Being and Having
18th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Antonio P. Pueyo
Reproduced with Permission

Among a particularly peaceful tribe in our part of the world, an extreme display of animosity is to bring out one’s earthly possessions and show them to the adversary. The other party has to show that he has more by bringing out his own possessions. They have little possessions to start out with since they are sea nomads and live in small boats but somehow even in simpler cultures self-worth is identified with possessions. This doesn’t seem to be far different from what many of us in more sophisticated cultures are inclined to do.

Action starter: What can you share?

While the sea nomad displays his small boat, we show off our houses and cars. He brings out his pots and pans, and we show off our refrigerators, gas ranges and ovens. He brings out his treasured battery-run music organ and we proudly present our latest in video and audio appliances and accessories. She shows off her headdress and we bring out our latest signature apparel. It’s all the same. We identify being with having. He who has more is deemed to be a superior kind of being. In a largely agricultural society this means he who has more land is the big man (the landlord). In industrial societies, they who own the means of production such as the factories and machineries are to be treated with respect ( the tycoons). In Post-modern digitally skilled societies, he who has more knowledge and know-how gains more wealth and recognition (the cyber billionaires).

It seems to be a natural tendency to equate the value of a human being with the quantity and quality of his possessions. Of course, a certain level of possessions would be significant to one’s dignity as a human being. Going around naked or half-clothed in public does not give a person much dignity. Not having anything to eat or having no roof over one’s head do not contribute to dignified living. On the other hand equating human worth with possessions is not exactly right either. Otherwise, only the rich have the right to be treated humanly. Even a poor person has a right to human dignity.

The Gospel this Sunday speaks of the right attitude towards possessions. The wealthy man’s attitude was, “ I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat drink, and be merry” (Lk. 12:13). That night he died. We are stewards of God’s gifts. Whatever we have are not ours absolutely and therefore are not absolutely for our own enjoyment. It would be good for our soul if every once in a while we look at our accomplishments, wealth, honors, and achievements and recite to ourselves the opening lines of the first reading taken from the book of Ecclesiastes, “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?”

There is more to life than the accumulation of possessions. What one has accumulated, he has to leave behind. No matter how wide one’s lands are, at the end he would lie on a narrow piece of soil. We cannot bring along even a single nail from our coffin. If ever we have accumulated knowledge it is best left behind as wisdom for those whom we have counseled and mentored. What we have are to be shared.

As St. Paul counsels the Colossians in the second reading, “Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth (3:2). Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry (v.5). Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience. (v. 12).