A sobering comment on the futility of working unnecessarily for material possessions is the old saying that there are no pockets in a shroud. Every generation learns, often through bitter experience, that life is so very brief and entrance into the kingdom of heaven cannot be bought with riches and wealth. We leave the world the very same way we came into it, with absolutely nothing; so what’s the point of hoarding, when someone else, who may care nothing about us, will inherit our accumulated wealth and perhaps waste all we have worked so hard to achieve. The rich man we hear about in the Gospel today found this out to his cost, because death exposed his real poverty. During his life he behaved as if he was going to live forever. He failed to realise that what counts when we die isn’t wealth and possessions, or even achievements, but the person we become in the process of living. Greed cut this man off from God and from other people. It showed up the foolishness of thinking that true happiness can be found without taking God – and death – into the reckoning.
Now in case you may be in the process of switching off, because you suppose that today’s Gospel applies only to the obscenely rich, it’s well to remember that Our Lord preached this parable to people who were very poor by our standards. This is the story of the person who spends his, or her, life with little or no reference to God. Our Lord is really warning us against going it alone, and trying to hold our future in our own hands; he warns us of wasting our time, of gloating over possessions, and setting ourselves down securely in this life’s temporary comforts. This is a caution about greed and the hold which possessions exercise over the human heart. Greed and meanness are not confined to the wealthy but are among the most common of human failings, and all of us can become victims of them in our struggle to earn our daily bread. Greed and meanness spell disaster for us, and they blind us to where true and lasting values lie. The frustrations, the disappointments, and the incomplete joy that the pursuit of material possessions bring, are a reminder that happiness doesn’t come from having what we want, but rather being content with what we have, through and thanks to the grace and providence of Almighty God who supplies all we need – and more – to be happy.
We can overcome the temptation to greed by helping those who are less fortunate than ourselves. As Christians we often forget that we should have an eye on the life to come. The life we live here and now isn’t the be all and end all of our existence; there is more to come. And we forget that what is given to others in this life, in the way of charity, generosity and hospitality, isn’t lost but is transformed into a treasure for eternity. I suppose you might compare it to the accumulation of ‘air miles’. If you have the appropriate credit card, for every pound you spend you accrue an ‘air mile’. The same is true every time we are charitable or generous to others, we spend a pound, but in the process of spending that pound we acquire a pound, a heavenly pound. In the evening of our life we will be measured by the good we have done. Our Lord tells us “as you sow so shall you reap”. If we sow nothing we will reap nothing. Rather than wrap money around our hearts, we are urged to give at least some of our money to the poor, because it’s the Christian thing to do. And so, in the light of what Our Lord says to us today, each of us, whether we are poor or wealthy, or somewhere in between, we have some hard thinking to do about our attitude towards money and possessions.
None of us know when we will take our last breath, and when we die we will come face to face with God, and he will judge us on the way we have lived our life to that point. Will God be pleased with the way we have lived it, and will he be pleased with the way we have managed and shared the resources and blessings he has so generously given to us?