Don’t wear yourself out trying to get rich;
Riches disappear in the blink of an eye;
wealth sprouts wings
and flies off into the wild blue yonder
Proverbs 23:4-5 (The Message)
And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear 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, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
Luke 12:15-21 (English Standard Version)
If you look at contemporary American society, you see a society that’s obsessed about wealth. We parade our wealthy (or the “1%”) in the media as icons for the other 99% to adore and hope to be like. We have numerous game shows offering cash prizes. Casinos open up all over the place offering the chance of instant wealth. We’re bombarded with ads telling us to trust some financial advisers with our hard earned money so we can have more money to do what we want with some day. Even the American church has spawned a “prosperity gospel”-a nasty hybrid of cherry-picked Scripture texts and good ol’ Capitalism.
We’re a sorry lot. We diss the poor in favor of the rich. We continually vote in politicians that are more in bed with plutocrats than on the street with We The People. We work harder and harder to have more, yet enjoy what we do have less and less. We have pastors and “prosperity preachers” in the media telling us that God wants us to be “rich”, that “Jesus was rich”, and that poverty (or being part of the working class) is a sign of God’s “disfavor”. We’ve seen people get ahead and gain great wealth, yet sacrifice relationships, their souls, and even their integrity. We watch reality shows about wealthy (and clueless) celebrities and their “troubles”; and shows about people house-hunting in exclusive neighborhoods most folk can’t afford to walk in, let alone live in. Every day, we have poor youth joining drug gangs to make money quick rather than take a lower paying, yet honest job.
And, despite the continuing financial nightmare since 2008, we still have this notion that we can “have it all.” If we work harder, think better, hang around the right folk, or take that course you see advertised on late night TV, we too can become rich. It’s a hamster wheel from Hell we run on every day…
But what does God really say about this van pursuit-the pursuit of wealth? Doesn’t God want us to be rich? No. God would rather that we’d be content with what He/She blesses us with. Even though the Bible is full of stories about wealthy folk, most of them are just that-stories; and even those folk couldn’t buy their way out of problems.
In the first Scripture text from Proverbs we’re warned that we should not kill ourselves to get wealthy, but use our heads as not to fall into such a trap. The writer warns that as soon as we even look at wealth, it disappears! Don’t believe me? Ask those who lost it all during the Great Depression, or during the later “dot-com” crash. Look at multimillionaire athletes who get waylaid by one injury and can’t play anymore. Or the celebrity who lives too much over his/her head and winds up broke.
The second Scripture text from Luke really should make us think; especially the “I maxed out my 401-K” crowd. We can become so seduced by the attainment and increasing of wealth, that we would dare forget about God. I’m going to give it to you in modern terms:
Let’s say a man has a stock that suddenly takes off, I mean blows up bigger than Sony or Coca Cola. This man decides to diversify, to make his money “work” for him so he can have even more wealth: maxes his 401Ks, flips properties in hot neighborhoods, etc. As this man’s financial portfolio turns into a gallery, he says to himself, “Soul, you can kick back, chill, and live large for a long time!” Then God appears and says (pretty much), “You asshole! Tonight your ass is checking out of here! Who’s going to have your dough now?”
This parable is called “The Parable of the Rich Fool.” You see, the fool never took time to invest in spiritual things with eternal payoffs. Instead he invested in transient wealth he never got to enjoy. Jesus sternly warns us against this covetousness towards wealth; for what we have does not make us who we are. We pursuit vainly for wealth, only to end up losing more than we bargained for.
God calls us to pursue the spiritual things. These have value that aren’t impacted by market fluctuations; and we don’t have to kill ourselves-physically and spiritually-to attain them. Plus, when we seek these things we grow closer to God and to each other. Unlike the rich fool who cared only about himself, we can learn to care for each other. As an added bonus, we’ll learn to be truly content in our lives (ref. Proverbs 30:7-9; 1 Timothy 6:6-7). Then we can be children of God and learn to truly live the lives He/She called us to.
As we continue towards the end of our Lenten journey, let’s step back from the blind and vain pursuit of wealth and meditate on the above Scriptures. Let us learn to pursue the heavenly things-now and always.
Grace and Peace.