Reflecting on Wealth and Property (18th Sunday of Year C)
Give us this day our daily bread.
Warnings against over-concern with worldly possessions resound strongly throughout the three readings appointed for the 18th Sunday. Material wealth is not so much condemned as exposed for its limitations in answering the real needs of mankind. The individual who pursues everything that offers security in this life is reminded that in the end his acquisitions will count for nothing, but this is balanced by other reminders of what will be essentially life-giving and charged with joy.
It all reminds me of a good line in the old TV series Steptoe and Son when the old man is being particularly miserly and the son says: “You won’t be able to take it with you where you’re going – and if you could it would melt!” Essentially this gospel is a caution against greed – a calling to live simply that others might simply live – as the late Bishop Michael was fond of saying – and a redirection of the idea of true riches as being rich in the sight of God.
All of which ties in with one of the principal sections of the Lord’s prayer which was proclaimed to us last week when the disciples said to Jesus, “Teach us to pray”. It is the first of the four petitions in that prayer: “Give us this day our daily bread” – sufficient unto the day as people used to say – which is not quite the same thing as living from hand to mouth.
It is not easy to formulate a theology of property which matches today’s thinking and today’s complex world economy. Genuine levelling of wealth to a point of worldwide equality would almost certainly leave the poor worse off because technical advances and the surpluses which enable us to help the poor are themselves dependent on a certain degree of personal and national affluence. But one can see what the prayer means – a prayer more against want than against wealth, a prayer that both rich and poor can say with sincerity: Lord, let us all at the very least have sufficient for today.
Above all I see this phrase in the Lord’s Prayer as an invitation to what is called prayer of petition. It is not just about bread or food. Our daily bread is just as much the other necessities for this life: peace of mind, protection, security, health and indeed happiness. It is a clear part of the gospel message that we should see God as approachable and that it is an act of worship to ask for our needs, not least because by doing so we are recognizing his omnipotence. “Ask and you shall receive” … as we heard last week.
All this amounts to a command to be generous. Most of us know, or know of, people who have dedicated the best years of their lives to living alongside communities in which poverty is a chronic problem. But most of them are also realistic enough to know that it is not by hand-outs that people are given their daily bread, but by peacemaking and education and cultivation in stable communities. It is for providing the means to achieve programmes of this sort that we, whose standard of living is of a quite different order, can help both practically, with financial support, and spiritually with our concern, our compassion and our prayers. Give us all our daily bread, and forgive us as we forgive others. Amen.