of East Troy to the north, the resort town of Lake Geneva to the south, a former ski hill now subdivision called Paradise to the east and the township of Lafayette to the west. In this 6 sq. mile area plenty of rural charm lies around every corner and down every country road.
But, these days when you drive around Spring Prairie Twp. You will see bunches – and I do mean bunches – of yard signs that say, “No Pit in the Prairie.” These residents are expressing opposition to the development of a Gravel Pit in Spring Prairie Twp. And here’s where the story gets good. It seems, quite unbeknownst to the residents, the Township’s Zoning Commission was considering a rezoning permit that would turn one farm into a fully operational gravel pit. This application for this permit surfaced because eventually this kind of thing, rezoning, that is, requires a public vote by the Zoning Commission and then by the Town Board.
By the time residents heard of this plan it was well on its way to happening. Some facts became public, like the fact that the pit was to include 230 acres (not the floated rumor of 80 acres that was meant to curb opposition, I guess); like the fact that full operation means 45 trucks per day would be traversing the roads of this corner of bucolic southeast Wisconsin. Add to that the noise and the dust it’s easy to see why the owner of the land was, shall we say, less than transparent.
Now, here’s where the story gets down and even dirtier (sorry, the puns are simply unavoidable). Get this, the farmer who owns the land sits on the Zoning Commission. And no, I’m not making this stuff up. He was ready to get this rezoning approved and start earning his several millions of dollars that would funnel to him from the pit developer. At a meeting in the Town Hall that was “stuffed to the gills” with very vocal dissenting residents in attendance the developer actually promised a noiseless, dustless pit that will be reclaimed (once the gravel is removed) and returned to farmland.
Having lived in a region of the country (Appalachian mountains) where resource extraction occurs, I’m familiar with such promises. And you know what? When the mountain top is removed the mountain top is not replaced. Which in Wisconsin-ese translates to, “When you remove the most productive soil it does not get replaced.”
The point of this story (which is not over yet) is that greed thrives away from public scrutiny. And the person who avoids transparency in such matters likely has no interest other than self-gain. All in all, a perfect recipe for greed.
“This is mine, all of it!”
This morning following 2 mass murders within 13 hours – mass murders number 260 and 261 this year (and this is only day 216) we face greed that follows this sickeningly simple logic. It goes as follows: “This is mine.” “It’s not yours.” “To keep you from getting mine, I will kill you.”
In the United States this kind of greed is xenophobic, as in, “Go back to where you came from,” or “America, love it or leave it.” As Jesus says, greed is like worshipping a foreign idol. Greed, in any form from sabotaging one’s neighbors to depriving you of what I amass by killing you over it is placing strange gods on our path.
Believe it or not a healthy personalism serves as a necessary antidote to greed – a personalism that acknowledges at the core of each person’s being a social connection exists which believes that the other person is a person like me deserving of life and dignity.
You can find such a personalism in the teaching of the philosopher and founding editor of L’Esprit, Emmanuel Mounier. In the 20th century his philosophy influenced many who saw the person in an unbreakable connection with other persons in society. He convinced Peter Maurin who in turn convinced Dorothy Day as they formed the Catholic Worker Houses of Hospitality.
Another person who was influenced by Mounier was Karol Wojtyla, later to become Pope John Paul II. In his philosopher days Wojtyla wrote glowingly of the person, a phenomenology that was scholarly, astute, and actually celebrated the freedom of the person to acknowledge truth. But, beware the philosopher whose theological bent is toward institutionalism. Wojtyla, turned John Paul II, took this celebration of the person and smothered it with the power of an institution (Roman Catholic Church) and under his leadership claimed all truth to itself. In this, the freedom of the person gave way to the directives of the institution. In John Paul’s case the Prime Directive became the litmus test requirement of being anti-abortion – a position that even Thomas Aquinas (another philosopher you may have heard of) hadn’t settled, namely, the viability of the person.
It’s no wonder that none of John Paul’s bishops would actively lead on social justice issues like a Living Wage, restraints on the exceedingly or expressing freedom of the person to worship with a priest who is a woman.
Mounier’s personalism in the hands of Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day did not take the path of a theology that defers all to institutional self-preservation (although Day did remain pretty conservative in her deference to the institution). Rather they gravitated to the social anarchy of Tolstoy. This is not an anarchy that seeks destruction, but anarchy that believes we grow community by persons forming social bonds in freedom – persons seeing that Body of Christ is not a metaphor, but the way to make real the Love of Christ among us.
This personalism erases the greed of snookering one’s neighbors as well as the variety of xenophobic greed that demands, “Get out of my country.” A healthy personalism reminds us that all creation is a gift which must be kept in balance and sustained and in which there is no such thing as an absolute right to property.
And you thought greed was only about possessions. As Christ is firstborn of all creation so we are born to make real that Christ “who is everything in all of you.” (Colossians 3:11)
A Prayer (JR)
Honor and Glory, Praise and Thanksgiving be to you, All Holy One.
You are the bringer of day, the creator of life, the inspirer of dreams.
We gather in hope to receive the gift of union through prayer.
We sing to proclaim your praise.
We speak a common language of commitment.
We proclaim an undying faith.
This is the day you have made—
your people rejoice in it for your Love is forever.