The Gospel today is not merely a warning against greed; it is an instruction on income and wealth given by Jesus to help us root out greed. As the Gospel opens, the problem of greed is presented. Following that, a prescribed perspective on wealth is offered. Let’s take a look at both parts of this Gospel.
I. The Problem that is Portrayed – The text begins, Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to share the 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.”
Note that Jesus turns to the crowd (to avoid personally indicting the man for something of which all can be guilty) and warns without ambiguity that greed must be guarded against. Greed is the insatiable desire for more. It is to want possessions inordinately, beyond what is reasonable or necessary.
Greed is often downplayed today; accumulation and the ostentatious display of wealth are often celebrated. Great rooms with cathedral ceilings, huge flat screen TVs (even private home theaters), and fancy cars are shamelessly flaunted.
Greed is at the root of a lot of evils and suffering. Scripture says,
For we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world; but if we have food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and hurtful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evils; it is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs (1 Tim 6:7-10).
These are indeed very strong words. Greed causes us to be discontented and ungrateful, both of which are signs of unhappiness. It also leads us into temptations, into snares or traps that set loose harmful desires that seem to expand in ever increasing ways. And this desire for more too easily leads us to personal destruction, and to inflict great harm, insensitivity, and injustice upon others.
On account of greed we almost never say, “I have enough; I will give away the rest or use it for the benefit of others.” Many also wander away from the faith because wealth is generally tied to this world and its demands, and they feel they have “too much to lose.” Hence the faith is set aside in favor of the world; greed overrules God and the demands of the Gospel.
The Lord will develop more of this in the parable ahead. But for now, note that the Lord warns about the serious and destructive problem of greed. This is the problem that is portrayed.
II. The Perspective that is Prescribed – But the Lord does not simply condemn greed. He goes on to tell a parable that strives to provide a proper perspective on wealth. In itself, wealth is not evil. But without the proper perspective, we too easily fall into greed. Hence the Lord provides five teachings on wealth to help us to keep it in perspective and to avoid greed.
A. The INITIATION of wealth – The text says, There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest.
Notice that it is the land, not the man, that yields the increased harvest. Whatever we have has come from God and what God has given. Scripture says,
- But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth (Deuteronomy 8:18).
- The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein (Psalm 24:1).
- Every good and perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. (James 1:17).
- What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not? (1 Cor 4:7)
As such, wealth is not bad or evil. But we must never forget that God is the true owner of all things while we are the stewards. An old song says, “God and God alone created all these things we call our own: From the mighty to the small the glory in them all is God’s and God’s alone.”
God provides the increase and is the initiator of every blessing, but God remains the owner. As stewards, we are expected to use what belongs to God in accord with what He, the true owner, wills. Too easily we forget this and usher in many woes.
What is the will of God regarding our wealth? The Catechism speaks of God’s will as the “Universal Destination of Goods.”
God gave all the goods of the earth for all the people of the earth. This means that the goods of creation are destined for the whole human race…In his use of things man should regard the external goods he legitimately owns not merely as exclusive to himself but common to others also, in the sense that they can benefit others as well as himself. The ownership of any property makes its holder a steward of Providence, with the task of making it fruitful and communicating its benefits to others, first of all his family (Catechism 2402, 2404).
If we will remember that we are stewards of God’s gifts and that He ultimately intends all to be blessed, we can understand that greed is a form of theft, for it inordinately clings to what should be given to another out of justice. If I have two coats, one of them belongs to the poor.
Remembering that the initiation of my wealth is God. I can help to avoid greed by using my wealth for the purposes God intends. It is not just for me; it is for all the people of this world.
B. The INCONVENIENCE of wealth – The parable continues, He asked himself, ‘What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?”
The man is burdened by his wealth because he does not consider generosity an option. “What shall I do?” he asks anxiously. To be honest, great wealth does bring comfort, but it is also a source of inconvenience. Consider just a few things that usually go along with wealth: locks, alarms, storage facilities, insurance, worries, fears, repairs, maintenance, and upgrades. We live in an affluent age, but just think about the stress! Consider also the loss of other, more important values. We have bigger houses but smaller families; our “McMansions” are really more houses than homes.
- The rest of a laborer is sweet, whether he eats little or much, but the abundance of a rich man permits him no sleep (Eccl 5:12).
- Better is a little with the fear of the LORD than great treasure and trouble with it (Prov 15:16).
- Better a dry crust with peace and quiet than a house full of feasting, with strife (Prov 17:1).
- Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless (Eccl 5:10).
So wealth certainly has its comforts, but it also brings with it many inconveniences that make our lives more stressful and complicated. Better to be free of excessive wealth in accordance with God’s will than to be burdened by it. This is another perspective that helps us to avoid greed.
C. The ILLUSION of wealth– The parable goes on to say, And [the man] 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.’”
Here we are taught that riches easily lead us to an illusion of self-sufficiency. We start to rely on self and on riches instead of on God. But as we shall see, the man’s wealth will utterly fail him before the night is out.
Riches can buy us out of temporary troubles, but it cannot help with the central problem we face. No amount of money can postpone our appointment with death and judgment. Riches can get us a first class cabin on the ship, but on the “Titanic” of this world we are in no better shape than the people in steerage. In fact, because of the illusion it creates wealth will more likely hinder us in our final passage. For it is only in trusting in God that we can make it to the other shore. Too much wealth and self-reliance can hinder our capacity to call on the Lord and trust Him. Yes, wealth tends to create an illusion that cripples us from reaching our goal. Scripture says,
- But man, despite his riches, does not endure; he is like the beasts that perish. This is the fate of those who trust in themselves, and of their followers, who approve their sayings (Ps 49:12).
- Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment (1 Tim 6:17).
- Whoever trusts in his riches will fall (Prov 11:28).
- For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits (James 1:11).
- Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, “Who is the LORD?” Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God (Prov 30:8).
An old gospel song says, “Well the way may not be easy, but you never said it would be, ’cause when my way gets a little too easy you know I tend to stray from thee.”
The illusion of riches is well illustrated in the modern age. Our wealth has tended to make us less religious, less dependent on God. But really, can all our wealth, power, technology, and science ultimately save us? We know that it cannot.
Yet strangely we entertain the illusion of wealth anyway. Like the man in the parable, we think, “Now I’ve got it; now I’m all set.” This is an illusion, a set up. Coming to see it for the illusion that it is will help us to avoid greed.
D. The INSUFFICIENCY of wealth – 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?”
And thus we see the illusion give way to the reality of insufficiency. Scripture says,
- There are men who trust in their wealth and boast of the vastness of their riches. But no man can buy his own ransom, or pay a price to God for his life. The ransom of his soul is beyond him. He cannot buy life without end nor avoid coming to the grave. He knows that wise men and fools must perish and leave their wealth to others. Their graves are their homes for ever, their dwelling place from age to age though their names spread wide through the land. In his riches man lacks wisdom, he is like the beast that perish (Psalm 49:5).
- For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life? (Mat 16:26)
Money, wealth, power, popularity, and prestige can never really get us what we need. We have sought so many saviors in this world, thinking they can somehow save us.
- SCIENCE can’t you save me? No, I can’t save you. I can tell you how far it is from the Earth to the Sun. I can tell you how to fly in rocket ships into outer space, but I can’t tell you how to climb to Heaven. I can’t save you.
- PHILOSOPHY can’t you save me? No, I can’t save you. I can tell you more and more about less and less until you know everything about very little. I can tell you about the thoughts and opinions of the greatest thinkers, but I can’t save you
- EDUCATION can’t you save me? No, I can’t save you. I can make you smart, but I can’t make you wise. I can’t save you.
- CULTURE can’t you save me? No, I can’t save you. I can make the world a more beautiful and entertaining place from which to go to Hell, but I can’t save you.
- ECONOMICS, can’t you save me? No, I can’t save you. I can make you richer, but not rich enough to buy your salvation. I can’t save you.
- POLITICS, can’t you save me? No, I can’t save you. I can give you access to worldly power, but the world as we know it is passing away. I can’t save you.
At the end of the day, this world and all of its riches cannot save us; only God can do this. This is another perspective on wealth that helps us to avoid greed.
E. The INSTRUCTION about wealth – The parable concludes, Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.
As we have already remarked, wealth is not intrinsically evil. It is our greed that is sinful and gets us into trouble. Greed clings to wealth unreasonably and excessively. With greed, we “store up treasure for ourselves and are not rich in what matters to God.”
So what matters to God? What matters is that we be rich in justice, mercy, love, holiness, and truth; that we be generous sharers of the bounty He bestows. And thus the Lord teaches us to share what we have generously, above what we do not need. Consider the following teachings:
- I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings (Luke 16:9).
- Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal (Mat 6:19).
- Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life (1 Tim 6:17-19).
There is an old saying that “You can’t take it with you.” And this is true, but only partially. The Lord suggests that we can send our wealth on ahead, that we can store it up in Heaven, that we can invest it in eternity. How? Do we put our gold in a balloon and float it up into the sky? No, we send it up, we send it on ahead by bestowing it on the poor and the needy. This can include our family members, for charity begins at home, but it does not end there. Our generosity should extend beyond the family to many of the poor.
If we do this the Lord teaches that the poor we bless will welcome us to Heaven and speak on our behalf before the judgment seat. The Lord says that when we bless the poor our treasure will be great, and safe in Heaven. Further, our generosity and mercy will benefit us greatly on the day of judgment and help us, as St. Paul says above, to lay hold of the life that is truly life.
So you can’t take it with you, but you can send it on ahead.
This final teaching or perspective on wealth is that we should be rich in what matters to God by being generous, not greedy.
And thus we have five teachings on wealth meant to give us perspective, so as to avoid greed.
Trust God! Greed is rooted in fear, but generosity trusts that God will not be outdone in generosity! While our greatest rewards remain in Heaven, God sends “interest payments” to the generous even now. Scripture says,
- One man gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want. A generous man will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered (Prov 11:24).
- Cast your bread upon the waters: after many days it will come back to you (Eccl 11:1).
- Give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back (Luke 6:38).
Since you can’t take it with you, you might as well send it on ahead. Guard against greed by allowing these five teachings on wealth to give you a proper perspective on wealth.