August 1, 2010 — Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
How could Jesus say what’s reported in the reading from chapter 12 of St. Luke’s Gospel? It sounds like he’s attacking a major foundation of society. “Though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.”
But it’s not riches that are being attacked, but the attitude that views them as important only for one’s own personal use and trusts in them as the source of security. The response of a good steward is the best antidote to the spiritual poison of the grasping position taken by the rich man in Jesus’ parable.
One aspect of the lesson presented in these Scripture passages is stated clearly in the reading from Ecclesiastes. If you have labored hard and accumulated much, you have no control over what will be done with what you leave behind after you die. And the effort of accumulating a vast sum tends to bring stress and anxiety to your life.
The rich man in the parable thought he had escaped that anxiety after his fields had produced a bumper crop. His preoccupation now was to build larger barns to store the produce. But even the riches did not guarantee him a long and comfortable life – his days were in the hands of God, just as is true for the rest of us.
God’s response to this rich man is startling. Jesus had taught that to call one of our fellow humans a fool is to become liable to the fires of hell (Matthew 5:22). Yet that’s the very term God uses to speak to the man who exulted in his riches. He thought his possessions would give him security and pleasure for years to come, but they could not keep him alive for a single night.
That’s why St. Paul in Colossians tells us to “put to death” our earthly parts, including “the greed that is idolatry.” Whatever we make the center and object of our lives is our god. If it’s not the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, we’re guilty of making an idol of whatever or whoever the center of our life is. And riches become an idol for many when we view them in the greedy manner of the rich fool.
The rich fool said to himself, “You have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!”
The wise steward, on the other hand, prays to God with the intention of the Psalmist in Psalm 90: “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of heart.”
And with that wisdom, a faithful disciple learns that the bishops were right when they taught us a Christian steward is one “who receives God’s gifts gratefully, cherishes and tends them in a responsible and accountable manner, shares them in justice and love with others, and returns them with increase to the Lord.” The steward looks for ways to share the surplus with others and finds joy in doing so.
Let us pray that we will grow in wisdom so we become, as Jesus Christ urged us, “rich in what matters to God.”