Fr. Charles Irvin
Acts 4:8-12; 1 John 3:1-2; John 10:11-18
Making money is on everyone’s mind. Given the state of our economy, it’s no wonder. The sad truth is that many households require two incomes, sometimes three, in order to stay afloat. Anyone who is a single parent is really struggling to swim upstream against the current flood of expenses facing him or her. Just keeping out of foreclosure or bankruptcy is a big effort these days. As for saving money? Well, perhaps some time in the future we can do that.
Our news sources are filled with stories about the greed for money, money far beyond anything that is reasonable. This is not only true about people in corporate America it’s also glaringly true about our professional athletes and our media entertainers. Who makes money and how much they make is constantly put before us in our newspapers, magazines, and television reports.
Two truths present themselves to us. One is that money represents our time, our labor, and the dedication of our talents in order to earn a livelihood and provide for the ones we love. We do not have a barter economy; we use money instead. Money, however, does not tell us anything about the value of who we are as persons. The second fact is that the profit motive is the engine that drives our economic system. If a company does not make profits it goes out of business and its employees are out of jobs. The problem with the profit motive, however, is that the motive can sometimes be selfish. We should be motivated by the desire to bring a better life to those we love – our families and our children. Making money just for the sake of making money leads us into greed, something that is, as we all know, very destructive. While it is necessary to see the importance of the profit motive in our lives and in our economic system, there are times when we all have been reminded that motives of greed can come into play bringing with it misery for many.
Have you noticed how many times in the Gospels Jesus talks about people in business? He spoke of farmers, fishermen, jewel merchants, vineyard owners, and others engaged in business activities. Jesus used them as examples of risk-takers, those who were willing to invest. But notice, too, that Jesus is talking about investing in others. Taking risks in others, betting on the power of love in order to change the lives of others, will change their lives and our own as well.
Today’s Gospel account is another example. It’s quite obvious that Jesus isn’t simply talking about sheep and the business of sheep herding. He’s talking rather about our motives when it comes to caring about others. In particular He’s asking us to examine which motives will come into play when life gets tough – when life gets more than tough. There are times when we can be called upon to sacrifice our profits, our comforts, our own welfare, and even our own lives for the sake of others.
Take a look at the young men and women presently serving in our armed forces. Are they doing what they’re doing for the sake of money? And lest that we become too cynical too soon, we need to recognize that many others are dedicating their work for the sake of others. There are lots of teachers who are engaged in their profession for reasons other than making money. Many doctors and lawyers are truly dedicated to efforts to better the lives of others. I have known businessmen and women who, beyond making money, are genuinely concerned about the lives their employees and their families.
Unfortunately we have a lot of examples of people who think their lives are all about going to parties, being popular, dressing well, and having fun. But is life simply all about having fun? Those who believe that are soon disappointed and therefore can become bitter. They will treat others horribly. They may be media stars and have their pictures in a lot of magazines, but are they happy? If you read the stories of their lives, you will get a different picture. Living and working in Hollywood is not fun.
People who have become priests and nuns don’t have a good media image these days. But behind the headlines and news reports you will find women who have doctoral degrees and some who have even been fashion models who have entered religious life and are now nuns. You will find men who have been doctors, lawyers, or who have been in other professions and are now priests.
There are times when the only motive that can possibly sustain our decisions and our actions is the motive of love. While the profit motive may be necessary in order to drive our economic system, it is, in the long run, an inadequate basis upon which to build our lives. It ignores the value of human life.
Sooner or later, each one of us will need the kinds of help that money cannot buy. Oh, to be sure, there are lots of services you can purchase for money that are readily available at a reasonable price. But when the wolf comes to ravage us, will those purchased services provide us with what we really need? There is a kind of care we all need that is not available on any market, at any price.
Years ago there was a group of Americans who were visiting a third world country and found themselves visiting a crude and inadequate hospital. A local native suffering a deep wound in his leg was afraid of doctors and hospitals and had stayed away from treatment until his wound’s putrefying corruption was not only life threatening but now hardly bearable for people around him. The Americans watched a local nurse who was gently and patiently removing the reeking, infectious purification and doing it with obvious love for her patient. One of the Americans remarked: “I wouldn’t do that for a million dollars.” The nurse, overhearing that remark, looked up from her work and said: “I wouldn’t either.”
There are times when the profit motive has some serious drawbacks.
When the Good Shepherd laid down His life for His sheep He was doing something that no one would have expected Him to do. Certainly no one would have hired Him to do that.
Take a look at your finest achievements, those things that have made you feel good about yourself, and then ask yourself if you did those things for money. Ask yourself if your children’s teachers are shaping and developing your child for the money they earn in teaching. Would you want your child in a classroom where the teacher was more interested in his or her monthly paycheck than interested in your child?
As Americans, we can all recognize the importance of the profit motive. It has served us all very well indeed… perhaps too well when you think of what we have done to our environment and our country’s natural resources. But building a life is different that building a business or career. Sooner or later we need motives that are not based on bottom line numbers. Sooner or later we will need care from others that money cannot buy. Sooner or later we will all face challenges that have nothing to do with money or profits. It is at that time you will not want to have a hireling helping you.
Whether or not you have a good shepherd with you will depend, in large measure, upon whether or not you have been a good shepherd for others.