Our security is not grounded in the abundance of possessions
Sometimes, possessions symbolize something much deeper about our views of human existence. For many people today, life seems so frail and contingent that they seek to acquire more and more possessions in an effort to gain “security” for the future. According to biblical scholar Luke Timothy Johnson, it is out of that deep fear of uncertainty and insufficiency that “the acquisitive human instinct grows monstrous.”1 Let’s look at one of the parables of Jesus that exposes this reality.
Someone in the crowd said to him, “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 12:13-21).
In this parable the rich man thinks his security is based on the volume of crops he possesses.
• So, he tears down his current barns to build bigger ones in order to store up his abundant crops for use in the many years to come.
• Little does he realize, however, that human life is beyond his control and
certainly has nothing to do with the volume of his possessions.
• In the parable God deems the rich man a “fool” for thinking that more
possessions provide greater security in life.
• How suddenly the man discovers that storing up more possessions doesn’t add one day to the length or quality of his life.
In our modern world (even in the church!), we deem it prudent to save money for retirement, so we will have enough to sustain ourselves “for many years” to come.
According to this parable, what might Jesus say to this modern practice and
perspective? Jesus reminds us that real life does not consist in the abundance of our possessions.
• He warns us to be on guard against “all kinds of greed.”
• The parable might even be saying that the seemingly prudent practices of this rich man can lead to a kind of spiritual “death,” as he has spent all of his days in acquiring and storing up possessions, and no days at all simply resting in the goodness of his life, his relationships, and the natural world.
• Only by seeing that life is a gift from God – unrelated to our possessions – will we ever experience freedom from bondage to our possessions.
Jesus sets up an antithesis between “storing up treasures” for ourselves and being “rich toward God.” The implication is clear that the generous offering and use of our possessions to benefit others is more pleasing to God than storing up possessions for ourselves.
This kind of acquisitive behavior is often the result of fear – the fear of never having “enough.” I have a friend who places the rich man in this parable among the large group of people he calls “the mores” – people who think they always need “more” possessions than they have if they are ever going to find security in life.
Questions for reflection
• What are the foundations of your “security” in life? What are your fears about your future “security”?
• Have you ever experienced a kind of spiritual “death” in your views or practices with regard to possessions? What brought you back to life (speaking metaphorically)?
• What are some of the ways you are “rich toward God” in the use of your
O Lord, the creator and eternal sustainer of all life: Free me from the perspectives and practices that reflect my bondage to possessions, and rescue me from the fear of never having enough; give me the courage to live into new ways to be rich toward God in the use of my possessions. Amen.
1 The Gospel of Luke [Sacra Pagina Commentary Series], Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1991, p. 201.