The aptly named pastoral epistles are loaded with practical advice and today’s reading from the first letter to Timothy is no exception. We are told to be “content with a sufficiency” and reminded that if “we have food and clothing we have all that we need.” Of course, we don’t swallow such advice easily, especially in a culture of consumerism that religiously trains us never to be content but to always want more and more; indeed, in a culture of consumerism, to be “content with a sufficiency” seems downright heretical.
It’s so easy to lose our way, to spend hefty portions of our lives sidetracked. This happens when we let lesser goods (such as wealth and possessions) become more important than greater goods (such as God and other people). But as this passage from 1 Timothy attests, when we give lesser goods more attention than they deserve we lose all sense of what truly matters, all sense of what is genuinely valuable and good. Even worse, while we may think money and material things will help us get ahead in life, if we set our hearts on loving them rather than God and our neighbors, we will slowly but surely destroy ourselves. As this reading emphatically reminds us: “Those who want to be rich are falling into temptation, and a trap. They are letting themselves be captured by foolish and harmful desires” which lead not to life and security, but “to ruin and destruction.”
Less is often better than more. Today’s first reading calls us to embrace the simplicity of life not only because when we do we are able to apprise the true value of everything, and not only because when some of us live with less the poor and destitute are able to live at all; but also because if we are willing to be “content with a sufficiency,” we will finally discover where true life can be found. As today’s pithy gospel indicates, it comes in following Jesus, joyfully “proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God” as we do.
Paul J. Wadell is Professor Emeritus of Theology & Religious Studies at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin, and a member of the Passionist Family.