Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me." But he said to him, "Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?" And he said to them, "Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions." Then he told them a parable: "The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, 'What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?' Then he said, 'I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, 'Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.' But God said to him, '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."
Luke has a special interest in the poor and often cautions against greed: see 4:4; 8:14; 9:24-25; 12:22-34; 16:19-31; 18:18-30. The greedy pursuit of wealth is one of the greatest obstacles to spiritual growth.
It is common experience that those who have most want most. This must be because they don't really have what they have: it doesn't fulfil them, it is only a bait for further accumulation. Greed is a bottomless pit and nothing will ever fill it. Many misers even live very poor lives – in order to die rich. A tycoon stipulated in his will that he should be buried in his limousine, seated at the wheel, with a Havana cigar in his mouth. It was done. As the crane was lowering the limousine into the grave, one of the bystanders said to his friend, “Man, some people really know how to live!”
How do you measure your wealth? Usually we measure it by checking how much we have, but the saints tell us we should calculate it by checking how much we have given away. The psychology of possession is full of paradoxes. Wealthy people, by spending their lives accumulating wealth, prove how poor they feel; people who feel deeply enriched within themselves don’t waste their life that way. Someone said about a very wealthy man once that he was just the keeper of his wealth, “only a turnkey.”
Can you measure greed? Not exactly, but even a rough estimate could be very useful. Have you ever noticed that the size of a sum of money seems to change depending on whether you are getting it or giving it? The sum is the same, the difference shows your partiality. If you could measure that difference, even approximately, it would be your greed index.
Why would we want to know such an unpleasant thing about ourselves? For the same reason that we would sooner look in a real mirror than in a distorting one. We want to know the truth about ourselves, however ugly. “The truth will set you free,” Jesus said (Jn 8:32). Self-flattery only knots us up in delusion.
Instead be a giver, the wise ones tell us. Know the freedom and joy of giving. This we will know only by doing it, not by thinking about it. As the French poet André Gide said, “Complete possession is proved only by giving. All you are unable to give possesses you.”
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