It’s beginning to get chilly here in this part of Arizona, close to Phoenix. Of course, people will laugh when I say it’s chilly at anything between 60 and 80°F, especially when snow was falling in some places around the country. Okay, people can laugh, but I don’t laugh when the temperature is 115 or so in the summer and others are at about 80, so I guess it all equals out. Today felt a little nippy for me, so I was looking in the closet for a light sweater or jacket, and I happen to come across a favorite wool coat that had belonged to my late husband. I always loved that jacket, and even though I don’t wear it, I like to see it in the hanging there. I did take it out and look at it, only to notice that it seems to have attracted some moths, judging by the little holes in various parts of it. That’s funny. I haven’t seen any moths in years, but here was proof that there were some in the house somewhere. I’m still not going to get rid of that jacket.
I was reading about Elizabeth of Hungary, who is commemorated today. I looked at her Scripture and lo and behold, what do I read but “Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.” (v.33). Now if that wasn’t timely!
Elizabeth certainly did not waste her time and energy. She was a princess by marriage but was concerned about those who were poor and sick. She used her dowry to help the less fortunate and even sold her jewels to found a hospital where she assisted in nursing the sick herself. When her people were hungry, she opened the granaries of her country to feed them during a famine. Her husband died in 1227, and his family was not pleased with what they considered her “wasting of the family wealth” and expelled her from the family and home. She became a Tertiary Franciscan, a lay vocation, where she sewed clothing for the poor and went fishing to feed them. She also resumed nursing as well as other charitable works. She didn’t sit and wait for the moths to take over or the thieves either. She did what needed to be done.
Even though Elizabeth died in 1231, some hospitals around the world have been named St. Elizabeth hospitals, many of them in honor of Elizabeth of Hungary. She seems to have taken the verses from Luke very seriously and taken to heart stories like the one of the rich young ruler who, when approaching Jesus, was told to sell his possessions and give them to the poor. He couldn’t do that, so he walked away. Another young man sought to follow Jesus and was told to leave everything behind and come. The man said that he needed to bury his father. He went away as well. Each of the two men had their own priorities. These priorities did not fit Jesus’s, because it focused the men on earthly things rather than heavenly ones.
It’s something we see quite often these days, where instead of laying out treasure in heaven, many seem more interested in laying out treasure in banks, on Wall Street, or in investments that they hope will pay off hugely. They seek to increase their own wealth by taking from the poor and legislating in favor of the rich. This is not what Jesus preached, not what St. Elizabeth of Hungary did, and not what we have come to understand of the Gospels as it’s true mandate of loving one’s neighbor. I can’t love my neighbor if I have my hand in his pocket and take his money because I feel I am entitled to have it.
In these times, where the stock market fluctuates up and down regularly, where the price of things continually rises, and where people in the lower end of the 98% are squeezed ever tighter, I have to wonder what Jesus it is that they profess to follow. It seems unreal to me that, like moths on a wool jacket, they keep nibbling away at the fabric of our lives and all to feed themselves more richly. I wonder what St. Elizabeth would think of this. I’m pretty sure I know what Jesus would say.
I really like the prayer for Elizabeth that accompanies today’s readings:
Almighty God, by your grace your servant Elizabeth of Hungary recognized and honored Jesus in the poor of this world: Grant that we, following her example, may with love and gladness serve those in any need or trouble. In the name and for the sake of Jesus Christ who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
It sounds like a good prayer for me to contemplate today and to seek out where I can do more, even if it’s in a tiny way, to help others who are not as fortunate as I. I think it’s Jesus’s invitation, not just to me, but to others as well. I am encouraged to try to lay out my treasure in heaven because, in heaven, I won’t have to worry about moths in a treasured wool jacket.
Image: Mathias Krumbholz [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons
Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for an Education for Ministry group, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, and -retired. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter. She is also owned by three cats.