Year C: Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Saying Against Greed.

Luke 12:13-21

Someone in the crowd said to him, “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.”

Then he told them a parable. “There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest. He asked himself, ‘What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?’ And he 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!” 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?’ Thus will it be for the one who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. To what extent do balancing life’s realistic needs and storing up possessions compete with your caring for what matters most to God?
  2. There is a saying: The more we have, the more we want…and the less satisfying it is. Where have you experienced this truth in relationship to your material possessions? Do you possess them or do they possess you?
  3. In what ways have the concern/pursuit of material possessions and wealth creation possibly interfered with your spiritual journey? (By spiritual journey, I mean; how you actively live out the consequences of your professed relationship with Christ)
  4. How do you guard yourself against all greed and becoming greedy? Explain

Biblical Context

Luke 12:13-21
Sr. Mary M. McGlone CJS

At first glance, in today’s Gospel pericope, Jesus might seem to agree with Qoheleth. (A book in the Hebrew Bible) In this itinerant preacher’s story, the aboutto-die rich man plans “to tear down my barns and build larger ones. …Rest, eat, drink, be merry!” God has other plans: “You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?” Yet when we look at everything Jesus says about acquiring wealth, we realize he goes far beyond scripture’s wisdom debate. That’s clear from the event that triggered his parable about the rich man’s death.

“Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.’ ”Jesus not only refuses to get involved in family disputes, he gives a simple rule for avoiding such encounters. “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.”

Once again, we have a Gospel passage in which Jesus demonstrates his concern that we live the most fulfilled life we can right here and now. In this situation, his teaching on wealth has nothing to do with our getting into heaven or being sent to hell. This Galilean carpenter is completely down to earth. He wants us to relate correctly not only to the earth we inhabit, but to the situations and people that earth offers us. A large part of those relationships concern wealth: the material things we acquire while we’re on this earth.

As we’ve seen, many authors of the Hebrew scripture regarded wealth as the outward sign we’re doing what Yahweh wants us to do. On the other hand, writers like Qoheleth believe wealth is just a matter of how the ball bounces. It has little to do with how one relates to God. Might as well acquire as much as you can and use it for your pleasure right here and now because you certainly can’t take it with you.

Jesus goes beyond both these theologies. In his opinion, anyone who focuses just on acquiring wealth during his or her lifetime is focused on something that is going to bring neither happiness nor fulfillment in that lifetime. As is clear from all four Gospel theologies, both the historical and risen Jesus of Nazareth is convinced the only way to achieve such happiness and fulfillment is to train oneself to concentrate on those they encounter in their daily lives, always trying to care for the needs of people which surface in those encounters.

Such a caring frame of mind normally isn’t the first thing that pops up in our human nature. We’re normally worried about what we can gain from such relationships, not what we can give. We might believe Jesus’ teachings are from God, learn everything we can about them, pass an exam on the subject, but how can we actually acquire a frame of mind that regards wealth as he does? We can stand back and applaud him every day of our lives, but if we’re not actually living the life he did (and does), we’re simply faking our faith. How do we actually pull off this Christianity thing?

First of all, if we’re to be a biblically formed people, we have to employ a different methodology than what we might remember from Catholic school or confirmation classes. In school, we were expected to “learn” our faith: to intellectually understand what Jesus of Nazareth taught, especially about the actions that merited heaven and those that condemned us to hell. We were to know how to answer the questions our catechisms posed during our religion classes, and to walk away with a passing grade from those sessions. It seemed to be understood — if not at times expressly mentioned — that those with the best grades were the best Catholics. It certainly wasn’t very complicated. Faith revolved around learning the “content” of faith.

Scripture scholars frequently remind us that there’s not a lot of content in our earliest Christian writings. Our sacred authors were less concerned with giving us stuff to memorize and more about showing us someone to imitate: Jesus of Nazareth. They do this by showing him from multiple perspectives: telling us about things he said, narrating his parables, showing his miracles, demonstrating how he argues with his enemies. They’re constantly trying to convey his frame of mind, which they expected their readers either to already have or be actively working to attain.

I’m always disturbed by those passages in Paul’s letters in which he actually has the nerve to tell his readers, “Imitate me.” (Cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:6, Philippians 3:17, 1 Corinthians 4:16; 11:1.) Thankfully I’ve never had the guts to tell my students or parishioners to do that. As a teacher and pastor, I’m good at pointing out the ideals we all should be following, but I’m wise enough to admit I’m personally not very good at actually carrying through on those ideals. And often, when I do carry through on some of them, I’m always fearful I’m doing so because that’s what’s expected of me, not because I’m deeply committed to those ideals. If nobody were looking, I might do the opposite. I certainly don’t always “feel” like doing what I actually do. Many times I worry about being a fake.

Yet I remember what many psychologists advise in those situations, especially when it comes to spouses who claim they’re waiting and willing to show affection to their partners, but they just don’t feel like it. Experts almost always recommend they go through the external actions of showing affection, even without the feelings. Though we might feel we’re faking it, the feelings we want to have normally don’t surface until after the actions are performed, not before.

The late Fr. Ed Hays, the source of hundreds of parables and reflections in his many books, told a story once I will try to paraphrase because it makes the point perfectly.

It seems there was once a boy born with the ugliest face anyone ever saw or could imagine. People avoided him, and as he grew older he developed a personality to go with his face; surly, sarcastic and mean. He had practically no friends.

One day, a sympathetic soul approached him with an idea. He told the man about a craftsman in the next village who could make masks so lifelike no one could tell.

So the man traveled to the next village, met with the mask maker, and came away with a handsome new face. No one stared at him anymore. People began to treat him civilly. And, best of all, he gradually developed a new, pleasant personality; so pleasant that one day he actually began to date one of the local women.

After a while the young woman asked him why he never talked about marriage. He revealed that he was wearing a mask and warned her that if she ever saw his real face, she would never marry him. But the woman persisted, telling him how much she loved him. So the man removed the mask and said, “Look at who I really am.”

To his amazement, the woman didn’t turn away in horror. She kept staring at his real face, and then said, “I thought you said you were wearing a mask. Your face doesn’t look any different now than it did before you took off whatever was covering it.”

He looked in a mirror. Over the years, his face had gradually molded itself into the mask he had been wearing. He had become the person the mask had made him appear to be.

What We Treasure

Ted Wolgamot

If you knew the world would end one month from today, what would you do right now. To get at this question, Jesus tells a story about a man so immersed in his possessions that he lost all perspective.

Here’s another story like that — only this one is disguised as humor: A very, very rich man decides he needs to protect all his wealth in the life hereafter. So he hires a lawyer to file a lawsuit against heaven, one granting him the right to bring his possessions to heaven when he dies.

Heaven, of course, recognizes no lawsuits, but to humor this guy, St. Peter allows him to bring one suitcase with him when he appears at the heavenly gates. The guy believes he’s outsmarted St. Peter. He shows up with a huge “suitcase” — eight feet long, six feet wide and five feet deep. St. Peter takes one look at it and says, “That’s not a suitcase.” The guy responds, “You didn’t say anything about size.” St. Peter rolls his eyes. “Well, I still have to open it and see what’s in it.”

St. Peter then opens the trunk and finds hundreds of bars of pure gold. St. Peter looks at the guy and says, “You die and get a chance to bring all your wealth to heaven, and you choose to bring pavement?”

What this story says, of course, is that everything the man treasured so dearly ended up amounting to nothing. That’s also the message of the story Jesus tells in today’s Gospel. He knows that money is important to us, that we need it to house and feed and clothe our families. But the questions Jesus asks are: How important is our wealth? Is it so central that we allow it to drive our lives?

Notice that the man in today’s Gospel shows no concern for any of the peasants who worked the land that brought him all his wealth. Instead, the only pronoun that comes out of his mouth is “I”: “I will tear down … I will store … I will say to myself.” The rich man has no recognition that he has become a walled-in human being, a prisoner of a way of thinking that dehumanizes him. He lives only to accumulate and to hoard.

As a consequence, he’s able to increase his wealth, but in doing so he only impoverishes his own life. He’s able to amass goods, but is incapable of attracting friendships, of generating solidarity with others, of experiencing love.

Sadly, there is way too much of this kind of thinking in the world we live in. In America today, 22 percent of children live in poverty; 80 percent of the people on Earth live on less than $10 a day. Schoolteachers average $43,000 per year; numerous professional athletes are paid millions. Median family income in the United States is less than $50,000 per year. Something’s out of whack — something like a sense of communal sharing.

So, back to our initial question: If you knew the world would end one month from today, what would you do right now?

My guess is that you would spend every minute contacting as many people as you could to tell them one or all of three things: “I’m sorry,” “I forgive you” or “I love you.” Because, after all, our relationships with others and with God are what bring us lasting happiness.

This is the message Jesus is offering us in today’s Gospel story: Live now what matters forever. “For where your treasure is, your heart will be also.”