Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sunday, September 29, 2013
The Rev. Kealahou C. Alika
Among the wisdom sayings of our Hawaiian kūpuna or ancestors that deal with money is the phrase: “Ka iwi ‘opihi o ka ʻāina ʻē. ‘opihi shells from foreign lands.” (ʻŌlelo Noʻeau: Hawaiian Proverbs & Poetical Sayings, Helu 1415, Mary Kawena Pukui, Bishop Museum Press, Honolulu, Hawaii, 1983, page 153) It is a reference to the money economy that following the arrival of the first Europeans to Hawaiʻi in the late 1700’s and the first Americans in 1800’s.
At first the idea of equating money with a limpet or shellfish was puzzling to me. What on earth would an ʻopihi have to do with money? ‘Opihi was food to our ancestors and to us. It was not an object to be used as currency.
But two other wisdom sayings clearly indicate our kūpuna were intentional in applying the word ‘opihi to money. The idea of experiencing a loss in revenue in a money economy prompted them to say, “Kūpihipihi loa kāhi koena ʻopihi. The remaining limpets have dwindled in size.” This, they would add, was a modern saying which meant: “The finances have dwindled in size.” (Helu 1927, Ibid., page 207)
The more pointed analogy of the ‘opihi to money is made in another wisdom saying: “Nele i ka mea poepoe, nele ka pilina mai,” our kūpuna would say. “Lacking the round object, no one stays around.” Or, “When one lacks round dollars to spend, companions disappear.” (Helu 1927, Ibid., pages 251-252)
It would seem that the round shape of the ‘opihi in its shell is what caught the attention of our ancestors. I would like to think that beyond the shape of shell and the coins they understood how easily one could become captive to money.
They knew it was all but impossible to remove an ‘opihi from a rock with bare hands. If an ‘opihi sensed any movement on its shell, it would immediately suction itself unto the rock. The ‘opihi became pili paʻa – stuck to the rock – it became immovable.
It may be that our ancestors began to see that for some the accumulation of money and the acquisition of wealth was turning many into ‘opihi. The compulsion to hold on; to not let go; to become pili paʻa was strong.
In the parable of The Rich Man and Lazarus from our reading from The Gospel According to Luke this morning, I would venture to say that the rich man was an ‘opihi. He was paʻa to his money in the same way an ʻopihi was paʻa to a rock. Preoccupied with accumulating his wealth, he passed by a poor man named Lazarus every day at the gate to his house – “right there at his door . . . right under his nose.” (Reflections on the Lectionary, John Stendahl, Christian Century, September 18, 2013, page 21)
John Stendahl is the pastor of the Lutheran Church of the Newtons in Newton, Massachusetts. He writes of the parable: “(The rich man) saw Lazarus, of course – enough so that he could step over him and not stumble. Perhaps he thought for a moment about the problem of the poor, or considered the difficult question of whether it’s good or bad policy to give money to beggars. Maybe he even dropped a coin in the man’s hands as he moved past him. But he didn’t really see Lazarus.” (Op. cit.)
I suspect most of us would not boast of being dressed in fine linen or feasting sumptuously every day like the rich man in the parable, but being an ‘opihi is not about how much money or wealth we acquire but whether or not our “love of money” (1 Timothy 6:10) has caused us to become blind to the needs of others. If we are honest with ourselves, it may be that most of us would confess that there is some ‘opihi in each of us.
In our reading from The First Letter of Timothy, the Apostle Paul reminds us that “we brought nothing into this world, so . . . we can take nothing out of it.” (1 Timothy 6:7) We are admonished as was Timothy “to do good, to be rich in good works, generous and ready to share.” (1 Timothy 6: 18)
“The rich man’s character is reflected in his refusal of charity to the poor, a violation of the law of Moses, (Deuteronomy 15:4-11) not to mention common human compassion.” (Preaching Through the Christian Year, C, Craddock, Hayes, Holladay & Tucker, Trinity International Press, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 1994, page 422) Because of his failure to be generous, a great chasm opened up between the rich man and Lazarus. That chasm troubled the rich so much that he begged that someone be sent to his father’s house to warn his five brothers.
It is that chasm that should trouble us as well. For those of us living in the U.S. the chasm between the 1 per cent who are referred to as “the super rich” and 99 per cent who are “the rest” is widening. Within the context of the world, the chasm between all of us in the U.S. - 1 per cent and the 99 per cent - and most of the world is also widening.
In his letter to Timothy, the Apostle Paul makes clear that money, in and of itself, is not evil. What is evil is our “love of money”. When we fail to do good – to watch over the strangers, uphold the orphan and the widow, lift up those who are oppressed, give food to the hungry – (Psalm 146) a chasm develops that cannot never be bridged.
Lazarus “longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich’s man table.” (Luke 16:21) How easy it would have been for the rich man to feed Lazarus.
There was a chance for redemption for the rich man if he had only seen it in time. We have that time.
It is no secret that Hawaiʻi has the most millionaires in the U.S. Some say Maryland has more. But others insist that there may only be around 28,000 millionaire households in Hawaiʻi, but when we consider that there are less than 500,000 households in total, the numbers make sense. (Honolulu Civil Beat, September 28, 2013)
It was not possible for the chasm between the rich man and Lazarus to be bridged. But as for those who in the present age are rich, Paul instructs Timothy and he instructs us today to “command them not be haughty or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” That command is not only to the rich but to all of us. (1 Timothy 6:17)
Are we ready to do good works, to be generous, to share our aloha with others?