“Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.”
A question that is sometimes asked in personality profiles invites the person being tested to name what one item they would take from their home if there were a fire. Over the years, I have known people who have mentioned their computer, their bank records, a piece of jewelry handed down from a mother or grandmother, and even a rosary. It makes sense that we would reach for a beloved or valuable possession in a time of emergency.
We can also reach for a possession—or person—in times of grief, pain, of insecurity. And what we choose to hold onto, like Linus with his blanket in the Peanuts series, says a lot about us and what we value most in life.
The question that this Sunday’s liturgy places before us is directly related to how we value our possessions and where we place our trust: Do we own our possessions or do our possessions own us? After all, in this Sunday’s First Reading we hear that “all things are vanity,” while our Second Reading urges us to “put to death” the “greed that is idolatry.”
In Scripture, as Sister Barbara Reid, O.P., notes, “there are many texts that underscore that having riches is not sinful; it is what one does with them that determines vice or virtue. Abraham, for example, was said to be highly favored by God, because he had great flocks and herds, a large family, and a great number of servants (Genesis 13:2; 26:13-14).”
This Sunday’s Gospel, with its Parable of the “Rich Fool,” shows us a man very different from Abraham. The rich man has had a bountiful harvest but his wealth and prosperity lead him to become isolated, ignoring what he owes to God and to those around him. He is self-centered and his world becomes so small that it only includes him and his wealth. As Reid continues, “Rather than consult with those whose lives are intertwined with his, he asks himself, ‘What shall I do… I do not have space… I shall do… I shall tear down… I shall store… I shall say to myself…’” His plans are self-centered and his wealth becomes the focus of his life, a demanding god who consumes all his time and energy. His greed and his quest for security have become his religion.
In the end, the rich man has confused earthly goods with a good life, a bountiful harvest with a generous and abundant heart. And, ultimately, he is called to account for his life by the God who wants us to be dependent upon him, to dedicate ourselves to the task of storing up “treasures in heaven,” and to caring for the poor, sick, and marginalized. As Professor John W. Martens has observed, “The proper use of our goods, for ourselves and others, indicates that we must have the proper orientation—namely generosity toward others and toward God. It is only when we are rich toward God that we can say to our souls: Relax, all is in order.”
In these days, as we in the United States focus so much of our energy on the upcoming election and party lines and platforms, the violence and unrest that surround continue to wear down hopes for peace and justice. This Sunday’s Gospel passage, however, challenges to look beyond material possessions—and our need for control and security—to focus our attention on living a life that is rooted in God and oriented towards building up God’s Kingdom. While our possessions can certainly enrich our lives and bring us joy, they will never secure our happiness or peace. Only God can offer us, our nation, and our world what we need most.
How does this Sunday’s Gospel challenge your sense of attachment to your possessions?
What might this Gospel passage have to say to us as we prepare for the November elections and as we engage in important conversations about economics, national security, and care for poor?
How do you express your thanks to God for the graces and blessings that you have so graciously received?
Words of Wisdom: “It is true that a person’s life is not from one’s possessions or because of having an overabundance. The one who is rich toward God is very blessed and has glorious hope. Who is this person? … It is the one whose hand is open to the needs of the poor, comforting the sorrow of those in poverty according to their means and the utmost of their virtue.”—Saint Cyril of Alexandria