A rich man is being called a fool by Jesus!
I wonder how we would react if that was said to us by Jesus.
Would we react like Donald Trump and go after Jesus with all the abuse and contempt and racial vilification that we could call upon? Heaping up insult on insult and trying to break him, humiliate him and deport the dreadful man back to the country where he came from.
Would we see ourselves instead through the lens of what is called the ‘prosperity gospel’? Is this our choice? This is an interpretation of the gospels that says….I am wealthy, therefore I am blessed by God as money and prosperity is a sign of God’s blessing, and so therefore I must be good. I must be better than those who are poor who are clearly failing in some way and are less worthy and who are, therefore, less blessed. I do not need to feel responsible for them unless I want to show my goodness.’
Many of us have wealth because of where we were born and the privileges we had through the accident of our birth. Those generally in our western world, are white, male, educated, access to inherited wealth with house, land, assets, access to good jobs, networks of useful friends and contacts, and in the end, we are so blind to this privilege that is unearned, not of our making, we have come to believe we have done all this ourselves and so, must be smart, clever, important, deserving and blessed. We are frequently blind to what we have been given and what has been profoundly unearned.
Parishes and churches without wealth, in areas of entrenched poverty, where jobs are hard to find, where bills or food become the daily choice are not like this by choice, but by accident of being founded in places where there is no inherent privilege. Those who have assets pat themselves on the back for being smart and prudent. They look sideways at those without and wonder what they have not done that they should be so badly off. We blame them. We constantly compare ourselves to see where we are in the pecking order, in the hierarchy. It is instinctive, we look at the house, money, education, smartness, behaviour of children or family, and or we accrue privilege and benefits through our partner, and this is particularly true for women who often have fewer options, as we live through them into the more desired places.
Privileged blindness is iniquitous, discriminatory and profoundly life destroying.
So what was Jesus saying to his questioner who asked: ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me?’
What do we hear in this question? We can see that there are assets and wealth to be passed on from the last generation. It was going to the male side of the family as in those days, and frequently now, women receive less or are not entitled, except through husbands. ‘I want my share’ is the demand. I’m entitled to my part. I want what I should have. Its mine.
Jesus refuses to become involved in the question. What he reminds everyone is disputes over money speak to our greed and our own sense of justice and injustice.
The rich man prides himself on his judgement, his ability to gather wealth, assets and privilege. There is no reference to family or friends, simply his own greed. His assumption that wealth will provide people to eat and drink with and be merry.
God and Jesus call him a fool. God says very bluntly: ‘Tonight you die. All you have thought about is worthless. You have no-one to leave your wealth to as you have focused on the wrong things. You have not focused on God. Your stewardship has not been put to good use.’
One of the words that came to mind in reading this text was ‘concupiscence’. As Paul Tillich, a well-known theologian defined it, ‘concupiscence is the desire to cram the whole world into one’s mouth.’ An extraordinary definition that highlights the gross greed that fills our world and our lives to the destruction of everyone around us. It makes us bloated, self-centred, self-consuming, narcissistic and unable to see anyone else as human or recognise them too as God’s children, irrespective of race, religion, gender or capacity.
Our stories in our world and our country are full of those who are discarded, treated as rubbish, the ‘other’ which is disposable and of no value or use to us that we can see. We have forgotten and cannot see God’s love for each of them and us. Our love for our neighbours is not high on our priorities.
Yet Jesus is offering us a different way of living. The choice between concupiscence and the kingdom of God.
It is worth checking in our own lives about where our choices currently lie. In reading the gospels and looking at the focus of Jesus’ stories, at least a third of them are about money and greed for it and its consequences. Jesus spends more energy and time talking about money than about morals. Jesus’ opposition to amassing quantifiable possessions for their own reward has been unwavering. His direction is clear and it highlights our own constant fascination and desire for money and the need to change how we live and what we prioritise.
The other aspect of this story is the inherent loneliness, fear and anxiety that comes from our obsession with money; and the emptiness and meaninglessness of life if this is all we think about and concentrate on. People avoid us because we are considered empty and obsessed.
The man in Jesus’ story had no one to whom he could leave his wealth because of his obsession. Its hard to see kingdom behaviour when this is our main focus in life. Can you buy real friends? Can you buy generosity of spirit, gentleness, patience, humility and love?
When you attend funerals, what are the stories that are told about the individual? Is it career highlights, wealth accumulated, an accounting of the wins and losses, or the stories of grandma baking cakes, and grandad kicking a football, the time spent together, loving, talking, listening, sharing, putting oneself out for others? Which stories are being told about you and I?
What did Jesus finish this small story by saying to the rich man and to us?
You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be? So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.
Further on in v.34 Jesus adds: ‘For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’
And yet Jesus reminds us, we have hope. There is an alternative way to look at our world and our choices. We have God calling us to live differently and to be present with God.
In this story, the rich man is about to die. We too have faced those moments, when there’s been a phone call to tell us someone we love has died or had an accident, when a partner leaves us after many years, when a job disappears from under us very suddenly, when tragedy strikes and we are devastated by the consequences.
If we have God as our strength God will hep us to keep our minds straight. We can continue if we have let God still be with us as God is always.
Psalm 107:9 says:
For the Lord satisfies the thirsty; and fills the hungry with good things.
Hosea said of God:
I took them up in my arms but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them.
Jesus tells us repeatedly, not to be afraid, but to take comfort in the presence of a living God, in this world and the next.
The Lord be with you.