Speaking as a believer, I think that one of the saddest sights must be an old miser alone, living scantily and meagerly while counting his piles of money in secret. In the Gospel of Luke (12:13-21), we see a man whose father has just died, and who requests Jesus’ assistance as an impartial judge so that eventually he, too, can plan his life into later years gleefully stroking a good pile of money. Apparently this misguided man has been living anxious years sustained and driven incessantly by the conviction that a favorable share of the inheritance would have opened for him the way to solve most of his problems and also made him happy and care-free.
However, with a warning Jesus exposes the minefield that lies beyond such a delusion. Even a fair arbitration would have deepened the rift that the prospect of money had already created between him and his brother.
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.”
Far from solving most of one’s problems, far from making one happy and care-free, greed and lots of money can bring about such a degree of devastation that one’s life is robbed of all human relationships and incapable of nurturing even a basic bond of love and warmth. Looking each one of us straight in the eyes, Jesus points out ominously that greed and riches can dehumanize a person. Wow, this statement has already given me a long, long pause. I hope it does the same for you because, along with countless others, we are held together as members of the same live organism that is the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church.
We should know that God is the ultimate, most impenetrable mystery of our faith; and he is essentially a bond of love, an undoable relationship of life, sentiments and purpose between Father and Son so tight that it is the third Person of the Holy Trinity.
That bond of love is the Holy Spirit!
Now, having been created in the image of this triune God, in the Son Jesus, we are called to a life of intimate unity with him and with each other.
Hence, what Jesus is warning all of us against is that greed and riches can dehumanize people so as to turn them into a grotesque caricature of what they are meant to be from conception on—into all eternity.
How true this is!
How many divorces, family feuds, lawsuits originate from greed and/or lust for money! How many lies, perjuries, acts of deception and silencing of consciences have resulted in the complete devastation of the lives of their victims as well as the lives of their perpetrators!
As a priest who has heard confessions for over 44 years, I can assure you that the victims of these cruel devastations are much closer to us than the sensational cases we follow on the TV gossip channels and read up on tabloid rags on the racks by the checkout counters.
The lure of money and, even more so, greed are insidious forms of foolishness that, in the long run, consume a person as he/she awaits in vain for security and reassurance about the future through reliance on possessions rather than on ties of love and friendship.
I ought to confess that, being a mere human being, occasionally, I allow myself to be deceived by this widespread foolishness and forget the sighs, the anguish, the copious tears of those who have been unjustly dispossessed of their very livelihood.
I can also fail to notice the miserable existence that the greedy and lovers of money forge for themselves and, for awhile, I dream of how a yet-to-be-determined amount of money would solve quite a few of my problems and just as many problems of poor people here and, even more so, those of faceless multitudes in mission lands who struggle to survive.
But the one pointing out this foolishness, as Jesus assures us, is God himself: 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?’
In the Book of Ecclesiastes (2:21-23), Qoheleth concurs: For here is a man who has labored with wisdom and knowledge and skill, and to another, who has not labored over it, he must leave his property. This also is vanity and a great misfortune. For what profit comes to a man from all the toil and anxiety of heart with which he has labored under the sun? All his days sorrow and grief are his occupation; even at night his mind is not at rest. This also is vanity.
One of the precious gifts from the Holy Spirit is the gift of wisdom.
Let us face it: there have been times in which we, too, succumbed to this foolishness and we thought that money could serve us better than ties of solidarity, friendship and love. United into one Body, inseparable from Christ, bound together by the very tie that unifies the Holy Trinity, we should ask the Holy Spirit to help us regain our sanity so that we may nurture the ties of blood, friendship and love that we still have. Furthermore, we ask him to assist us in repairing those ties that have been severed or are barely surviving the storms of our past. And we also ask him to enable us to dare to widen the circle of our concern, loving service and care to include many others.
These are the things that will make us rich in what matters to God because heaven is basically, in fact, exclusively a single bond of love holding us together for all eternity.
If we still struggle with bouts of foolishness generated by greed, Ecclesiastes (1:2; 2:21-23) and this Gospel passage from Luke (12:13-21) seem to suggest a reflection on death as a source of wisdom. Our wising up can be expedited and intensified by prolonged visits to the graves of our deceased relatives and friends. Obviously, we would see that beyond any amount of wealth that they left behind, beyond all their toils and worries, what remains are solely the ties of love that they established while among us.
These must be the only ties on which we rely for our happiness here and in the world that awaits us.