To Be Rich You Have to be Empty

27 January 2010. Wednesday of the 3rd Week in Ordinary Time
2 Sam 7, 4-17; Psalm 89; Mark 4, 1-20

In 2 Samuel 7, we see a turn-about. Establishing peace among the nations in his kingdom, King David now has the time for internal concerns, such as establishing a house for the Lord for public worship. The ark of the covenant is in a tent, the way when Israel was in the desert. To them, God is formally installed when a dwelling place is constructed.

But the Lord through the prophet Nathan said that it is He who will build a house for David. God will not just build a building like the Temple of Jerusalem built by Solomon, but a dynasty that will last forever. Thus the word, “house” in the reading has multiple denotations: a palace (v.1), a dwelling (vv. 2,5,6,7), royal dynasty (v. 11, 16) and a temple (v. 13).

To make things clear, the turn-about is a paradigm shift. As a king, David knows that it is within his own power to build a house for God. In this angle, when you build a house for someone, you are more financially capable; you are more powerful. However, God reminds David that the truth is the other way around: it is God who has the power to build David a palace, not just a dwelling place, but a royal dynasty and a temple that will live forever. The power is from God.

In the next passage, after the text of the first reading, King David will acknowledge his “littleness” compared to the Lord’s greatness (2 Sam 7: 18, 19, 22). In gratitude, David will recall how God delivered Israel from slavery in Egypt and praise Him for having Israel as His favored people.

So in the succeeding years, this promise God entered with David and with Israel in general will be fulfilled. The Temple of Jerusalem will be built by David’s son, Solomon. It will be destroyed by the Babylonians but restored again. The Temple of Jerusalem will fall under the Roman empire in 70 AD. When it will happen, change in the notion of the “temple” as the Body of Christ comes about. When the disciples remembered Jesus words to the Pharisees that He would build the temple in three days, they realized that He meant His body who would resurrect on the third day. Thus, Paul in his letters will refer to people as Temples of the Spirit. And if we are indeed the Body of Christ, then this Temple is eternal.

Moreover, in and through Jesus, the royal dynasty continues at baptism when every person is anointed king and claimed by Christ as a child of the eternal God.

The affectionate reminder of God that it is He who is the source of power and leadership is in effect saying that everything, including David’s life and kingship, is gift. In our lives, it is the honest truth: all that we have has been given. Whatever we “offer” to God is not actually ours, but still God’s. This is ultimately the truth: we are poor. We have nothing to claim as ours. And thus whatever we have and possess, whatever we do, as St. Ignatius says, is to “praise, honor and glorify God!”

A heart and soul that acknowledge our emptiness, however, is paradoxically the “rich” soil needed for the seeds of the Gospel to grow. Just as the Gospel parable reminds us that God, as the sower, sows seeds, the lives of the seeds depends on the soil that receives them. A soil that is “empty” absorbs water and nutrients that the seed needs. A soil that is fertile is a soil that can retain just enough moisture to sustain growth. The analogy is consistent: an empty cup will be able to receive more water for the thirsty to drink.

Think of the greatest men and women of our time. The value of realizing our poverty makes us better. A brain that empties itself of prejudices and pre-conceive notions understands things and people well. Studying is a self-emptying just as listening to a friend’s woes. A person who is open is pliable and malleable. It survives harsh challenges and adapts well to change. A heart that is vulnerable to the elements loves truly and deeply. Remember, seeds that fall on a ground that is shallow dies shortly, so conversely, a seed grows to maturity when a soil has depth.

Think of Gandhi who lived simply. Think Mother Teresa. Think of all other saints who gave up everything, only to gain what matters. Jesus, when He emptied Himself of His being God to become like us, saved the world.

On the other hand, think of the most evil or the most corrupt. When they begin to believe that they own whatever power they have, the result is devastating to everyone else; and the word, “devastation” is an understatement.

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