“Take care to guard against all greed,
for though one may be rich,
one’s life does not consist of possessions.”
This is one of the “tough” Gospels that gets the congregation squirming a little bit in their pews, but I don’t think it should be that way. What I see when I read this Gospel is an honest reflection of human nature, still entirely overshadowed by the mercy and protection of God.
But first, I want to tell a story about a timely comment that someone made to me. Yesterday, I went to work at the hospice, but my coordinator was out sick unexpectedly, so I had no clerical work to do and no list of things to get done. When this happens, I have gotten in the habit of visiting one of my favorite patients. Although he is only a bit older than my father, he is terminally ill, and by doctor’s predictions, he should have passed away a few months ago. However, he is astoundingly almost always in good spirits. He is one of those people that just shines—that kind of person that remembers everyone’s name, goes out of his way to make others feel welcomed, and always smiles no matter what is going on. I remember one time (this is a tangent but a necessary one) he was having a rough day pain-wise, but as I was leaving his room, he got up out of bed and came down the hall to ask me if I wanted to bring home some extra iced tea that his son had brought him. Yes—he is just that kind of person. I think we all know one.
But back to the story—yesterday, I was in his room and he was in more pain than I had ever seen him in before. He was trying to be in good spirits, but looked to be tired and would drift in and out of sleep. He told me about how the night before a family member had taken him to a movie, but he had fallen asleep. Sixty dollars in tickets and food—he lamented—wasted. But yet, he smiled. He said something that I didn’t really understand, but I feel like it applies here, roughly: “Those things don’t matter to me anymore… I have already said goodbye to those things, and I am ready for them to pass away.”
“One’s life does not consist of possessions.” In the dying people that I have gotten to know, one thing has stood out to me: there is a very distinct divide in their minds between what still matters and what no longer matters. Possessions, wealth, or nice nights out nearly always fall on the side of what doesn’t matter.Being comfortable, materially or physically, falls by the wayside. Physical appearance doesn’t matter. The only things that still matter are the things that would have mattered to Jesus Christ: family, community, faith, spending quality time with others, etc. The superficial passes away.
“You have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!” We like to think we are immortal. As a teenager, I am tempted by that thought all the time. I may as well stay out really late and skip out on that family dinner, right? My family will still be there some time down the road when I need them, right? The temptation is to push all the important things to “later” and “store up” superficial things for now. As a teenager, self-image, popularity, and academic things can quickly become “stored up” while the family is left sitting at home for a later date when it’s time to settle down and start caring.
“You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?”We live under the assumption that we will have time in our life to turn away from the superficial and begin to value things. There will always be tomorrow, right? I remember when I used to fight with my older sister (usually over who got to wear the cutest thing in the closet), my mom would always tell me,“someday you will realize how important sisters are.” She turned out to be absolutely right. But why do we live under the assumption that that ‘someday’ will come? Why can’t we just begin to live for what is truly valuable today? Why don’t we stop counting our worth in possessions and other fleeting things?
Maybe it is because we don’t trust that God can provide for us. Maybe we are afraid that the things of true value are “messy.”Maybe we think we have to do it all for ourselves. But remember, as the first reading today says, “… by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast.” Sometimes we forget that God is great at giving gifts. Clearly he must be, if he gives us our salvation. Let’s pray that we can begin to trust Him more, and put aside things that don’t matter for those that truly do.
This all reminds me of a very catchy song. Please excuse the late-nineties vibe the music video may give you, but I deemed that the message was greater than the negative hairstyle memories it may bring back. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C_whi9GmAO8