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3 Aug 2008

“Why spend your money for what is not bread; your wages for what fails to satisfy?”

In the name …

A few days ago, the Red Sox traded Manny Ramirez because he wasn’t happy with playing for Boston any longer.  They were so intent on getting rid of him that they were willing to pay the remainder of his $20 million salary for the year, which amounted to $7 million, even though he would be playing for some other team. They were paying millions of dollars to him just to have him not play for them.  Bret Favre quit pro football at the end of last season, then during the off-season he decided he wanted to play again.  He’s an icon in Green Bay, but the Packers didn’t want him back as their first string quarterback this year.  So they offered Bret Favre $20 million to not play for them, and to not play anywhere else as well.  $7 million to Manny to not play in Boston, and $20 million to Bret Favre not to play in Green Bay!  Heck, I’d not play for either one of those teams for half as much.  The Red Sox and the Packers are both paying huge amounts of money for a negative.  They’re not paying a player to play; they’re actually paying a player to not play. 

The national debt of our country as of August 1st was just over 9 and half trillion dollars.  That’s a 9 followed by 12 zeroes, not to mention the extra 500 billion.  That means that every American tax-payer’s portion of that debt, as of August 1st, is $31,215.69.  When you hold conversations based on these kinds of numbers, it doesn’t surprise me that an old and supposedly wise man like Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska could be charged with taking $250,000 under the table from an Alaskan energy company.  What’s a quarter of a million dollars when you’re talking about trillions of dollars?  When you are accustomed to talking about these kinds of numbers, it doesn’t surprise me that Washington continues to spend money that it doesn’t have because what’s the difference between $9 trillion in debt and $10 trillion?  Neither one is really comprehensible.  We pay athletes a salary to not play, and we pay our nation’s bills with money we don’t have.

Money is a weird beast.  You can count it out to the last cent, but its worth is always relative.  It can be counted, but it can’t be measured.  Psychologists have done tests involving money and people.  One of those tests is called the ultimatum game.  Subjects were told that Player 1 would offer to share a sum of money with Player 2, but if the two players couldn’t agree on how to split the cash, then neither one would get anything.  Now say Player One had $10 to share.  Even if Player One offers to share only 10 cents of the $10 with Player Two, Player Two still benefits.  Player Two gains 10 cents.  If Player Two refuses, nothing is gained by either Player.  Logically, Player Two should take the 10 cents, but what happened most every time was that the offer was refused.  There was so much resentment over the Player One gaining $9.90 that Player Two sacrificed his share of the cash.  The psychologists set this same game up a second time with Player Two knowing that a computer was Player One rather than a person.  Then Player Two would accept the offer of a dime, then Player Two would let logic trump emotion.  If a person gains a little and a computer gains a lot, the person doesn’t seem to care, but if the person gains a little and another person gains a lot, then it makes a difference.  It’s not the absolute value of the money, it’s the relative value that matters to us.

Since money’s value is relative, Isaiah asks us today to be more conscious of what we want from it rather than what others tell us we want from it.  Let money be our tool not our master.  There’s a mortgage crisis in America, for example, and a lot of home owners are facing foreclosure.  Part of the problem is that buyers were convinced by lenders that they needed bigger and better than what they wanted or could comfortably afford.  Too many buyers let other people’s expectations of their money decide for them what they would do with it.  And for that matter, that’s what every advertisement for every product is trying to do.  Every advertisement is trying to tell us what we should do with our income.  Isaiah says to us today that we should be aware of this tendency, and that we should make every conscious effort to focus on what we want instead of falling for what others tell us we want.  “Why spend your wages for what fails to satisfy?” he asks.

Money is of relative value.  This is a universal fact.  So as people of faith our money choices should reflect what we think is important.  You may have heard of something called the “prosperity gospel.”  It is a message preached by churches that believe faith leads to riches and wellness, and some of them are attracting a lot of followers.  I don’t know where they get that gospel.  It’s not the one Jesus preached.  It’s the complete opposite of what Jesus preached.  The real gospel isn’t about accumulation; it’s about sharing.  That’s the example found in today’s Gospel.  Behind the miracle of the loaves and fish may not stand the physical multiplication by God of little into much, but rather the miracle of opened and compassionate hearts.  The miracle may be that Jesus’ example and words convinced these people in the wilderness to share with each other what they had rather than to hoard their rations for themselves.  Maybe the miracle is that some who had plenty didn’t care that they put in much while some others may have put in little or even nothing.  It’s the reversal of that ultimatum test we talked about.  The miracle is in the conversion of our human nature.  Jesus convinced them to think of everyone rather than only one.  That may be the real miracle.  And that miracle reflects a choice of what we can do with what we have.  Isaiah warns us not to fall into the trap of letting others decide what is important for us, and Jesus offers us the story of the miraculous feeding as an example of what believers can do when we choose to let our faith guide our choices.  That we may listen to His words and example, for this we pray in Jesus’ name.  Amen.  (+)


Fr. Randy Calvo


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