What lasts

The readings for today present an interesting mix. The first reading and the gospel feature people who are upset at others for doing good (prophesying or healing) outside of the usual social groups that are intentionally formed to do so. On the other hand, we hear about people who act unjustly, withholding the wages from those who work in the fields and storing up wealth for themselves instead.

In first case, Jesus tells us: “whoever is not against us, is for us.” Jesus cares more about the good works themselves and the purity of intention from which they arise, than whether someone formally belongs to this in group or that organization. In the second case, the instructions are also very clear: weep over riches and the way that they pass away, and instead care for the poor and follow God’s law.

For me, these readings follow naturally from the past week’s readings from Ecclesiastes, about how everything is passing away. The desire to build up wealth arises from a sense that this provides security. Wealth is not an end in itself, but a means to other things. Money is useless except for what else it can provide. But why do people store it up for the future? With the expectation that this will lead to security, a sense of stability and not being subject to loss. But Scripture reminds us that everything on earth will eventually be lost to us: our riches will decay. When I read this passage, I imagined what archaeological findings from the time period in which this was written might look like: indeed, the clothes by now have been eaten away and the wealth no longer of any use to those who once possessed it. We are being reminded that some day, the same is true for us: we will no longer be here, and much of what we valued so highly will be gone.

What will last? What will we take with us into heaven? The way that we cared for those who are poor around us. The just treatment we give to those who work for us. The ordinary kindness we show in giving another a cup of water. The love we show to one another. The love we have for each other is timeless, and God will never take that away from us.

Yet even in cases of healing and love, human rivalry can get in the way. John comes to Jesus, upset that others are healing in Jesus’ name without formally following him. John seems to be placing too much emphasis on the structure surrounding discipleship with Jesus that has already formed. Jesus suggests that the sense of who “belongs” to God’s mission must be widened beyond what John can see. Someone who perhaps does not even believe in God but offers a cup of water in kindness is part of the mission. Indeed, at the moment that the person offers this cup of water in kindness, he exceeds in purity of intention the believer who is standing by and resenting his action.

Instead of engaging in rivalry,  a healthy community appreciates it when others prophesy, preach, and heal. A vibrant community does not indulge in jealousy, or comparing self to other, but rather takes delights in others’ gifts. Jesus directs us back to the basics: healing, care, kindness, and love. God is present in these.