You Can’t Take It with You, but You Can Send It on Ahead! Five Teachings on Wealth

This Sunday’s Gospel is not merely a warning against greed; it is a teaching on income and wealth given by Jesus to help us root out greed. The Gospel begins by presenting the problem of greed and then prescribes the proper perspective on wealth.

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.”

Notice that Jesus turns to the crowd (to avoid limiting his cautionary advice to just the one man) and warns without ambiguity that we all must guard against greed. 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. Massive houses, fancy cars, and the latest electronic gadgets are shamelessly flaunted.

Greed is at the root of a lot of evils and much 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 strong words indeed. Greed causes us discontent and ungratefulness, 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. This inordinate desire for more too easily leads us to personal destruction and to inflicting harm 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.” Greed is also a reason that many people 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,” they set aside faith in favor of the world; greed overrules God and the demands of the gospel.

II. The Perspective that is Prescribed The Lord does not simply condemn greed; He goes on to relate a parable that illustrates the proper perspective on wealth. Wealth is not evil in itself, but without the proper perspective it is easy to fall into greed. The parable contains five teachings on wealth to help us to keep it in proper perspective and to avoid greed.

1. 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. 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)

We must never forget that God is the true owner of all things; we are merely the stewards. There’s a 1980s Christian song with these appropriate lyrics: “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 He remains the owner. As stewards, we are expected to use what belongs to God in accord with what He, the true owner, wills. It is easy to forget this and thereby usher in many woes.

What is the will of God regarding our wealth? The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of God’s will in this matter as the “universal destination of goods.”

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 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 wealth is God, we can help to avoid greed by using our wealth for the purposes He intends. It is not just for us; it is for all people.

2. 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. 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, maintenance, and repairs. We live in an affluent age, but one in which many are overly stressed. Consider also the loss of more important values as we concentrate on the accumulation of wealth. We have bigger houses but smaller families; our increasingly massive residences are really more houses than homes.

Scripture says,

          • 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).

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.

3. 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 begin to rely more on our own self and our riches than on God.

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 those in first class 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).

There’s a gospel song that 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. Deep down we know that all the wealth in the world cannot ultimately save us, but we buy into the illusion 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 recognize that will help us to avoid greed.

4. 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?”

Here 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 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? 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. No, I can’t save you.
          • PHILOSOPHY, can’t you save me? 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 no, I can’t save you.
          • EDUCATION, can’t you save me? I can make you smart, but I can’t make you wise. No, I can’t save you.
          • CULTURE, can’t you save me? I can make the world a more beautiful and entertaining place from which to go to Hell, but no, I can’t save you.
          • ECONOMICS, can’t you save me? I can make you richer, but not rich enough to buy your salvation. No, I can’t save you.
          • POLITICS, can’t you save me? I can give you access to worldly power, but the world as we know it is passing away. No, I can’t save you.

At the end of the day, this world and all of its riches cannot save us; only God can.

5. 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.

Again, 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] but are not rich in what matters to God.”

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. The Lord instructs us to share what we have generously, above what we do not need. Consider the following teachings from Scripture:

          • 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).

It is said that you can’t take it with you, but this is only partially true. 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. 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 includes our family members, for charity begins at home, but it does not end there. Our generosity should extend beyond the family.

If we do this, the Lord teaches that the poor will welcome us to Heaven and speak on our behalf before the judgment seat. God says that when we bless the poor our treasure will be great, and it will be safe in Heaven. Further, our generosity and mercy will benefit us greatly on the day of judgment and help us 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.

In a single parable we have five teachings on wealth meant to give us perspective so that we can avoid greed.

Trust God! Greed is rooted in fear, but generosity trusts that God will not be outdone. 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).

Guard against greed by allowing these five teachings on wealth to give you the proper perspective.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: You Can’t Take It with You, but You Can Send It on Ahead! Five Teachings on Wealth

The Seven Deadly Sins: Greed

One of the more underreported sins is greed. It is easy to conclude that greed is something manifested by “that other person,” who has more than I do. Yes, that rich guy over there, the one who earns a dollar more per hour than I do; he’s greedy, but I’m not.

Honestly, does any one of us ever come to a point in our life when we say, “I earn more than enough money. I’ll just give the rest away”? Not on your life!

Almost never would such a thought even occur to the average person. Instead, most of us respond to a pay increase, for example, by expanding our lifestyle and continuing to complain that we don’t have enough. At some point, we ought to admit that we do cross over into greed.

What is greed? It is the insatiable desire for more. St Thomas says, Man seeks, according to a certain measure, to have external riches, in so far as they are necessary for him to live in keeping with his condition of life. Wherefore it will be a sin for him to exceed this measure, by wishing to acquire or keep them immoderately. This is what is meant by covetousness, which is defined as “immoderate love of possessing.” (S.T. II, IIae, q. 118 art 1) It is a deep drive in us that, no matter how much we have, makes us think that it’s not enough. We still want more, and then if we get more we want more still.

Familiar though this sounds, too few of us are willing to consider that greed is really a problem for us. It’s the other guy who’s greedy.

Of course it doesn’t help that we live in a culture of consumption, which constantly tells us that we don’t have enough. Commercials tell us that the car we’re driving isn’t as good as this other one we could be driving. So even though we have a perfectly good car, one with four wheels, a working engine, and probably even air conditioning, it still it isn’t good enough. So it is with almost every other product or amenity that is sold to us on a daily basis. The clever marketing experts of Madison Avenue are great at making us feel deprived. As a result, it almost never occurs to most of us that we may have crossed the line into greed. Despite having even six- and seven-figure incomes, many still feel that they don’t have enough.

This is all the more reason that we should spend some time reflecting on the nature of greed. Greed is one of the deadly sins, and it brings with it a kind of blindness that causes us to mistake mere wants for needs. As we entertain this illusion, there’s very little to prompt us to consider that we actually have more than enough. There’s very little to cause me to say, “Gee, I’ve gotten greedy” or to work toward curbing this insatiable desire for more.

When do I honestly look at myself and wonder if I am greedy? When do I ever conclude that I have more than enough and need to be more generous with what has become excessive in my life? When do I ever apply the old precept that if I have two coats, one of them belongs to the poor? It’s a good idea to have something saved up for a rainy day, but do I ever ask myself if I’m really trusting in God or just in my rainy-day fund? When do I ever wonder if I’ve crossed the line into greed?

Like all of the seven deadly or capital sins, greed sees many other sins flow from it. St. Thomas lists a number of these sins, which he calls the “daughters of greed.” They are: fraud, lying, perjury, dissatisfaction (restlessness), violence, and hardheartedness.  (see, S.T. II, IIae, q. 118 art 8). For, as St Thomas says, greed can create in us a kind of insensibility to mercy. Since by greed we adopt a certain passion to acquire and possess, often rooted in a kind of fear. Thus we focus unreasonably on our needs and do not advert to the needs of others. Greed can therefore lead individuals and nations to a hardheartedness and cruelty or violence in order to possess what we do really even need. It can lead us to be will to lie, or commit fraud for financial gain. Finally, as Thomas notes, greed makes us restless and anxious since, whatever we have it is never enough. Further, despite its false promises, wealth does not bring peace, it increases our anxiety. As regards this, Scripture says, The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether they eat little or much, but as for the rich, their abundance permits them no sleep. I have seen a grievous evil under the sun: wealth hoarded to the harm of its owners. (Eccl 5:12-13)

Of the virtues that are medicine for greed surely generosity is the chief virtue, followed closely by gratitude. For indeed, we already have so much fro which to be grateful and when our focus is there a kind of joy permeates our soul that makes us more generous and kind to others. Another virtue that is key is trust and Faith in God. For, when we trust God through faith we are less concerned about the needs of tomorrow, Providence will provide. This is turn assists the fruitful virtue of peace. Mercy and love are also virtues that open us to the needs of others.  And as always, prudence will assist us in knowing the measure of what we really need and what is excessive.

Let me assure you that I do not write this post from a political perspective. I do not want the government mandating how much I may or should earn nor how much I may or should give away. I am referring to a personal, moral assessment that we all should make.

I also do not write as an economist. I realize that market-based economies are complex and that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with meeting people’s needs with products and services. I am also aware that markets supply jobs, but still I must insist that we all ask ourselves some personal questions about limits. We cannot simply conclude that greed is the other guy’s problem.

Greed is one of the seven deadly sins; we ought to take it more seriously than many of us do. There’s room for most of us to reflect on one of the most underreported sins: greed.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: The Seven Deadly Sins: Greed

The Seven Deadly Sins: Greed

One of the more underreported sins is greed. It is easy to conclude that greed is something manifested by “that other person,” who has more than I do. Yes, that rich guy over there, the one who earns a dollar more per hour than I do; he’s greedy, but I’m not.

Honestly, does any one of us ever come to a point in our life when we say, “I earn more than enough money. I’ll just give the rest away”? Not on your life!

Almost never would such a thought even occur to the average person. Instead, most of us respond to a pay increase, for example, by expanding our lifestyle and continuing to complain that we don’t have enough. At some point, we ought to admit that we do cross over into greed.

What is greed? It is the insatiable desire for more. It is a deep drive in us that, no matter how much we have, makes us think that it’s not enough. We still want more, and then if we get more we want more still.

Familiar though this sounds, too few of us are willing to consider that greed is really a problem for us. It’s the other guy who’s greedy.

Of course it doesn’t help that we live in a culture of consumption, which constantly tells us that we don’t have enough. Commercials tell us that the car we’re driving isn’t as good as this other one we could be driving. So even though we have a perfectly good car, one with four wheels, a working engine, and probably even air conditioning, it still it isn’t good enough. So it is with almost every other product or amenity that is sold to us on a daily basis. The clever marketing experts of Madison Avenue are great at making us feel deprived. As a result, it almost never occurs to most of us that we may have crossed the line into greed. Despite having even six- and seven-figure incomes, many still feel that they don’t have enough.

This is all the more reason that we should spend some time reflecting on the nature of greed. Greed is one of the deadly sins, and it brings with it a kind of blindness that causes us to mistake mere wants for needs. As we entertain this illusion, there’s very little to prompt us to consider that we actually have more than enough. There’s very little to cause me to say, “Gee, I’ve gotten greedy” or to work toward curbing this insatiable desire for more.

No, it’s the other guy who’s greedy; I’m not. It’s a problem that those nasty rich and powerful people have. Never mind that I’m pretty darned rich myself, living in a home with running water, air conditioning, and maybe even luxuries like granite countertops and widescreen TVs.

When was the last time you heard a sermon on greed? If you did, it was probably the priest talking about some abstract group of people (not those present, of course) who probably also hold the “wrong” political opinions. Yes, greed is always someone else’s problem.

When do I honestly look at myself and wonder if I am greedy? When do I ever conclude that I have more than enough and need to be more generous with what has become excessive in my life? When do I ever apply the old precept that if I have two coats, one of them belongs to the poor? It’s a good idea to have something saved up for a rainy day, but do I ever ask myself if I’m really trusting in God or just in my rainy-day fund? When do I ever wonder if I’ve crossed the line into greed?

I realize that some of you will find this post disturbing. I do too. These are uncomfortable questions.

Let me assure you that I do not write this post from a political perspective. I do not want the government mandating how much I may or should earn nor how much I may or should give away. I am referring to a personal, moral assessment that we all should make.

I also do not write as an economist. I realize that market-based economies are complex and that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with meeting people’s needs with products and services. I am also aware that markets supply jobs, but still I must insist that we all ask ourselves some personal questions about limits. We cannot simply conclude that greed is the other guy’s problem.

Greed is one of the seven deadly sins; we ought to take it more seriously than many of us do. There’s room for most of us to reflect on one of the most underreported sins: greed.

Greed: A Meditation on an Underreported Sin

One of the more underreported sins is greed. It is easy to conclude that greed is something manifested by “that other person,” who has more than I do. Yes, that rich guy over there, the one who earns a dollar more per hour than I do; he’s greedy, but I’m not.

But honestly, does any one of us ever come to a point in our life when we say, “I earn more than enough money. I’ll just give the rest away”? Not on your life!

Almost never would such a thought even occur to the average person. Instead, most of us respond to a pay increase, for example, by expanding our lifestyle and continuing to complain that we don’t have enough. At some point, we ought to admit that we do cross over into greed.

What is greed? It is the insatiable desire for more. It is a deep drive in us that, no matter how much we have, makes us think that it’s not enough. We still want more, and if we get more we want more still. This is the experience of greed.

Familiar though this sounds, too few of us are willing to consider that greed is really a problem for us. Greed is always something that other guy has.

Of course it doesn’t help that we live in a culture of consumption, which constantly tells us that we don’t have enough. Commercials tell us that the car we’re driving isn’t as good as this other car we could be driving. And so even though we have a perfectly good car, one with four wheels, a working engine, and probably even air conditioning, it still it isn’t good enough. So it is with almost every other product or amenity that is sold to us on a daily basis. The clever marketing experts of Madison Avenue are great at making us feel deprived. As a result, it almost never occurs to most of us that we may have crossed the line into greed. Despite having even six- and seven-figure incomes, many still feel that they don’t have enough.

This is all the more reason that we should spend some time reflecting on the nature of greed. Greed is a deep drive of sin, one of the deadly sins, and it brings with it a kind of blindness that causes us to mistake mere wants for true needs. As we entertain this illusion, there’s very little to prompt us to consider that we actually have more than enough. There’s very little to cause me to say, “Gee, I’ve gotten greedy” or to work toward curbing this insatiable desire for more.

No, it’s the other guy who’s greedy; I’m not. It’s a problem that those nasty rich and powerful people have. Never mind that I’m pretty darned rich myself, living in a home with running water, air conditioning, and maybe even luxuries like granite countertops and widescreen TVs.

When was the last time you heard a sermon on greed? If you did, it was probably the priest talking about some abstract group of people (not those present, of course) who probably also hold the “wrong” political opinions, etc. Yes, greed is always someone else’s problem.

When do I honestly look at myself and wonder if I am greedy? When do I ever conclude that I have more than enough and need to be more generous with what has become excessive in my life? When do I ever apply the old precept that if I have two coats, one of them belongs to the poor? I do understand that it’s good to have something laid up for a rainy day, but do I ever ask myself if I’m really trusting in God or just in my rainy day fund? When do I ever wonder if I’ve crossed the line into greed?

I realize that some of you who read this post will find it disturbing. So do I. These are uncomfortable questions.

Let me assure you that I do not write this post from a political perspective. I do not want the government mandating how much I can or should earn, and how much I can or should give away. I am referring to a very personal moral assessment that we all should make.

I also do not write as an economist. I realize that market-based economies are complex and that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with meeting people’s needs with products and services. I am also aware that markets supply jobs. But still, I must insist that we all ask ourselves some personal questions about limits. We cannot simply conclude that greed is the other guy’s problem.

Greed is one of the seven deadly sins; we ought to take it more seriously than many of us do. Somewhere there’s room for most of us to reflect on one of the most underreported sins: greed.

On the Bondage of Abundance and the Freedom of Poverty and Simplicity

“Close up of the coin hoard”  By Portable Antiquities Scheme from London, England  Licensed under  CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
“Close up of the coin hoard” By Portable Antiquities Scheme from London, England Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

In the Gospel from Monday, Jesus praises a woman who gives from her substance: He noticed a poor widow putting in two small coins. He said, “I tell you truly, this poor widow put in more than all the rest; for those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood. (Lk 21:2-4)

Now in praising her act he also gives a  teaching for us all which highlights the kind of freedom that often comes with poverty and simplicity, and also the kind of bondage that can come with wealth and worldly connections.

The teaching is very paradoxical since, in worldly thinking, we usually conclude that those with the most money, power and access  are the most free to do what they please. But frequently the opposite ends up being the case, and our worldly possessions, power, popularity and access lead us in to a sort of bondage and fear that wasn’t featured in all the promises and advertisements about “the good life.”

Why and how is this so? In effect, those with great wealth and who have power, popularity and deep connections in the world, have “too much to lose.” You can’t steal from a man who has nothing and it is a lot harder to intimidate him. Yet those who go up on the heights, tend to look down from those heights, and fear the fall.

Yes, wealth brings on the bondage of many worries. Scripture says,  The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether they eat little or much, but as for the rich, their abundance permits them no sleep (Ecclesiastes 5:12). And this evident, society-wide. We have never been so wealthy as modern Western culture affords. And yet, despite this, our stress is off the charts; fears and worries abound. Insurance buildings dominate our skylines, and huge numbers of Americans are on psychotropic medicines to stay calm and less depressed. Many others self-medicate with alcohol and drugs and addiction looms large in our culture.

Wealth also tends to bring on the bondage of insatiable cravings. Again, Scripture says, The eye is not satisfied with seeing, Nor is the ear filled with hearing. (Eccles 1:8). St Augustine says, For of a forward will, was a lust made; and a lust served, became custom; and custom not resisted, became necessity….a hard bondage held me enthralled. (Confessions 8.5.10).

Thus in our wealth we seldom reach a point where we say, I have enough and am satisfied. When does a person ever say, “Gee, I make $600,000 a year, that is more than enough. I think I can get by on 100K and I’ll give away the rest, or invest in something to help others. No, now we want 700K, and our 3,500 square foot home is just too small. Now we need the 7,000 square foot home with all the appointments, and the beach house too. We’re hooked, living well beyond what we need, we are now in bondage to what we merely want. And we thus mistake mere wants as needs. This is not freedom is the “necessity” that St Augustine describes as “bondage.”

Wealth and excess also lead us easily to the bondage of compromise and surrender of our soul to the world. St. Paul writes, But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (1 Tim 6:8-10)

Indeed, it is a very great tragedy that on account of the bondage to money, power and access, many sacrifice their vocation on the altar of career and advancement. Many set aside their vocation as husband and father, wife and mother, disciple and beloved child of God, for the sake of some career, and the money, power and access that comes with it. Their children are raised by strangers and the home fires grow cold. Most do not do this out of wickedness, but out of a kind of bondage, even a desperate fear, that if they do not do so, they will lose out on money, access, power and prestige. Too many cannot break free of this bondage, or do not want to.

None of this says “freedom” it says bondage.

Scripture attests that Jesus told a would be follower who seemed to seek Jesus for the power and access it might give him: Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head. (Mat 8:20).

Jesus owned next to nothing in this world, save for the seamless garment his mother likely wove for him. Even his deathbed of the cross was not his own. But in this, he had a radical freedom. He owed no one anything. Having nothing, he had nothing to lose. He could not be intimidated, he could not be owned, or pressured to compromise. He had no “access” or worldly power to lose. He could not be excluded because he was not desperate to join, to fit in, or gain worldly footholds. You can’t take from a man who has nothing, he is free from your influence. Jesus was free.

Yes, for all our talk of how wealth can free us to do what we want the paradoxical opposite seems more the case. Consider some other paradoxes beyond the mere question of wealth and perceive how what seems to offer more freedom and abundance actually leads to bondage and lesser fulfillment.

1. We moderns have more leisure time than perhaps ever before. Yet having all this time we seem to have less time. We are over-scheduled, running here and there to this diversion and that; taking the kids to the soccer practice, dance rehearsal, etc. Options multiply and now become required as we are expected to be here and there. The important is eclipsed by the urgent; scheduling and hurrying about goes off the rails, and many more central things, like eating dinner with the family, prayer and sleep give way. Having more time we strangely have less time and “busy” becomes the usual way we describe our lives.The freedom of leisure time too often turns to a kind of bondage.

2. We moderns have more food, more calories available to us than ever before. Food is quick and cheap. Such freedom, and such variety! Yet, it seems clear, many of us are in bondage. Obesity and all the health problems that go with it are rampant. The food that should sustain life is killing many of us.

It is interesting to observe that centuries ago, when food was far more scarce, fasting was a more rigorous and common Christian practice. Many fasted from meat the whole of Lent. Many also undertook fasting in Advent. Over the years as food became available in great abundance and predictability, it would seem we could fast more easily. But the opposite has happened and most people seem incapable of even the most simple fasts. The bishops, wisely or not, have relaxed the fasting laws to something almost meaningless, concluding that the traditional fasts were “too hard” on people.

We have so much food today that you’d think after a while we’d say, “Enough,  I don’t need to eat for days!” But the opposite seems to happen. The more we get the more we want. Portion sizes get ridiculous, and super sizing a way of life. And increasing numbers simply cannot stop, or even approach a reasonable caloric intake.

Thus our abundance does not bring us freedom and variety, but bondage and the limits of poor health. More does not bring freedom, it brings bondage.

3. Many sinfully claim a freedom regarding sex today that Scripture forbids. But honestly, for all the modern claims of freedom, sexual bondage is very deep for many today.

Calls to teach chastity to children are greeted with incredulous looks and remarks that such approaches are unrealistic, and the best that we can hope for is to throw contraceptives at youth who cannot really be expected to control themselves. This does not speak to freedom, but to bondage.

Internet porn is off the chain and many are in deep bondage to it.

And no matter how high the body count grows through abortion, broken families, teenage pregnancy, single motherhood, children raised with out proper families, sexually transmitted diseases, AIDs etc., no one seems to be able to connect the dots and say, “Promiscuity is unhealthy, even deadly, and we must become more serious about addressing this public health hazard.”

Here too the result of sexual revolution that marched under the banner of freedom, is not freedom, it is bondage.

Well, you get the point. Freedom is often paradoxical. We usually think the the “more” of riches, power, choices, and connections brings freedom. Usually it does not. Bondage is more often the case when we embark on the fool’s errand of living beyond what is needed, reasonable or holy.

Jesus looks to a poor woman in yesterday’s gospel and admires her freedom. Free from fear and having little to lose she is able to be generous. Too often our riches, abundance, variety and choices disable rather than enable us. Having much, we have too much to lose. Bondage is never far when this be the case.

Investment Advice from St Basil the Great

080413Sunday’s Gospel on generosity and the need to renounce greed, is reflection worth continuing. Last week in the Breviary St. Basil the Great (in Hom. De caritate, 3, 6: PG 31, 266-267, 275) provided a reflection that amounts to an investment strategy not just for the near future of old age, but for eternity. Challenging though the saint’s thoughts are, they are also consoling and sensible. Lets listen to his instruction.

Out of no intended disrespect for the saint, I would like to add some of my own comments in plain red text along with his reflections, and to adjust the order of his remarks just a bit. His teaching is in bold, black italics. To read his commentary fully and in order click here: On Generosity

And thus St. Basil begins with a challenge, rooted in a blessing:

Man should be like the earth and bear fruit; he should not let inanimate matter appear to surpass him. The earth bears crops for your benefit, not for its own, but when you give to the poor, you are bearing fruit which you will gather in for yourself, since the reward for good deeds goes to those who perform them.

So, St Basil begins with a “humbling” challenge: Do not let dirt (humus) be more virtuous and profitable than you! In a way it is a play on the Lord’s image that if we who are called to be Salt of the Earth become flat, we are good for nothing, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. (cf Matt 5:13). 

But in a magnificent description of grace and mercy, St Basil contrasts the comparison and reminds us that God in his mercy allows his grace to become our merit. That is to say, God, who will never be outdone in generosity will surely not let our deeds of mercy go unrewarded, even though these deeds are really the result of his grace, not our own unaided flesh. God will never forget the mercy we have shown and if we stay in the grace of friendship with him as a member of Christ Body, we will surely not loose our reward. And thus Scripture says,

  1. Give and it shall be given unto you (Luke 6:38) 
  2. Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy! (Matt 5:7).
  3. Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward them for what they have done (Prov 19:17). 
  4. A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed. (Prov 11:25)

Yes, always remember, generosity to the poor will be rewarded by God to those who remain faithful. Fear not to be generous for God will not be outdone by us in generosity. He will reward, he will repay!

And thus, St Basil continues:

Give to a hungry man, and what you give becomes yours, and indeed it returns to you with interest. As the sower profits from wheat that falls onto the ground, so will you profit greatly in the world to come from the bread that you place before a hungry man….In the presence of the universal judge, all the people will surround you, acclaim you as a public benefactor, and tell of your generosity and kindness.

And here St. Basil invokes the “investment strategy” given by the Lord Himself who said,

  1. Mat 6:19 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.
  2. Luke 16:9 I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.
  3. And echoed by St. Paul: Command [the wealthy] 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 Timothy 6:18-19)

And so here is given to us a good investment strategy. Namely, that we should store up our treasure in heaven so that, not only will it not be harmed or stolen, but also that it will be for blessing on the day of judgment!

It works like this: We store up treasure in heaven, not by putting it in some sort of balloon or rocket and sending it up, rather, we store it up in heaven by placing it in the hands of the needy and poor. What we generously give does not just go out and away, it goes UP and is “stored” in heaven for us, where it earns heavenly interest (as our Saint here notes). Scripture says, Cast your bread upon the waters: after many days it will come back to you (Ecclesiastes 11:1).

But not only is it “stored up” in heaven, but it also acts as an assurance on the day of judgment. Jesus says in the quote above that we ought to make friends for ourselves through out generous use of money.

Who are these friends? The poor! The needy! They are our investment brokers for the day of judgment and the world to come. The Lord says that when our wealth ultimately fails us (and it will fail us at death which we cannot buy our way of) they (i.e. the poor) will welcome you to eternal dwellings!

Imagine that on the day of judgment as you go before the Judgment Seat, multitudes of poor crying out, “Have mercy on this one Lord, for he was merciful to us!” Ah, what a blessed sound that will be! And the Lord hears the cry of the poor. I don’t know about you, But I am going to need a few folks praying and testifying for me on Judgement Day, and the poor and needy will be important advocates.

Yes, the Lord says, they (the poor) will welcome you to eternal dwellings and  St. Paul affirms that the wealthy who bless the poor will lay up a firm foundation for the coming age.

So listen to your heavenly investment broker Jesus, who says, be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you (Luke 11:41). Listen also to Jesus’ fellow investment analysts, St. Paul and St Basil, who insist that we will lay a firm foundation for the day of judgment and profit greatly in the World to come.

To be sure, generosity to the poor will NOT be the only thing we are judged on, but it sure will help on that DAY, standing before the Lord,  if we loved the poor and needy! And frankly, most of us are going to need every help we can get.

You are going to leave your money behind you here whether you wish to or not. On the other hand, you will take with you to the Lord the honor that you have won through good works.

And here St. Basil echoes Scripture which says, Henceforth, Blessed are those who die in the Lord. Let them rest from their labors, for their good deeds go with them. Even so, saith the Spirit (Rev 14:13)

Do you not see how people throw away their wealth on theatrical performances, boxing contests, mimes and fights between men and wild beasts, which are sickening to see, and all for the sake of fleeting honor and popular applause? If you are miserly with your money, how can you expect any similar honor?

Pay attention here. We do well to ask if we throw a lot of money away on passing, foolish or empty things. What are our versions of “theatrical performances,” “boxing contests” etc.?

Look, the Lord is not telling us never to go and see a movie, or sports event. But if we so easily spend money on this stuff, why not things that matter more and profit eternally?

And we ought to be careful with the many excesses of the modern age that often go unremarked. Most people older than 50 or so, who were middle class, grew up in a home of 1200 – 1500 square feet, had larger family sizes, and did just fine. Is it really necessary that homes today should routinely be 3500+ square feet with great rooms, cathedral ceilings, entertainment centers, and granite counter tops? Is it really that necessary? And why?

Again I am not trying to make lots of rules for you. I live in a nice rectory, generously bestowed and maintained by the people of God. St Paul also says, elsewhere, that our care of others ought not gravely harm us (cf 2 Cor 8:13). But honestly, don’t a lot of us have questions to ask in these affluent times about some of the excesses of the American Dream?

And if you choose to make such purchases, I am not your judge in this matter, or you mine. But surely we all have questions to ask ourselves. Is everything I want really needed?  And, more importantly, does my extravagance harm the poor and needy? Further, is my use of money wise, from an eternal perspective?

You decide, but these are questions we all ought to ask.

Your reward for the right use of the things in this world will be everlasting glory, a crown of righteousness, and the kingdom of heaven; God will welcome you, the angels will praise you, all men who have existed since the world began will call you blessed. Do you care nothing for these things, and spurn the hopes that lie in the future for the sake of your present enjoyment?

Amen! What is more important to us, comfort here, or glory there?

Come, distribute your wealth freely, give generously to those who are in need. Earn for yourself the psalmist’s praise: He gave freely to the poor; his righteousness will endure for ever. – Yes

How grateful you should be to your own benefactor; how you should beam with joy at the honor of having other people come to your door, instead of being obliged to go to theirs! But you are now ill-humored and unapproachable; you avoid meeting people, in case you might be forced to loosen your purse-strings even a little. You can say only one thing: “I have nothing to give you. I am only a poor man.” A poor man you certainly are, and destitute of all real riches; you are poor in love, generosity, faith in God and hope for eternal happiness.

My, my my! Don’t be poor in things eternal, don’t be poor in what matters to God.

This song says, “You may have all this world….Give me Jesus.”

You Can’t Take it with You, But You Can Send it on Ahead! Five teachings on Wealth from the Gospel of the 18th Sunday of the Year.

080313The 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, and then a prescribed perspective about wealth is offered. Lets 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 of something of which all can all 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 where accumulation and ostentatious display of wealth is often celebrated.  Great rooms with cathedral ceilings, 72″ flat screen TVs and even private home theaters (entertainment centers), fancy cars etc., are shamelessly flaunted.

But 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)

Note that these are very strong words. Greed causes us to be discontented and ungrateful, both of which are forms of unhappiness. It also leads us into temptations, into a snare or trap that sets loose the pangs of many harmful desires which seem to expand in ever increasing ways. And this desire for more and more too easily leads us to personal destruction, and to inflict great harm, insensitivity  and injustice on others.

On account of greed we almost never say, “I have enough, I will give away the rest or use it for others.” Many also wander from the faith since wealth is generally tied to this world and its demands, and they have “too much to loose.” 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 next goes on to tell a parable which strives to give a proper perspective about wealth. In itself, wealth is not evil. But without a proper perspective, we too easily fall into greed. Hence the Lord gives five teachings on wealth to help us keep it in perspective and avoid greed.

A. The INITIATION of Wealth – The text says, There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest. 

Notice that the subject of the sentence is the land, not the man. It was the land, not the man who yielded the increase. And hence, whatever we have has come from God and what God has given. Scripture says,

  1. Deuteronomy 8:18 But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth
  2. Psalm 24:1 The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein;
  3. James 1:17  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.
  4. 1 Cor 4:7 What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?

As such wealth is not bad or evil. But, in all our things, we must never forget that God is the true owner and 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 gives the increase and is the initiator of every blessing, but God remains the owner. And as stewards we are expected to use what belongs to God in accord with what God, the true owner wills. Too easily we forget this and usher in many woes on account of wealth.

And 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 gave it. It is not just for me, it is for all the people of this earth.

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 sees his wealth and because he does not consider generosity an option, is somehow burdened by it: “What shall I do?” he asks anxiously. To be honest, great wealth brings comfort but  it is also a source of inconvenience. Consider just a few things that usually go with wealth:  locks, insurance, keys, alarms, storage facilities, worries, fears, repairs, maintenance, upgrades, cleaning, utilities, etc. We live in an affluent age but consider the stress. Consider also the loss of other more important values, we have bigger houses but smaller families, and our McMansions are really more houses than homes.

Scripture says,

  1. Eccl 5:12 The rest of a laborer is sweet, whether he eats little or much, but the abundance of a rich man permits him no sleep.
  2. Prov 15:16 Better is a little with the fear of the LORD than great treasure and trouble with it.
  3. Proverbs 17:1 Better a dry crust with peace and quiet than a house full of feasting, with strife.
  4. Ecc 5:10 Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless.

So, wealth certainly has its comforts, but it also brings with it many inconveniences which make our lives stressful and complicated. Better to be free of great or excessive wealth in accord with God’s will than to be burdened and inconvenienced by it. Here is another perspective that helps us 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!”

And 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 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 cannot help with the central problem we face. No amount of money on this earth 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 earth we are no more set than the people in steerage. Indeed, 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. But too much wealth and self reliance hinders our capacity to call on the Lord and trust him. Yes, wealth tends to create an illusion which cripples us from reaching our goal.  Scripture says:

  1. Ps 49:12 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.
  2. 1 Tim 6:17 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.
  3. Prov 11:28 Whoever trusts in his riches will fall,
  4. James 1:11 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.
  5. Prov 30:8 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.

An old gospel song says, Well the way may not be easy, but you never said it would be. Cause when my way get’s 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 and power, technology and science ultimately save us? We know it can not.

Yet strangely we entertain the illusion of wealth anyway. And we think, like the man in the parable, “Now I’ve got it, now I’m set.” This is an illusion, a set up. And coming to see it for the illusion that it is will help us avoid greed.

D. The INSUFFICIENCY of wealthBut 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,

  1. Psalm 49:5 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.
  2. Mat 16:26 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?

Money, wealth, power popularity and prestige can never really get us what we need. And it’s not just money, We have sought so many saviors in this world thinking they can somehow save us:

  1. 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 sail in rocket ships up to outer space. But I can’t tell you how to climb to heaven I can’t save you.
  2. 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 greatest thoughts and opinions of the greatest thinkers But I can’t save you.
  3. 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.
  4. CULTURE can’t you save me?! No I can’t save you. I can make the world a more beautiful and entertaining place to go to hell from. But I can’t save you.
  5. 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.
  6. POLITICS, can’t you save me?! No I can’t save you. I can give you power and access to worldly power But the word as we know it is passing away I can’t save you.

At the end of the day, all this world and all its riches cannot save us. Only God can do this. Here too is another perspective on wealth that helps us 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. And greed clings to wealth unreasonably and excessively. With greed we “store up treasure for our self 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 generously share what we have over and above what we do not need. Consider the following teachings:

  1. Luke 16:9 I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.
  2. Mat 6:19 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.
  3. 1 Tim 6:17-19 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.

There is an old saying: “You 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? No, we send it up, we send it on ahead by bestowing it on the poor and needy. This can include our children and family members, for Charity begins at home. But it does not end there. Thus 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 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, lay hold of the life that is truly life.

So, you can’t take it with you, but you can send it on ahead.

Therefore, this final teaching or perspective on wealth is to 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.

And trust God! Greed is rooted in fear, but generosity trusts that God will not be outdone in generosity! And while our greatest rewards remain in heaven, God sends “interest payments” even now upon the generous. Scripture says,

  1. Prov 11:24 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.
  2. Ecclesiastes 11:1 Cast your bread upon the waters: after many days it will come back to you.
  3. Luke 6:38 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.”

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.

On the self-consuming caused by Greed, as seen in a humorous video

071913The humorous video below well illustrates some of the following lines from the Book of Ecclesiastes:

The fool folds his arms and consumes his own flesh. Better one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and a chasing after the wind….Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is vanity. As goods increase, so do those who consume them. And what benefit are they to the owners except to feast their eyes on them? The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether they eat little or much, but as for the rich, their abundance permits them no sleep. (Eccles 4:5-6, 5:9-11).

Yes, it is too easily a sad truth that the more we get, the more we want. And even though we begin to discover that our greed robs us of our peace, and brings many discomforts and inconveniences, still we run after it! Too rare are those who learn to be satisfied with less in order to enjoy it. And too many are those who crave more and more, but in their pursuit, enjoy what they have less and less.

Consider how some, in their pursuit of the “American Dream” crave the big house in the suburbs: Ah the “great-room” with cathedral ceilings, the tray ceiling in the master bedroom with its “on-suite” master bath, jacuzzi tub, double sinks, granite counter-tops, the his-and-her walk-in closets….well you get the point.

But having all this comes at a price. The suburbs bring nightmarish commutes. Hefty mortgage payments erode income. And even those who can afford the payments, often did not factor in the cost of maintenance, insurance, security, the cost of commuting, and the cost of heating and cooling the 2500-4000 square foot “dream home.”

Bills mount, debt increases, fears and sleeplessness sets in. Arguments about money and upgrades multiply. Perhaps a part time job must be taken, or a young mother must work to afford the “dream.” Commuting parents working extra hours barely know their children who are raised by strangers, daycare workers, school officials, and the media. Concerns multiply, sleep decreases, anger and strife flare.

And though the “dream” is clearly a nightmare, greed demands still more. The thought of selling, and buying a smaller home and being satisfied, seems quite impossible for too many.

The thus, as the biblical text above says, “the fool folds his arms” that is, he doubles down and stubbornly refuses any true assessment of the vanity of riches, and the inconvenience and headache they bring.

This video below humorously illustrates this biblical insight. A man walking the street sees a valuable 10 Pound note stuck beneath the tire of a car. And after several attempts to free the money, he realizes that he will have to wait for the parked car to be moved. So, as the biblical text above says, “He folds his arms” and is determined to wait.

Hmm… Is it really worth the wait? All that time, inconvenience, and uncertainty? Greed says yes! He spies a more comfortable spot in the window of a nearby coffee shop and enters, seats himself at the window, and starts spending his money in the cafe, wasting his time, and anxiously waiting for his moment to get more. In his wait are many anxious moments when he worries that someone else may get the money instead of him.

Yes, his desire for more not only has him anxious, it also has him in contention with others who might get what he wants. Suddenly everyone seems like an enemy or a competitor.

And here is a pretty good picture of too many of us today, anxiously waiting in traffic, in shopping lines, wasting time, all to get more. We look nervously to others and worry they might have more than we do, or get what we want. Tempers flare and suspicion too.

The humorous end I will not give away, but us simply say it fulfills the biblical text above with says, As goods increase, so do those who consume them.

A final note. The cafe he enters is called the “Punch and Judy Cafe.” No time to develop all the history here, but simply to note that Punch and Judy shows were an old form of entertainment using puppets (See photo, above right). The shows were a kind of dark comedy that gave a kind of sideways look at the less attractive aspects of culture and people. The main character “Punch” often violently lashes out at the other characters as if to say, “Life and the darker side of things and people tend to hit you where it hurts.” In the “Punch and Judy” Cafe of life, our darker side, in this case greed, often deliver a real gut-punch, a sucker-punch, a punch where it hurts.

Enjoy this video, but take seriously its message. If the embed code doesn’t work for you here is the URL: http://gloria.tv/?media=474475