From Matthew’s Gospel:
[Jesus said:] “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.”
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Matt. 23:25 (NRSV) – December 12, 2013.)
The devisers of our Episcopal Church Daily Office Lectionary were a clever bunch, weren’t they?
Here we are less than two weeks from Christmas Day, in the middle of that great orgy of greed and indulgence which is the holiday gift buying season, and they give us Jesus saying this!
Yesterday, TIME Magazine announced that their selection of the 2013 Person of the Year is Pope Francis, the current Bishop of Rome and Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church. Interesting choice, especially at this time of year given that less than a month ago he said:
The worship of the ancient golden calf has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose. The worldwide crisis affecting finance and the economy lays bare their imbalances and, above all, their lack of real concern for human beings; man is reduced to one of his needs alone: consumption. (Evangelii Gaudium, published 24 November 2013, Paragraph 55)
I am not a Roman Catholic, but I find myself fully in agreement with the pope’s insistence that unfettered capitalism and unrestrained “free markets” are contrary to the Gospel mandate. His insistence that the church and society are called by Christ, compelled by the Spirit to help “those who are in thrall to an individualistic, indifferent and self-centered mentality to be freed from those unworthy chains and to attain a way of living and thinking which is more humane, noble and fruitful, and which will bring dignity to their presence on this earth (Para. 208),” is fully in accord with what I understand Jesus to be saying in this (and other) verses of Scripture.
There is little that any one person can do in this regard. I’ve done this Advent what I can — I stayed away from all retail activity on Thanksgiving and Black Friday, not giving into or being part of the feeding frenzy of “holiday sales” — I am trying to “buy local” both for gifts and for personal needs — I do my banking at a local financial institution, not with one of the national conglomerates — I plan to give few gifts this year, but instead to make dedicated contributions to Episcopal Relief & Development, Médecins sans Frontières, Habitat for Humanity, and similar organizations.
These are small things. In the vast, global financial network that is our dysfunctional economy, they are a drop in the ocean. But they are something. The American Unitarian clergyman Edward Everett Hale is quoted as saying, “I am only one, but I am one. I can’t do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do. And by the grace of God, I will.” If each of us does something to clean the inside of the cup which is our economy of greed and indulgence, perhaps we can change it.
The clever compilers of our lectionary and the pope have reminded us that Jesus calls us to do so. This Advent, I am doing what I can.
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.