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Greed, Envy and the Kingdom of God

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Today’s gospel reading is best seen in the light of the readings from the two previous Sundays. Two Sundays ago we read about the one and the many: the one thing necessary as against the many things over which Martha was anxious and troubled. The Lord told her that “Mary has chosen the better part and it shall not be taken away from her.” Ultimately, that “one thing necessary” is the kingdom (“Seek first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added unto you.”)

Last Sunday, we heard the Lord teach his disciples how to pray. He taught them his own prayer — the prayer that he himself uses in addressing the Abba. The prayer is Jesus’ expression of trust and dependence in the Father who will not refuse good things from His children. One of the petitions of this prayer is “Let your kingdom come.” Matthew has expanded it to “Let your kingdom come; let your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” “Let your kingdom come” is a petition for God’s future to break in the NOW and fill it up. It is the petition of those who have learned to put their security in the Father’s hand, for in His kingdom, nothing will be lacking (“Shalom” negatively described is “NO-LACK-OF-ANYTHING-GOOD”).

Seen in the light of these two readings, Luke 12:13-21 becomes an invitation to see whether our concern for “the future” and our commitment to “the security of our families” is NOT turning us into Marthas who forget “one thing necessary” because of the “many concerns” that arise in our daily life on the one hand, and people who, in effect, have begun to put their security in something other than the Father Himself.

“Teacher, tell my brother to share his inheritance with me… “ In Palestine of the first century, it was the first-born who received the inheritance. The request probably came from one who thought that Jesus — with his power of persuasion and authority — can exert pressure on his first-born brother to give up part of his inheritance for his benefit. Here, Jesus sees an instance where a man is desiring the good thing that is possessed by another and wanting to grasp it — albeit a part of it — for his own. The man has envied his brother’s inheritance and now wants to have a share in it. But a desire for a “share” in something that is not meant for one reveals something deeper: a disordered need to possess. Thus the warning about greed.

Greed and envy are related to one another. “Envy” is the desire for the good that one sees in another. “Greed” is a disordered passion for something good. It is disordered because it is never satisfied. Greed can lead to envy; envy is greed unsatisfied. Thus, seeing the envy in the man, Jesus warns about greed.

“One’s life does not consist in the abundance of one’s possessions”. Nowadays we talk about BEING and HAVING: life is not in “having” but in “being.” The implicit contrast between “having something” and “being someone” should be noted here because the continuation of Jesus’ discourse on true wealth assumes it. In the passages selected for the liturgy, the utter absurdity of equating possession and the worth of one’s life is explored. One’s earthly life is terminated in death. When that happens, the possessions that one has acquired throughout one’s life is inherited by another who has not worked for it. “Vanity” Qoheleth would say, “even this is vanity.” The parable of the rich fool illustrates this.

“Fool, tonight you will die…”

There are some who after having read the parable think that it is an instance where God shows Himself a bully, that He is in constant search of ways to frustrate any form of human striving. He uses death as a negative motivation to make people who have no need of Him become His dependents. They think that God is the Ultimate Kill Joy. He does not want anyone to “rest, eat, drink and be merry”. He wants them to suffer, to have difficulties, to undergo trials for the sake of some glory He promises.

But does the parable in fact show God to be a bully? In the first century, it was believed that every man’s duration of life is represented by a thread of a definite length. Once the thread of one’s life runs out, one dies. In the parable, it is God who informs the man that he was going to die that very night. It is assumed that while the man talks to himself about his barns and his plans for a three R-ed life (recreation, relaxation and restaurant), God was looking at the thread of his life and notes that it has run out. He is not being bully here; He was just calling the man’s attention reality. And He calls him a fool because, after crossing his t’s and dotting his i’s with regards to his business profits, the man forgot one thing: the real possibility of death. He was planning for a future that he was not even sure would materialize and has begun congratulating “his soul” for something that has not yet transpired. He was a fool, not because of his business practise (in that he was “wise”). He was a fool because he did not think of the real possibility of loss — not of profit — but of life.

One of the main tension points of human existence is the one that exists between possibility and facticity. All of us have infinite possibilities ahead of us but — and there is always a but — there is always death. Death cuts off possibilities. The question that God poses to the rich fool is a question that is raised before all of us: “Tonight you are going to die; what happens to the things that you have amassed?” One may think that life consists in “having” but the reality of death frustrates such a conviction. What one has cannot drive away death; it cannot even guarantee one’s existence. The rich fool has put his security and trust in the wealth that he has and the tantalizing future that it promises. Instead, Christians should put their security in the Father who deigns to give His children a kingdom where nothing will be lacking. To put oneself under God’s reign is to secure one’s future, because it will be the Future of God that is making itself present in the NOW. It is the one thing necessary that dispels all worries. Greed and envy will have no part in it because there will be nothing to be greedy about and no reason to be envious of another

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Originally posted 2007-08-05 22:27:39. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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