The second reading today is from St Paul's first letter to the Corinthians (7.29-31) is seems rather gloomy at first glance. In fact, you wonder how we can possibly say, ‘Thanks be to God' after it.
Let's understand the context. Paul was convinced that end of time was imminent, and so was the return of the triumphant Christ. So he was advising people prepare to hear the last trumpet, prepare for the end of all things on earth, prepare to meet the Lord. Later on St Paul came to realise that the Second Coming was not imminent: that God wanted to give humankind time to grow and multiply and for the Church to spread.
So what is the message of this reading for today? If we take St Paul too literally, then we will be left with a rather apprehensive, strained anticipation of doom. To me this is the opposite of Christ's message. Jesus came to set us free from fear, came to encourage us to build up the kingdom, which would shape society in such a way that God's love would be plainly seen.
I think the message for us today is summarised in St Paul's call to us not to become engrossed in the world, especially, it seems in money and worldly goods. That word 'engrossed' is especially powerful. It means 'swallowed up'. It also means to become more material, and less spiritual.
I guess that most people feel that this hardly applies to them. They feel that they are only getting by. They have to save for their children's future. They have to budget carefully. They have to save to get things they need. Few of us feel 'engrossed'. And yet. I want to pose a simple question: when is enough enough? When will we have enough?
Most people in this country have seen an astonishing rise in their standard of living over the last 20-40 years. If you are struggling to make ends meet, that may sound extraordinary to you, but it is true. All of us are rich. We are rich in education. We are rich in health resources, even with the NHS struggling as it is now. We are rich in music, film, recreation, sports, travel, opportunities.
So yes, even if we are just ‘getting by’ we are still rich in the resources available to us. Jesus in the gospel tells us, 'The kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent, and believe the good news.' The good news, at its simplest, is that God loves us, loves us truly, deeply, wonderfully. And that God calls on us to make this love so real in our world that suffering is banished. Our standards of living have risen enormously. But is there more love in our world? Unless ordinary people take their position in life seriously, then we will never do anything for the Kingdom that Jesus calls us to build. We need to build a conscience about wise use of our resources. Either we do this, or we become, as St Paul predicts, engrossed.