I wonder how difficult it was for Jesus to quell the exasperation He must have felt when asked to arbitrate the inheritance between two brothers. I know how difficult it is for me when I am discussing a point in class, and someone asks a question that tells me they were someplace else mentally the last twenty minutes, and haven’t connected at all with what I am trying to accomplish. Jesus apparently handled this with aplomb, turning an awkward moment into a teaching opportunity by shifting the focus from the narrow grievance of “I got to get what’s mine” to the broader issue of over-emphasis on material wealth.
What is it to be “rich in what matters to God?” Jesus tells us that accumulating the things of this life are not what matters to God. And Jesus admonished the person in the crowd who asked for His intercession to “guard against greed” because one’s “life does not consist of possessions.” So being wealthy isn’t bad, being greedy is. Having possessions isn’t the concern, making those possessions an end in themselves is the danger.
This dilemma is an old one with current freshness in our world. The wealth disparity between countries and economies, and between people within countries, is staggering. How can wealth in this world and being rich in what matters to God be reconciled? The September 18, 2006 cover story of Time magazine was “Does God Want You to be Rich?” The focus was on an emerging group of religious organizations that theologically justify wealth accumulation as a sign of God’s love for us. Accumulating things is emotionally attractive, because it satisfies one of our most basic instincts – survival. As the man in the parable indicates, once he has many things stored up he can rest, secure that his needs will be met.
I think the key is perspective. Life does not consist of possessions, but possessions are a necessary part of life. Things do not matter to God, but what we do with things does matter. Some of us have great wealth and good health, others have poverty and physical afflictions. All of us, though, are called to use what we have been given to bring us closer to God. All of us are called to discern whether we are using the things we have been given as God intended for us to use them. All of us are called to be generous with our gifts, whatever those gifts might be. All of us are called to be detached from our possessions, and not to hold them greedily.
We are greedy if we are focused on keeping what we have for us, instead of using what we have been given for the greater glory of God. We are greedy if we dwell on our misfortunes, ill health or other seemingly negative gifts with regret and bitterness, instead of using these possessions as paths to find greater comfort in God’s arms. If we selfishly keep what we have, and do not find the way to respond generously to what we have been given, we are not rich in what matters to God.
And so my prayer today is for the grace to discern where I am greedy and to then generously respond to God’s call to me.
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