— The Lord’s Day —

Week 18: Sunday

Pondering Jesus’ victorious Word

εὐαγγελίζω (euaggelizo)
“to announce the Good News of victory in battle”

Someone in the crowd said to Jesus,
“Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.”
He replied to him,
“Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?”
Then he said to the crowd,
“Take care to guard against all greed,
for though one may be rich,
one’s life does not consist of possessions.”

θεωρέω (theoreo)
(“to perceive, discover, ponder a deeper meaning”)

“Two imperatives – or if you prefer, commands – frame Jesus’ response to the plea seeking His resolution of a nasty family dispute over inheritance (sound familiar?): ὁράω (horao) and φυλάσσω (phulasso). ὁράω (horao, ‘see so as to discern’) and φυλάσσω (phulasso, ‘guarding in such a way that one is saved’) are verbs that denote necessary actions for anyone responding to Jesus’ call to be His disciple. Even before considering ‘what needs to be seen’ and ‘what needs to be guarded against’ it is imperative for a disciple of Jesus to know what is involved in ‘seeing’ and ‘guarding’ as a disciple.

There are a number of Greek verbs that are translated into English “to see” and the Sacred Scriptures employ a variety of these verbs throughout both Testaments. When it comes to “seeing” as expressed by the verb ὁράω (horao, translated here from the NABRE as “take care”), this is a deliberate action, often involving related actions of gazing, staring, and beholding. ὁράω (horao) is not an involuntary, momentary or mindless sight of a given reality. ὁράω (horao) involves a choice whereby one rivets attention on another person, place or object. While not excluding per se the eye itself and the various processes that occur when light falls upon cones and rods in the retina, ὁράω (horao) is more about intellectual and spiritual insight. Such intellectual or spiritual ‘seeing’ thus moves the beholder to knowing – and since the ‘seeing’ or ‘beholding’ is intense, one comes to knowledge that gets to the core of the person, place or object that is beheld. ὁράω (horao) is “to see” the essence of another person, place or object and consequently “know” (or “experience”) the other with more than just a superficial, passing glance. It is in this context that ὁράω (horao) can describe the act of discerning the true nature of another person, place or object in the created order. Recall Genesis 3 and the allure of the fruit: in terms of a passing glance, ‘the fruit looks good.’ To see beyond the surface, more than human biology and the physics of light are required. “Seeing” in the sense of ὁράω (horao) requires (especially in the case of discipleship) “listening and receiving the revelation of the Other.” This act informs ὁράω (horao) and properly directs the discerning process.

φυλάσσω (phulasso) - the other important verb in this Sunday’s reflection - translated here from the NABRE as “to guard,” also expresses a person’s attitude or disposition ‘to keep and to observe all that has been asked’ such as a Covenant or Divine Law. When used in situations to express ‘protecting life or possession,’ φυλάσσω (phulasso) also embodies elements of ‘being alert,’ ‘being vigilant’ and ‘being attentive.’ These important ‘mental’ aspects of “to guard / to protect” can be defensive (‘guarding against an enemy’) or offensive (‘protecting/treasuring the good I/others possess’). Yet in both cases, φυλάσσω (phulasso) is devoid of passivity. Whether the action is protecting or observing, one consciously chooses the action and keeps alert while observing all that has been asked or while protecting the goods in one’s possession.

Both verbs, ὁράω (horao) and φυλάσσω (phulasso), describe vital dimensions of activity pertinent to being Jesus’ disciple. Gazing that is informed by Divine Revelation to know a course of action and to then observe and protect the good entrusted to one are applicable across the spectrum of living Jesus’ life. In this Sunday’s Word, Jesus specifically applies these imperative actions to greed. As one of the capital sins (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, sin (1849 and following) and capital sins (1866)), greed (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2535-2540) is the disordered attachment to anyone or anything. It is a block to authentic relational living with God, others, the true self and all creation. Greed is a desire that, while originally grounded in the natural instinct for what is necessary to survive, becomes disordered by an appetite to either attach oneself exclusively to an item(s) of the created order or to allow – consciously or unconsciously – the hunger for ‘more’ to grow insatiably. Greed ‘says’ to the human condition that this item or that item will bring complete happiness. Greed ‘says’ you NEED and MUST HAVE this item or that item to be fully alive and complete as a person. When that voice is heard as opposed to the Word of Revelation informing our vision, distorted sight is not the only problem a person faces. Fixation and an insatiable desire for ‘more’ drive life to the point that one locks on a particular item or the path to acquire ‘more beyond what is needed for living.’ Life is skewed dangerously and one is unable to be like Mary who chooses the better part to sit at the feet of Jesus. Greed further distorts life by making elements of the created order ends in themselves, ‘mini-gods’ that become an ‘all-or-nothing’ – ‘make it or break it’ in living life.

Seeing the created order properly and not permitting it to control our lives is the caution Jesus sounds. He does so because, in the words of Saint Augustine, “O Lord our God, You have made us for Yourself and our hearts are restless until they rest in You,” true joy and peace in life lies in attachment to the God and Father of us all, not what He has created.