More precious than gold, sweeter than honey
produced by the Inter-religious Working Group on Extractive Industries for the third Sunday of Lent
In today’s Gospel, we hear one of the most famous stories from Jesus’ ministry: him driving out the business owners and the moneychangers from the temple. This is one of the few times in the Gospel where we see Jesus mad – really mad. But he doesn’t exactly explain himself. Yes, he rebukes the people for turning his “Father’s house [into] a marketplace” (John 2: 14 – 16). But what is so bad about that in the first place?
God’s commandment in the first reading gives us the answer: “You shall not have other gods besides me. You shall not carve idols for yourself … you shall not bow down before them or worship them” (Exodus 20: 3 – 5). As today’s Psalm explains, this is not only a matter of God’s supremacy or jealousy. God is trying to tell us that we need God (Psalm 19: 8 – 12), and our ultimate desire is to be in a relationship with God, and that things and money and power get in the way of this relationship.
When we care too much about wealth or power, our relationship with God suffers. The First Commandment is not so much a rule to be followed, as it is the gift-tag taped to the greatest gift possible. God is more precious than gold, is sweeter than syrup or honey (Psalm 19: 11). Why chase after the second or third best thing when you can have the absolutely best thing imaginable? God refreshes our soul, brings joy to our heart, and light to our eyes (Psalm 19: 8 – 9).
That is why Jesus is so upset. We don’t need business owners and moneychangers selling us a false bill of goods. We already have God. God gives our lives all the meaning and happiness we could ever need. By accumulating money and consuming things we distance our soul from this truth, and we deaden our senses to the beauties and pleasures that God gives us.
Despite being 4.3% of the world’s population, Americans consume 24% of the world’s energy resources. That’s an extravagant amount of consumption. And that energy isn’t limited to our electric bill. Every time you buy something, you buy the energy that was used to make that thing. On average, every time anyone spends an American dollar, the energy equivalent of half a liter of oil is burned to produce what that dollar buys.
Extractive industries are responsible for many of the raw ingredients in what we consume. We extract energy products like oil and coal, and also the contents of bottled water, paper products, and jewelry. Because Americans consume much more than we need, our energy footprint is considerably larger and extractive industries grow in order to meet our demands.
Even though we consume a lot, does it satisfy us? Are we any closer to God because of the stuff we have? Are we any better off? Does it make us happier? Perhaps our lives are more comfortable, but is that how we measure the success of our lives?
This Lent we are invited to return to the one thing that truly matters, and to get rid of all the things that don’t. When you’re at home today, look through your house and ask of your belongings, “Does this help me sustain or deepen my relationship with God?” Ask yourself that question the next time you go shopping.
Each Monday during Lent, the Columban Center will feature the weekly reflections written by the Inter-religious Working Group on Extractive Industries for their 2018 Lenten Creation Care Calendar. This calendar is an invitation to use the season of Lent to grow closer to creation and to stand in solidarity with the vulnerable communities impacted by extractive industries.
The Inter-religious Working Group on Extractive Industries is a Washington, DC based coalition of faith, human rights, and environmental organizations concerned about the negative impacts of extractive industries on creation, which includes both the human and natural world. Columban communities around the world, from the Philippines to Myanmar in Asia to Chile and Peru in the Americas, are impacted by the damaging consequences of extractive industries.