Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to share his inheritance with me.” He replied to him, “Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?” Then he said to the crowd, “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.” Then he told them a parable. “There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest. He asked himself, ‘What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?’ And he said, ‘This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones. There I shall store all my grain and other goods and I shall say to myself, “Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!”‘ But God said to him, ‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’ Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.”
There is no getting around the fact that Jesus is delineating between two stark choices here, two ways of life that, as He presents it, are mutually exclusive. The one is a life invested in possessions and other aspects of wealth. The other, a life invested in God, a life that is “rich toward God” – the literal translation of “rich in what matters to God.”
Jesus’ warning against greed and His statement that one’s life does not consist in possessions is an affirmation of the intrinsic dignity of the human person. We are not what we possess. We are more than what we possess, and we are not lessened by what we do not possess. Whether we are wealthy or poor, we remain human, made in the image and likeness of God, and called to the fulfillment of our humanity, which is union with God. Possessions and great wealth in no way assist us toward the kingdom, though they may certainly create obstacles for us.
What does it mean to be “rich toward God”? Well, this is the Gospel According to Luke, so it’s pretty certain that being rich toward God means a radical dependance on God as expressed in a radical detachment from material possessions. Again, this is Luke, so we can’t solace ourselves with the notion that Jesus is talking about a mere emotional detachment – we can have nice things, and lots of them, so long as we’re willing to give them up if called to for the sake of the gospel. I don’t think Luke has much confidence that many who say they would give everything up actually would. Better to actually give everything up in the first place and avoid any possible future failure in stepping up to the challenge. Besides, how could we give witness to our radical dependance on God if we continue to depend on temporal wealth? On the other hand, even Jesus relied on the resources of the wealthy women who supported His and His disciples’ ministry. St. Paul worked as a tentmaker to support himself rather than live off the generosity of others. Clearly, then voluntary poverty is not every Christian’s vocation.
So, homelessness not being a virtue in and of itself toward which all are called, what does this Gospel recommend for us today? It means, I think, similar to the Gospel from two weeks ago when Jesus gently rebuked Martha for the “uproar” she was causing stressing over all the work that needed doing while she neglected her guest and the Word of God. Simply put: put God first. Not everyone’s vocation is poverty for the sake of the kingdom. But everyone’s vocation is to put God first in all things and above all things. Christians should avoid greed because it is an obstacle to the kingdom, because it requires us to put ourselves before others and before the Word of God. Acquiring wealth is not always greed, but it can easily morph into greed, and it is never easy. It’s hard work, in fact. Focusing on acquiring wealth takes us away from focusing on God, just as focusing on anything else other than God does. That is why focusing on wealth is compared to idolatry – because God should be our clear and sole focus, regardless of the other things that, yes, must be done, but only after a clear and sole focus on God is achieved. This is what Martha forgot. It is what Mary chose, and Jesus would not deny her.
Even if we think we can or ought to dedicate our younger years to the accumulation of wealth in anticipation of those later years when we hope to be able to slow down and think about other things, this lack of clear and sole focus on God has its consequences for, as Jesus demonstrates in the parable, we never know when God might demand our life. Also, our younger years are when we generally create the patterns that carry us through our later years. Patterns are hard to change, especially when we’re older and set in our ways. Better to set our way on God in those younger years, so the later years can be spent continuing to serve Him well, regardless of the status of our financial portfolios.
Our years on this green orb are so few. We are meant for immortality. Why invest so much in accumulating here things of no value on the other side of the veil? Better to be rich toward God.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.