Orbiting Dicta

28th Sunday of the Year: 10 October 2021 — The Folly of Stuff

Today’s readings focus on the most precious of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit — wisdom, beginning with the famous passage from

Wisdom 7:7-11
Heb. 4: 12-13
Mark 10:17-30

the Book of that name, a late work of Jewish spirituality composed not long before the time of Christ. The second reading turns to God’s wisdom, so far above what passes for wisdom among us today as well as in the late second century BCE.

In the last year and a half, especially last January 6th, but not by any means confined to the attack on the Capitol building by a frenzied partisan mob, it would be easy to fall back on Marc Antony’s tearful cry in Julius Caesar

‘O judgment! Thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason.”

Personally, I can’t remember any time during the last 60 years and more when there was such folly being promoted in the halls of government and in, God help us, the “social media.” Not even during the McCarthy era was there such vituperation, political chicanery. and demagoguery. And I’m old enough to remember! That’s one of the hazards, I suppose of what the Bard called the “calamity of so long life.”

It’s not all bad, of course. There are voices of reason and even wisdom that give us room to hope that calmer seas may lie ahead. Paramount among them is that of Pope Francis, who is waging a vigorous campaign to keep the world’s eyes on the environmental calamity facing the planet because of centuries during which the lack of wisdom and foresight led to the disaster gathering on our collective doorstep. He and his advisors are presently preparing a position paper for the United Nations Climate Conference that will begin on October 31st in Glasgow.

Only yesterday, the pope addressed the parliamentarians gathered in Rome for a preparatory meeting in which he called on global lawmakers to rise above self-defeating partisan politics to achieve consensus on fighting climate change. “This demanding change of direction will require great wisdom, foresight and concern for the common good,” he told them, “in a word, the fundamental virtues of good politics.” https://www.ncronline.org/news/earthbeat/pope-lawmakers-climate-change-requires-quick-consensus

Whether the pope’s call for wisdom will penetrate the foggy morass in Washington remains to be seen. But political leadership is not the only route toward avoiding a climate catastrophe. It takes far more than a village. But it surely requires concerted action by ordinary citizens, rich and poor alike, to change our way of living, especially in the consumerist counties like our own.

Hundreds of thousands of huge containers on gargantuan freighters are lined up outside of port cities such as Los Angeles and New York awaiting disgorgement into trucks that will transport many millions of consumer goods to every part of the country. What I have not heard mentioned is why are they bringing all that stuff to the United States in these gigantic cargo ships? Because they are coming from Asia, where most of stuff we avidly want for Christmas is manufactured more cheaply than possible in the US. Nor is anyone really asking why do we want all this stuff? The world is choking with plastic offscourings from such stuff, which somehow needs replacing year and after year.

The word “consumption” was once used to refer politely to the scourge of tuberculosis, for which at the time there was no cure. Today, “consumption” points to a different but no less deadly scourge, consumerism.

The message Jesus preached that we heard again in the gospel reading is the antidote to this illness, even if not taken to the extreme of total self-dispossession. But by reducing our addiction to surplus stuff we will not only free ourselves from the chains of materialism, but can alleviate the burden of poverty afflicting so many people throughout the world as Jesus demands, and also help save the planet. What have we got to lose?

“…there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many that are first will be last, and the last first” [Mark 10:29-31].