Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Tuesday in the 12th Week of Ordinary Time (I)
Simply Living Together

Readings: Genesis 13:2, 5-18; Psalm 15:2-3a, 3bc-4ab, 5; Matthew 7:6, 12-14

They had too many possessions to be able to live together…

It’s not easy to live together. It’s difficult enough to live under the same roof with the members of our immediate family, let alone to exist harmoniously on the same planet with people of different races and religions, of diverse languages and life-experiences. Yet, if our readings today are anything to go by, our differences are not the only or even the primary thing that makes living together difficult. The main reason given for Abram and Lot’s separation in the first reading is that they had too many possessions. How strangely ironic that wealth can actually make living together difficult, even impossible.

And yet we have only to reflect a little more deeply on our situation to see the truth of the matter. On a global scale, the experts tell us that, for all its wealth-generating benefits, our current preferred economic model is causing an ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor (see for example the article by Harvard Professor Laurence Summers in today’s issue of the Straits Times). Closer to home, those who are old enough can probably testify to how improved standards of living have often also come with a greater sense of physical and emotional distance between neighbours. The open door of the kampong cottage has given way to the highly barricaded style of private housing and high-rise condo-living. And our possessions are not just material. They also come in less tangible forms such as our reputations and the different ways in which we look at and relate to the world. We know how differences of opinion can also become causes of conflict, as can concern with what others might be thinking and saying about us. Whatever our possessions might be, it does seem that living together often becomes more difficult the more tightly we cling to them.

As a way out of this predicament, Jesus offers us the well-known Golden Rule: always treat others as you would like them to treat you… And we see Abram putting this into practice in the first reading, when he offers Lot the first choice of where to settle. By doing this Abram demonstrates that he is a just person who enjoys the company of the Lord. And the Lord blesses him with a gift of land. Indeed, how painfully ironic it is that this same piece of land, which was originally a reward for charity shown to another, has today become an object of dispute and division, a cause of violence, bloodshed and much suffering.

Perhaps what we are being invited to consider today is the difference it can make when people set aside their reliance on riches in order to live under the economy of God. Perhaps we are being invited to continually relax our hold on our possessions so that we might cling more tightly to God; and, in so doing, to find our way to one another.

As someone has said, might we not learn to live simply, so that others might simply live?

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