The quickest way to lose friends is by lending them money. The quickest way to lose more friends is by attempting to mediate between the lenders and the borrowers. People fall out over many things, but money or wealth are among the most common and long-lasting. That’s why Jesus – asked in today’s gospel to resolve an inheritance dispute, dismisses the man’s request straight away: ‘who appointed me your judge or the arbitrator of your claim?’ That dismissal is followed by Jesus’ stern warning against greed and a parable seemingly condemning the savviness of a fortunate man who wanted to make the best of his good harvest. All that leads us to a tricky question on how to practically reconcile our Christian faith with seeking financial or material prosperity. I won’t tackle such a question in this sermon – it’s well over my paygrade (excuse the pun). Instead I’d like to offer you a bit closer look at today’s gospel, so you can make up your own mind.
‘A man’s life is not made secure by what he owns, even when he has more than he needs.’ This is Jesus’ reasoning when he warns against ‘avarice of any kind.’ He refers to the sense of security that wealth can apparently provide. Surely, financial constraints can enormously limit or even diminish one’s chances of success in life. I don’t need to present any examples of that – there’s plenty in the media. Undoubtedly, some spare cash can make life easier up to a certain point. Beyond that point wealth starts breeding arrogance, vanity, smugness, boastful pride or many other unpleasant traits. There’s no shortage of stories to confirm that. Another aspect of wealth ‘beyond the point’ is a sense of insecurity. Rich financiers and footballers have recently been targeted by moped gangs in London and robbed at knifepoint. Robbers target wealthy people’s properties. Finally, when you’re rich you never know if your friends are friends of yours or of your money… So, where is that point, beyond which wealth becomes a threat to its owner’s life and wellbeing?
The clue is in the same sentence: ‘A man’s life is not made secure by what he owns, even when he has more than he needs.’ Jesus recognises that everyone has legitimate needs, and that financial or material means are the way to fulfil those needs in a legitimate way. Jesus never promotes some kind of idealistic but unrealistic model of life where money or whatever it can buy is redundant or morally tainted. What Jesus calls to in regard to money is freedom at using it. In today’s second reading St Paul warns against ‘greed, which is the same thing as worshipping a false god.’ It’s a clear reference to Jesus’ own caution: ‘You cannot serve two masters at the same time. You will hate one and love the other, or you will be loyal to one and not care about the other. You cannot serve God and Money at the same time.’ (Matthew 6:24)
The parable in today’s gospel tells us a story of a man who’s had a good harvest and decided to increase his storage to store his abundant stock. He seems to be admonished by Jesus: ‘Fool! This very night the demand will be made for your soul; and this hoard of yours, whose will it be then?’ Is Jesus really criticising the man’s prudence and shrewdness? The clue is in the man’s these words: ‘My soul, you have plenty of good things laid by for many years to come; take things easy, eat, drink, have a good time.’ Jesus is critical of his attitude, of his false sense of security provided by the windfall. Many sad stories of people whose lives were ruined by winning the lottery illustrate that Jesus’ warning isn’t theoretical or locked in the past; it’s as credible and relevant as it has always been.
So, as I promised at the beginning of my sermon, I don’t offer any ready-made answer to that tricky question of faith and financial prosperity. In fact, everyone must find their own answer, taking into consideration all aspects of their lives. Well, I’ve made up my mind and I promise, that If I ever win the lottery, all of my neighbours are going to be so rich! I’m going to move to a rich neighbourhood.