“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.” (Luke 12:22-23)
Today’s Gospel is a Gospel for our world today. We live in a world where many now are faced with the real possibility of becoming homeless, of not being able to provide food for their families. Why? The answer we are told is: inflation. For inflation, they tell us, means that everyone’s wealth becomes less as our money loses it value. But, for the ordinary person who doesn’t have much, their money has already lost its value. For they cannot live on what they earn, though they are in full-time work. This needs to be addressed. But what we hear is that any wage increase will only lead to higher inflation. But, if you only have $4, it doesn’t matter if a loaf of bread cost $5 or $50; either way you cannot have it and you go hungry. Inflation is really only a concern for those who are rich, those who still have purchasing power to lose. In our world today, in this wealthy land we call Australia, what needs urgently to be addressed more than inflation is poverty, the real poverty of ordinary people who are now poor, living on the streets and in queues at soup kitchens.
And yet, amid all this increased general suffering of what will probably be yet another ‘recession that we have to have,’ we learn that the rich are getting richer, big banks are making record profits … the top end of town is doing alright for itself. Just prior to today’s Gospel, Jesus tells a parable of a rich man who has a bumper harvest, so much so that he cannot house his excess. The rich man says to himself, “What am I to do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I know what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there 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; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” (Luke 12:17-19) He had another choice: he could have used his excess to relieve the lot of the poor in the community. To give to his neighbour who is struggling a few crumbs out of what he had extra would not have hurt him (Luke 16:20), for he would still be a rich man; he may even have earned himself the eternal gratitude of one of these ‘little ones’ to whose prayers God’s ears are especially attuned. (Luke 12:21, 33. C.f.: Matthew 25:34-40, 41-45) To the rich man who sparred not a thought for anyone other than himself, Jesus says, “What a fool you are to trust in your riches and not in me. This very night the messengers of death are demanding to take your life. Then who will get all the wealth you have stored up for yourself?’ (Luke 12:20) We have no purchase on life; we can neither ensure nor insure our future; all of what we place all our hope and trust in will ultimately be brought to nothing. (C.f.: Job 1:21; Psalm 39:6) This we can see in the life of our Br Peter. He was only going for another appointment with his GP, who took one look at him and said, “Take this man straight to emergency.” After only two weeks in ICU, his life supports had to be turned off, and we are brought to this place where we are to bid him a final farewell. We have no hold on life; it is as our Br John would have put it: “When He says come, you’ve got to go!”
Jesus’ solution to the precariousness of life is to put all our trust in God alone. “Consider the Ravens,” he says, “Think of the lilies of the field.” For him, nature has valuable lessons to teach us. “Ravens do not provide for themselves, yet God provides for them.” Jesus’ point: even things that are here today and gone tomorrow are covered by God’s providence; how much more will God care for you! (Luke 12:24) So Jesus urges his disciples: “Don’t let yourselves be troubled. Live above the anxious cares about your personal needs. People everywhere seem to worry about making a living, but your heavenly Father knows your every need and will take care of you. Each and every day he will supply your needs as you seek his kingdom passionately, above all else. So don’t ever be afraid, dearest friends! Your loving Father joyously gives you his kingdom with all its promises!” (Luke 12:20-32)
This word, ‘troubled,’ has about it something of the ship at sea being tossed to and fro or being blown off course. Jesus’ point is that his disciples are not to be undecided, vacillating between faith and doubt over whether God will care for us, allowing ourselves to be caught up in and tossed about by the cares of this world. We are not to worry, for it will not help nor will it add even one second to the lifespan allotted to us, but we are to live relying on the promise that comes to us with the gift of life. The trust Jesus is here calling us to is but a variation on what the Letter to the Romans calls ‘the faith of Abraham,’ which it describes in this way: ‘At the promise of God he did not waver in unbelief, but was empowered by faith, giving glory to God by being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.’ (Romans 4:20- 21) In giving us life, God’s promise is that we can and will live. (C.f.: John 10:10) In calling us to have confidence in God, Jesus is not saying that we should give no forethought to the necessities of life: food, shelter and clothing. Rather, he is warning us against an undue concern over them, which would see us always having to strive for surpluses and to be always hoarding just in case. These are but signs of a lack of trust in God’s providence. (Luke 12:30) Hardship and difficulties are the undeniable common lot of humanity, but worry over them results only in apprehensiveness and anxiety, in sleeplessness, physical exhaustion and bitterness; it doesn’t solve them or make them go away. Jesus’ word to us is: “In the world you will have trouble. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) In the face of all that confronts us, his is a call for us to assume that, somehow, ‘all will be well’ (Julian of Norwich: Revelations of Divine Love), a call to put our trust in God’s promise and go on in hope. (Romans 8:24-25)
This our Br Peter did. In coming to us as an older man in answer to God’s call in 2001, there was a very real risk that it would not work out — and his chances of being able to get another job, should he leave, were minimal. Yet he came anyway. Life here wasn’t easy for Peter; frustration and misunderstanding were his lot as he struggled with relationships, for he was ‘on the spectrum,’ as they say these days. Yet he never sought to renege on his promise to God, but remained faithful to his commitment to the Lord. Who can doubt that the God who is faithful to his promise will not say to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” (Matthew 25:23) Or as Jesus puts it at the end of today’s Gospel: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Or as the Letter to the Romans has it: ‘his faith was credited to him for righteousness.’ (Romans 4:22) As Peter did, we too, are called to put our trust in God’s promise of life, and find there a way to live life free from crippling fear and anxiety.
Peter was born in England in 1946 to Frank and Frances Browne. He was a brother to Tim. The family emigrated to Australia in 1962, where Peter went on to finish his education at St Ignatius College, Riverview, in Sydney. On leaving school he joined the Capuchins, whose formation programme took Peter to the US for further studies. He was with them till 1971. He returned to Sydney and got a job at the PMG, which later became Telstra. In 2001 he joined us as an Oblate of our Order, making his final commitment in 2007. In late May this year, he was found to have an extremely aggressive lymphoma, which did not respond to treatment, and he died on 8th June. Our condolences to his sister in law, Nina, who is here with us today. May he rest in peace.