Held in Common

By David Baumann

Feast of St. Barnabas

A Reading from Sirach 31:3-11

3 Rich people toil to amass possessions,
and when they rest, they fill themselves with their delicacies.
4 Poor people toil to make a meager living,
and if ever they rest, they become needy.

5 Those who love gold will not be justified;
those who pursue money will be led astray by it.
6 Many have come to ruin because of gold,
and their destruction has met them face to face.
7 It is a stumbling block to those who are avid for it,
and every fool will be taken captive by it.
8 Blessed are the rich who are found blameless
and who do not go after gold.
9 Who are they, that we may call them happy?
For they have done wonders among their people.
10 Who has been tested by it and been found perfect?
Let it be for them a ground for boasting.
Who has had the power to transgress and did not transgress
and to do evil and did not do it?
11 Their prosperity will be established,
and the assembly will proclaim their acts of charity.

Meditation

A few years ago, somebody at the church where I was rector posted on the bulletin board a Sunday comic strip that showed a man flipping through seven television channels with his remote control. Each panel on the strip that showed what he was watching showed an advertisement. Each advertisement tried to attract potential buyers through one of the seven deadly sins. The cartoon was brilliant — and not least because the television watcher was not drawn to any of the advertisements!

Today’s lesson features the deadly sin of greed. “One who pursues money will be led astray by it.” No doubt this lesson was chosen for the feast of Saint Barnabas because Barnabas came to the attention of the apostles after he sold a piece of land and donated the money to the budding Christian community in which all things were held in common. The community was also described as a place where no one was in any need, because the common property and resources were distributed fairly to all.

The Bible calls anything that anyone holds onto in the place of God as idolatry, but it doesn’t say that riches are inherently ungodly. “Blessed are the rich who are found blameless.” In the psalms we read, “If wealth increases, set not your heart upon it” (62:12b). Paul wrote, “I have learned to be content regardless of my circumstances” (Phil. 4:11).

The common property system arose out of Christian love, and the much deeper meaning of the practice was that no one was drawn to pursuing riches as a source of security in the place of humble devotion to Jesus and trust in his providence. The ghastly fate of Ananias and Sapphira emphasized the point. Plug any sinful attitude or behavior in the place of riches, and the lesson still applies.

David Baumann served for nearly 50 years as an Episcopal priest in the Dioceses of Los Angeles and Springfield; he retired last year. He has published nonfiction, science fiction,  and short stories. Two exuberant small daughters make sure he never gets any rest.

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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer

Today we pray for:

The Diocese of Madras – The (united) Church of South India
St. Thomas’s Church, Toronto, Ont.

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