Security and Salvation
LUKE 12: 13–21
Material greed, among other vices, has always been a very real challenge in the human story. In John 10:10 Jesus said “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
In this week’s gospel, the rich man addresses Jesus as “Master”, clearly recognising Jesus’ authority. Jesus calls the man “friend”; demonstrating His inclusive, merciful and hospitable nature; despite what appears to be the man’s own self-interest and the lack of interest in Jesus’ transformative message.
We recall Jesus’ words in John’s gospel. “I have called you friends because everything I have learnt from My Father I have made known to you” (Jn 15:15). Jesus’ messages would have been made known to the man, but head knowledge often contrasts with the heart’s desire for other gods; blocking the penetrating depths of His teachings.
The gospel passage makes it clear that Jesus is more interested in the state of the rich man’s soul than any dispute or feelings of entitlement over money. He then cautions the crowd; and us as well. “Watch, and be on your guard against avarice of any kind, for a man’s life is not made secure by what he owns, even when he has more than he needs.”
We must each pause and ponder: how many times have I prayed and asked for financial miracles or other symbols of security, often neglecting to offer prayers of gratitude, since I already have more than enough to live and thrive? We must foster an alert mind and open heart and watch deep and wide, within ourselves, families, corporations and institutions.
Notice how often and extensively “my” is used by the rich man. “I have not enough room to store my crops…I will pull down my barns…and store all my grain and my goods and I will say to my soul. My soul…”
This possessive attitude toward possessions blocks the joy of relationship with God and others. Possessions do bring some satisfaction to existence, but as St Augustine rightly said, “God, you have made us for yourself, and our souls are restless till they find their rest in you.” This is a truism worth a lifetime of pondering.
Avarice gives rise to the “false self”, the ego in its unhealthy and destructive state. The true or authentic self, the soul, becomes an extension of the rich man’s possessions through avarice. “Take things easy, eat, drink, have a good time,” he says; believing that his soul is his possession and can be satisfied by temporal goods.
The barns can be metaphor for human bodies. The human being stores an amazing treasure, the Spirit of God within. The realisation of this truth at the level of being completes the search for security and happiness.
Life’s ambitions and accomplishments, though wonderful in their own right, eventually fail to create the abundant life as Jesus intended. In cooperating with the baptismal call to a deeper life and paradoxical death, we pray for the grace of detachment, so that we are guarded from material greed; and in our resurrection story begin to understand, at the level of soul, the significance of the abundant life and what real treasure is.
The parable of avarice can be pondered in another context. In a wealthy society consumed by banditry, greed, violence and corruption, how can the effective use of financial resources help to produce a more non-violent society and transform human lives?
St Augustine said of this parable, the rich man “did not realise that the bellies of the poor were much safer storerooms than his barns”.
May the ways in which we seek our security, our treatment of the dispossessed, destitute and migrant in our midst, enrich us in the sight of God; least we shudder when we hear the Father’s voice, “Fool! This very night the demand will be made for your soul; and this hoard of yours, whose will it be then?”
The Gospel reflections for August are by Jacqui-Theresa Leiba, a parishioner of St Patrick’s RC Church, Newtown, Port of Spain. She is a wife, mother, author, teacher and a member of the group of Spiritual Directors at Emmaus Centre, Arima.