“Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.” Those words from today’s gospel ought to become a mantra of our lives, especially as we approach the holiday season when too often more attention is given to Black Friday and good bargains than to the coming of Christ.
In this passage from Luke, Jesus offers a parable about a rich man who firmly believed that one’s life does consist of possessions, and in doing so discloses the corrosive effects of greed. The parable begins with the man congratulating himself on a bountiful harvest. There’s no indication that he worked the fields himself and not the slightest hint that he is grateful. Moreover, he obviously has more grain than he could ever possibly need, but never once considers sharing it. That’s how it goes with greed. Greed hardens our hearts, makes us perniciously unmindful of others, and leaves us caring only for ourselves. But greed also results in dangerous self-deception because this man whose only plan is to “rest, eat, drink, be merry!” forgets that our ultimate security comes neither from wealth nor possessions, but from God.
The parable ends with a shock: Jesus says that the man who thinks a life of pleasure and leisure awaits him will die before the end of the day and declares him a fool because he was “not rich in what matters to God.” What he failed to realize is that we are, as the reading from Ephesians testifies, “created in Christ Jesus” not to amass a fortune for ourselves, but “for good works.” In short, we who live by the love, grace, mercy, kindness, and generosity of God gain true riches when we spend our lives extending those blessings to others.
Paul Wadell is Professor of Theology and Religious Studies at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin, and a member of the extended Passionist family.