15One’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”
It is easy to hide behind the word abundance. None of us think we have an abundance because we can look up in the hills or across town and see someone with more. Though our closets and garages might be overflowing, and we may lament we have too much stuff, we seldom imagine Jesus’ warning applies to us. We are pretty confident that what we have only – or mostly – what we need.
If, however, we translate Jesus’ comment more neutrally – “a person’s life does not consist in what he or she has stored up” – then the force of these words becomes more apparent and inescapable.
We spend a great portion of our lives storing up goods – or at least trying to. We want to have enough to live comfortably in retirement. We save. We invest. We insure. We build up our pensions or IRA’s. We buy a house – and then bigger houses if we can. If we are able, we build a family, looking forward to children and grandchildren and great grandchildren. We gather stuff to make a comfortable home and the tools to tend it. If we prosper we upgrade, trading grandmas’ old dishes for ones we like, and our cheap kitchen pots and pans for nicer, newer ones. If we can, we move a wall and make a master bath or bigger kitchen – all with an eye to the day when we can enjoy retirement with enough to be comfortable, when we can “relax, eat, drink, and be happy.” These are, of course, the words of the fool in the parable.
There is, of course, nothing wrong with relaxing, eating, drinking and being happy. The question is whether these constitute life. And whether life comes from what we have stored up.
The rich man in the parable has received a great blessing from God, but he fails to understand the purpose of God’s blessing. He counts it all for himself and foresees a life of contentment. In this he tragically misses the way of God: abundance is for sharing. God’s gift of abundance grants me the privilege of many acts of kindness. It allows me to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and visit those in prison. It allows me great opportunity to live the generosity of heaven, to share in the joy of God’s healing and redeeming work. God’s abundance grants me the opportunity to “store up heavenly riches” – not meaning to get brownie points in heaven for my charities on earth, but to immerse myself ever deeper in that which is eternal: kindness, mercy, justice, love. This is a true spiritual wealth. The fool misspent his abundance on the falsehood that life is found in his storage bins.
Life, the life that participates in the eternal, the life that is enlivened by the divine Spirit, the life that is infused with the heavenly mysteries we call love and joy, the life that cannot perish, comes from what you give not what you gather.
What we accumulate gives us only an illusion of security. Too many things can steal it away: illness, accident, fraud, or a simple mistake. On the other hand, nothing can steal away a life of compassion, a generous heart and fellowship with the one who is eternal.