Please register to access this FREE content.
In the Gospel reading, someone in the crowd calls out to Jesus with what may seem a reasonable request: He wants his share of his inheritance. Jesus takes the opportunity not to call families to justice but to call each of us to watch out for greed.
“Take care to guard against all greed,” Jesus answers. “One’s life does not consist of possessions.”
He then tells the parable of the rich man who stores up his riches, prepares to “eat, drink and be merry” — then dies. The warning is an apt one for our time: Our society, at all levels, is very much devoted to eating, drinking and being merry. We are very much caught up in greed.
Benedictine College economic professor Dr. Rick Coronado recently described a conversation he had with his parish priest about greed:
“He believed that active decisions to sin, such as the decision to be greedy, did happen of course, but that was not the path to sin for most people. Rather, it was the simple urge to want to be comfortable, to make life easier for oneself and one’s family. Concupiscence, in a word. That simple impulse pursued day in and day out, over the course of a lifetime,” he said, “resulted in people slowly sliding away from their spiritual life and neglecting their duties to others”
We easily coast down the hill of greed. We slip into debt pursuing pleasures which seem normal to us. We lose the ability to spend money on charity, and we find we have to worry and work to pay our debts more and more. We escape into more pleasures to deal with the anxiety.
Dr. Coronado cites St. John Paul II in Centesimus Annus spelling out the difficulty:
“It is not wrong to want to live better; what is wrong is a style of life which is presumed to be better when it is directed towards ‘having’ rather than ‘being,’ and which wants to have more, not in order to be more but in order to spend life in enjoyment as an end in itself,” he said.
In other words, “One’s life does not consist of possessions,” and we need to store up treasures in heaven, not earth. All of this is a gentler way of saying what the first reading says.
“Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth, “All things are vanity!”
His words are very much tailored for the attitudes prevalent in the 21st century. We tend to link our identity and self-worth to our career. When we meet someone, we don’t ask, “What religion are you?” or “What are your hobbies?” We ask: “Where do you work?”
Yet, as Qoheleth points out, all that work will come to nothing in the end. Worse, it will destroy us with “toil and anxiety of heart.” For the worker, he says, “sorrow and grief are his occupation.” The stress is so complete that, for the worker, “even at night his mind is not at rest.”
St. Paul in the second reading agrees: “Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.”
He says to “put to death” the parts of you that keep obsessing about worldly things. He even names them: “immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry.”
What to do about it? John Paul gives some advice sounds like Pope Francis: “It is therefore necessary to create lifestyles in which the quest for truth, beauty, goodness and communion with others for the sake of common growth are the factors which determine consumer choices, savings and investments.”
This is a central demand of the Gospel: To radically change our lives to be more simple, focused on God and not things. We can start by praying for the courage to take it seriously, then begin practicing some of what the Holy Father is asking us.
Photo: Tantek Çelik Flickr