Fruitfulness on Earth
One of the accusations that used to be made against Christianity, particularly by people on the left of the political spectrum, is that the faith encourages people to focus on heaven to the exclusion of earth. The argument went that to focus on supernatural goods, such as time given to prayer, to the sacraments or building churches, subtracts from useful natural goods, such as food, drink and clothing. Indeed, Judas Iscariot makes this accusation in Christ’s very presence when he challenges Mary, the sister of Martha, for wasting money by anointing Jesus’ feet, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” In other words, the accusation goes, Mary wasted money and time on Christ instead of doing something more materially useful.
Later on, of course, Judas found something more valuable to sell, but the money still did not end up with the poor, a warning of how human nature is not blessed, even materially, by betrayal of the supernatural. Subsequent history teaches a similar lesson. Those who serve Mammon, material goods instead of God, are doomed themselves to be betrayed by their desires. For example, Communist governments, subscribing to materialist ideology, have often prevented the Sacrifice of the Mass, but have also sacrificed their own people through mass starvation. Under Communist governments of last century, people died in their tens of millions from lack of food. Conversely, the worship of materialism in the West, what one might call the materialism of the right, has been a rather more subtle trap. In many countries today, populations are failing to sustain themselves because people do not have enough children and children are the fruit of the sacrifice of certain material goods. In Japan, for example, some great cities now risk becoming ghost towns and the economy is coming under increasing strain as the population ages. By contrast, Christianity, the focus of which is the Kingdom of Heaven, also tends to be fruitful in natural goods. Monasteries have often been the historical centres of agriculture and early industry, and the laws of genetics, which have been applied to work an agricultural miracle, were discovered by a monk, Gregor Mendel. Similarly, parish churches have tended to stimulate the founding of schools, religious orders founded hospitals, sisters became nurses and cathedrals have often been the seeds of towns and cities. In addition, traditional Catholic communities are often fruitful both in terms of vocations and children. Such examples are not, of course, intended to imply that there is a simple correlation between supernatural and natural goods, as if the more we pray the more we have. God often removes certain goods from us, or invites us to sacrifice certain goods, to grow spiritually in his service. What, I think, can be claimed, however, is that societies that focus first on the Kingdom of Heaven are often fruitful in ways that even materialists can recognise as being good.
Yet even in terms of this fruitfulness, Jesus gives a subtle warning. In today’s Gospel, Jesus says that God will take care of his listeners, men of little faith, more than the lilies of the field, which are, he says, robed more splendidly than Solomon in all his regalia. Solomon asked for the gift of wisdom, and by means of wisdom, a person puts God first, above all of creation. As a result, Solomon invested vast wealth in building the magnificent Temple of Jerusalem, and himself was blessed by extraordinary wealth and riches. Yet there was something cold about Solomon. He began to worship other things besides God, things that made him God’s enemy, and treated his people harshly. After his death, his kingdom collapsed, dividing into Israel and Judah, a small remnant around Jerusalem. Solomon knew about God and had the wisdom to put God first, but he lacked or lost his love of God, leading to the near ruin of his kingdom. The lesson seems to be that it is not sufficient to put God first in our minds unless we also love him with our hearts.
So may God help us to put his Kingdom first, not just in our heads but in our hearts. May we offer sacrifice, of time and resources, to know Him and to love Him, to be a blessing to this world and to come one day to the true riches of heaven.
© Fr Andrew Pinsent. Academic Web Site.