Economists tell us that 35% of our nation’s wealth rests in the hands of but 1% of the population. In contrast, many Americans struggle to make ends meet. It would be easy to conclude, then, that Jesus’ story about a rich man with a vast surplus of wealth is directed only to a small handful of people. Most of us might wipe our brows with relief and think that we’re off the hook! However, we can’t forget that Jesus prefaced this story with a warning about the dangers of greed. And greed is a temptation that anyone can struggle with. “A person can be materially poor,” taught Pope Benedict, “yet his heart can be full of greed for wealth.”
A quarter century ago, Chinese Premier Deng Xiaoping proclaimed: “To get rich is glorious!” Many Americans would happily agree with this claim. But not Jesus. “One’s life does not consist of possessions,” he warned, and to store up treasure for oneself is to become poor in the eyes of God.
In Jesus’ parable, God asked the rich man, “The things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?” Jesus might just have well has said, “You can’t take it with you.” Until that moment, the rich man thought that he “had it made.” He could “eat, drink, and be merry” for the rest of his days, enjoying a life of leisure and luxury. But then he learned that what we take into eternity is not our cash, but our character. It’s not what we have that counts, but who we are. And God will hold us accountable, not just for what we do with any wealth we may have, but even our attitudes toward it. Our Lord makes himself quite clear: The way of selfishness and greed is the pathway to death; but the way of simplicity and generosity is the gateway to life.