With these words from today's Gospel Jesus challenges us to reflect on our priorities, especially concerning possessions. If we know the scriptures, we should all be more than a little bit concerned about the frequency in which we are warned about the dangers of wealth. For the Jewish people wealth was a sign of blessing. The wealthy person was seen as blessed by God.
But Jesus, as he so often does, turns conventional wisdom, the wisdom of the world, upside down.
In the Gospel today Jesus is approached by a man and asked to settle a family dispute over money. It wasn't uncommon for people in Jesus' day to bring their unsettled disputes to respected rabbis. But Jesus refuses to get involved in this squabble over money. Instead, he uses the question that is brought to him as an opportunity to teach his disciples a disciple's attitude toward material possessions.
He has something to say to those who have possessions and to those who do not.
The Romans had a proverb which says that money is like sea water: the more a man drinks, the thirstier he becomes.
That certainly describes the man in today's parable. Enough was never enough. The barns that had once been sufficient are pulled down to build even bigger ones to store even more grain. And Jesus calls that man a fool because that very night his life would be required of him and he could take nothing of his wealth with him and he would, in fact, stand before God empty-handed.
Nowhere in the gospel does Jesus condemn wealth, But he does warn us, time and time again, of the dangers, the very real dangers, of wealth. He goes so far as to say in both Matthew and Mark's Gospel that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eyes of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven.
What is the danger? The Romans had it right. Money is like sea water; the more one drinks the thirstier the person becomes. The search for material possessions, the desire for money can easily become greed - which is exactly what Jesus is warning us against. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines greed as an 'inordinate' love of material things. 'Inordinate' means unreasonable or excessive. An inordinate love of material things can lead people to do terrible things.
The inordinate love of material possessions can lead people to acquire wealth in ways that are not just. Our God is a God who is passionately concerned about justice. The Jewish people have an expression: "To know God, to really know God, is to do justice." The prophets of the Old Testament warn against acquiring wealth at the expense of the widow and the orphan.
The abortion industry is built on greed where money - and there is huge money in this industry - becomes more important than life itself.
The inordinate desire for wealth can lead us to amass more than we need while denying others what they truly need. A former CEO of IBM negotiated an annual salary of 73 million dollars and a very generous pension plan for himself and his family, while, at the same time, ordering that the retirement plans and the health benefits of all other IBM workers be slashed because the company simply couldn't afford it.
Bernard Madoff was willing to rob ordinary people of their life savings so that he and his family could live a lavish lifestyle.
God warns us against greed in all its forms because greed can lead us to sin against justice and injustice cries out to God.
But there is another reason why God is so persistent in warning us against wealth and the excessive desire for wealth that is greed. God calls the man in today's Gospel who accumulates much more than he needs a 'fool'. In the Bible a fool is person who builds his or her life on a false foundation. The man in the gospel parable mistakenly thought that his happiness, his future, his security were all guaranteed by what he could store in his barns. But that very night his life was required of him and all the grain in the world couldn't save him.
"Vanity of vanities," quotes Quoheleth.
God wants us to build our lives on a firm foundation. Jesus came into the world to teach us to do just that. And often times, that means turning conventional or worldly wisdom on its ear.
Money and possessions are not, in themselves, bad. The things of the earth were created by God to be enjoyed. But as human beings we can so easily go to extremes.
Greed, the inordinate desire for wealth and possessions, can easily cut us off from a right relationship with God and our relationship with others.
Greed can blind us to our need for God. It can make us foolishly think that we are self-sufficient - that we have no need for God. It can also cut us off from a right relationship with the people in our lives. We have all heard stories or have even known people who have worked day and night in order to obtain the 'good life' and in the process have become strangers to their families, their friends and to God.
Harry Chapin's haunting ballad, "Cat's in the Cradle" chronicles just such a man who realized, only far too late, that in working to create the good life, he had become a stranger to his son.
Greed can blind us to many things. Like Lazarus and the rich man in Saint Luke's Gospel, excessive wealth can blind us the needs of others around us. The rich man's sin that landed him in hell was not that he did anything bad to Lazarus, but that he didn't do anything good for him, that he was blind to the beggar who ate the scraps that were left by the dogs. His sin, as many of our sins are, was the sin of omission rather than commission.
Bishop Robert Barron has produced a video series called "The Seven Deadly Sins and the Seven Lively Virtues. He proposes a virtue that counteracts each of the deadly vices. A virtue is a good habit that is cultivated until it becomes second nature, while a vice is a bad habit that is cultivated until it becomes second nature.
Jesus in today's Gospel warns us against the deadly sin- or the vice - of greed. Bishop Barron proposes generosity as the antidote to greed. He tells us that our checkbook is an important spiritual tool. How am I spending my money? Bishop Barron suggests that we use our checkbook for an examination of conscience before coming to confession because our checkbook tells us a lot about our priorities.
He makes some practical suggestions as to how we can develop generosity, as opposed to greed, in our lives. These are some of his suggestions.
Give away your goods and your wealth on a regular basis. Clean out your closet quarterly.
Buying a car or a piece of furniture? Find the car or the piece of furniture that you can afford and buy one less expensive and share the difference with a charity that serves the poor.
Have a poor box in your house.
Factor the common good into every economic decision. How will my use of my material possessions in this way affect the common good?
A wise person always begins a journey with the end in mind. We can easily forget the end and, as a result, get lost in daily life. We can misplace our priorities. Jesus tells us that one day we will die. He tells us to live each day, each moment, of our lives with the goal of heaven in mind.
For those of us who are of a certain age, we remember The Baltimore Catechism. The book was made up of a series of questions and answers by which we learned the truths of our faith. Early in the book, the question was asked: "Why did God make me?" And the answer we learned was this: "God made me to know him and to love him and to serve him in this world and to be happy with him forever in heaven."
A foolish person, like the man in today's parable, forgets this. The wise person keeps his or her eye fixed on the goal.
Jesus proposes a wisdom that is very different than the wisdom of the world. Jesus invites us, as his disciples, to be wise not in the sight of the world, but to be wise in the sight of God. He invites us to be rich, not in the eyes of the world, but rich in the sight of God.
To build up treasure in heaven is the challenge that faces all ofus as we walk out the doors of church this afternoon/morning.