|by Angela M Jendro|
18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Gospel of Luke 12:13-21 NAB
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.” 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 all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.”
Why is Jesus so hard on the man just looking for a fair division of inheritance, doesn’t God care about justice? How about the farmer? Shouldn’t Jesus be praising him for his hard work? The man just looked forwrad to an early retirement, is that so bad?
Neither of these men did anything wrong on the surface, rather it was their underlying disposition of heart that concerened Christ. Greed is defined as an inordinate desire for wealth. Inordinate means the desire for wealth is either excessive or sought after in the wrong way. It also refers to having your priorities out of order. For example, wanting to earn a good living doing an honest job is noble. Whereas making the accumulation of wealth your top priority or going after it through illicit means or making money a higher priority than God or others would be inordinate. That’s why the virtue of generosity (of both money and time) is so important to keep greed in check and wealth rightly ordered.
Greed takes many forms and we can be quite talented at excusing it with innumerable rationalizations. The man in this encounter masked his greed with a case about justice. We don’t know the circumstances surrounding the inheritance but Jesus, who knows the truth in each of our hearts, identified a greedy motive obscuring the actual facts of the case. The farmer enjoyed a fantastic crop year. However, his first thought/priority was of himself and his own pleasure. A generous person would have been excited at the opportunity to give grain to others in need and provide for more of the poor in the area, reserving only an “ordinate” amount for his needs. In terms of storing up riches in heaven, St. John Chrysostom remarked that the poor are a blessing to us from God as they are the bank tellers of heaven – meaning whatever we give to others lasts forever in eternity.
We often operate with the mentality of the farmer in Christ’s parable. The modern equivalent would go something like this: Work hard in school so you can get into a good college, so you can get a good job, so you can make a lot of money, so you will be secure and happy. These goals have some prudence behind them, but without a view to stewardship or vocation, they, like the farmer’s view, lack a vertical dimension. They prepare for the needs of the earthly body, but not for the elevation needed by the soul. Consider how many people follow this plan and find themselves burnt out, lonely, and suffering from health issues related to the stressful pace they had been keeping. Ironically, we are both the richest country in the world and the most depressed. We keep a frenzied pace only to find ourselves exasperatedly sighing the same words of Ecclesiastes “For what profit comes to man from all the toil and anxiety of heart with which he has labored under the sun?” (2:22).
It can feel like, “What is the point?”! We clean the house and it’s messy again in a matter of hours. We finish a project at work and another lands on our desk the next day. Our kids finish one sport’s season and another begins. Days fly off the calendar, then weeks, then years. If all we’ve done is focus on tasks rather than loving service of God and neighbor, we miss out on relationship with God and people we love. Greed has a vicious way of undermining our relationships with God, each other, and even ourselves. Everyone has to find a balance between work and life. We have to be prudent, work hard, and plan for the future. The problem is, it’s just sooooo easy to work and plan for more than we really need and miss out on the good stuff right in front of us. Rather than plopping on the couch and watching a movie with our kids we run another load of laundry or get some work done on the computer. Instead of going out with colleagues and deepening friendships, we put in a couple extra hours at work to get ahead. Sunday finally comes around and the thought of getting up and going to Mass feels like just another thing on the calendar rather than an intimate encounter with the living God.
Jesus reminds us to work and plan for our eternal future too. We are made for meaning, purpose, and love. Moreover, we are spiritual beings made for eternity with God. Work labored for greed will produce a temporary reward, but work offered in love and service to God will bring eternal joy. It will likely bring a deeper earthly joy as well. Having the respect of others because of your position can feel good but it can also feel empty, not to mention add paranoia that someone will try to take it from you. Having the respect of God because of your character is priceless and immune from circumstances.
Every day we must pray and reflect on what really matters so we invest our time and efforts wisely. Through the grace of Christ, we have the opportunity to escape the crazed rat race and endless gerbil wheel. If we have the courage to surrender greed we can gain immeasurable wealth unaffected by the volatility of the stock market or our boss, and which produces deeper pleasure than money can buy. Doing work that improves the lives of others or working a job that pays well so you have money for charitable works you care about will give you deeper satisfaction than a simple paycheck. No matter what your profession, how you conduct yourself and to what end is up to you.
As a teacher, I am reminded of this at graduation parties. My bonus, though not monetary, comes in the form of seeing kids I’ve helped develop turn into amazing human beings. It’s the emails from college or stopping by my classroom to tell me everything they are up to or how something I taught them has stuck with them that uplifts my heart and reinforces the purpose of my work. Similarly, I know wealthy individuals who find great joy in putting it at the service of the Lord and seeing the fruits of those spiritual endeavors. They find happiness in generosity. God promises in 2 Corinthians 9:6 “Consider this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” Be generous with God and labor to sow what matters so you can be “rich in what matters to God.”
- Reflect on what matters most in your life. Consider what gets in the way of those things versus what develops them.
- Prayerfully consider what is “enough” for you. What would be sufficient and what work is necessary to meet that goal?
- Ask God to reveal any desires that have become excessive or obsessive. Is there anything you are grasping after or worried about that prevents you from enjoying the gifts God has already given you?
- What kind of work or charitable contributions brings you a feeling of satisfaction?
- Do you find meaning in aspects of your job?
- Do you enjoy providing for your family and seeing them thrive?
- Do you have charitable projects you care about?
- Do you contribute to the Church?
- Has greed ever undermined your relationship with God? With another person? With being true to yourself?
- How might you grow in generosity?
Make a Resolution (Practical Application):
- Evaluate your investments in God, others, and yourself. Decide on one thing you could do for each category to enrichen that relationship in your life.
- The opposite virtue of greed is generosity. Do something generous this week.
~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019