Rich in what matters to God
The Readings this Sunday challenge us to reevaluate our attachment to the things of the world, to be realistic about the limitations of life and the passing nature of things Keeping this perspective throughout our lives enables us to grasp the true value of created things and use them to help us reach our ultimate goal.
The Book of Ecclesiastes, with its often-repeated refrain “all is vanity”, questions the many illusions that cloud our quest for well-being. A consumer society presumes that security is to be found in the accumulation of wealth and property. The responsorial psalm, continuing the reflection of Ecclesiastes, highlights the superficiality that seeks to conceal life’s vulnerability. We are like, “the grass of the field that springs up in the morning. By night it has withered and died”. The psalmist’s frank acknowledgment of vulnerability, far from leading to despair, becomes a prayer of enduring hope; “Teach us to number our days aright that we may gain wisdom of heart. Fill us at daybreak with your kindness that we may shout for joy and gladness all our days”, the psalmist sings.
We live in a very competitive world that tells us we are really somebody when we are popular and powerful. We live in a world that judges our value on what we have or how we appear. Our professions, the advertising industry¸ the world of fashion, and even academic institutions are all built on a measure of value that has nothing to do with how God sees us and values us. This is a challenge! Who does not want to be Number One? Who among us in our competitive world does not want to come out on top? Who among us does not want to be the most popular, powerful etc.? But the question we all need to face is; “Who is measuring our value?”
It seems to be a natural tendency to equate the value of a human being with the quantity and quality of his possessions. Of course, a certain level of possessions would be significant to one’s dignity as a human being. Going around naked or half-clothed in public does not give a person much dignity. Not having anything to eat or having no roof over one’s head do not contribute to dignified living. On the other hand equating human worth with possessions is not exactly right either. Otherwise, only the rich would have the right to be treated humanely. Every human being has a right to human dignity.
In today’s Gospel a man from the crowd sought to make Jesus the arbitrator in a property dispute. The incident seems insignificant, until we begin to reflect on the tide of human misery that flows from acquisitiveness and greed. More than anything else, greed and jealousy have the power to divide families and societies. And the familiar parable of the rich man whose many barns were filled to overflowing illustrates the superficiality that wealth can hide. His contentment was foolish presumption. Possessions in themselves are not evil. We all need money and possessions in order to live dignified lives, and it is certainly no sin to enjoy them. But if striving after them makes us neglect a healthy relationship with God, the Church, and our neighbors, we will come to a tragic end, just like the rich man in the parable. Jesus knows how easily we are tempted by money and possessions – they seem to promise so much! That’s why he makes this lesson so clear. “Take care to guard against all greed,” he warns. Instead, if we want a truly fulfilling life, we should strive to be “rich in what matters to God.”
We cannot avoid the question that Jesus asked. Do we store up treasure for ourselves in place of making ourselves rich in the sight of God? What impoverishes the spirit is not so much the lack of possessions as the idolatrous trust that we can place in them. We are stewards of God’s gifts. It would be good for our soul, if every once in a while, we look at our accomplishments, wealth, honors, and achievements and check on our attitude; there is more to life than the accumulation of possessions. Whatever one has accumulated, one has to leave behind. All we can take into eternal life is the good we have done for God and for others.