The gospel story is a familiar one which happens in many funerals. (As a wisecrack has it, “Where there’s a will, there are relatives.”) A man asks Jesus to arbitrate between him and his brother regarding their inheritance. The Lord refuses to get entangled in the family squabble. Instead, he takes the occasion to teach the valuable lesson on how to deal with the goods of this world.
He tells his listeners, “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.” Jesus does not condemn riches per se. The goods of this world are literally “goods.” They are God’s creation, meant to make man’s life happy and worthy of his dignity as bearer of the divine image.
What Jesus is telling us is that we are to avoid greed. This means that while we are grateful for and make use of God’s gift of created goods, we are to be detached from them. The original Greek word used is pleonexia, which literally means “the desire to have more and more” and which captures accurately the idea of Jesus’ warning. Jesus maintains that the obsessive and insatiable desire to accumulate wealth is futile. The parable of the rich man in the gospel poignantly illustrates the point. After filling his new barn with his superabundant harvest, the farmer looks forward to enjoying a good life in the years ahead, only to die that night.
“Vanity of vanities,” Qoheleth (first reading) says of earthy goods. The word vain is used here in its etymological sense which denotes “wind” or “vapor.” Like the wind, earthly goods, whether possession or achievement, pass away. They come and go. Here today and gone tomorrow, all things in this world are transient. And because they do not last, they cannot constitute the ultimate happiness of man.
Qoheleth asserts that laboring for wealth is not only vain and futile. It also results in sorrow grief and anxiety. Just think how many of the rich and famous are among the most miserable and unhappy people on earth!
The Book of Qoheleth (or Ecclesiastes) presents a rather bleak, if not pessimistic, view of life. As it raises many questions about life and its ultimate meaning, it does not provide a final answer.
But there is an answer and it comes from Jesus in today’s gospel. “Though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.” True happiness comes from being “rich in the sight of God.” How do we become rich in the sight of God?
St. Paul in his letter to the Colossians (second reading) tells us how: “Seek what is above, where Christ is.” In Christ alone shall we find the true treasure that we seek. It is his values that give true worth to our quest: values that run counter to those of the world, such as love, generosity, compassion, concern for others, especially the poor.
Because of greed, the rich man could not see anything or anyone beyond himself. “What shall I do?… I will tear down my barn and build larger ones… I shall store my grain… I shall say to myself… rest, eat drink, be merry.” It is all about himself. Neither God nor his neighbor has a place in his life.
Don Bosco built several schools, orphanages, oratories, churches and basilicas during his life. Enormous amount of money passed through his hands from countless benefactors who helped in his works for the poor. Yet he lived a simple life. As he was born poor, so did he die – poor. This is a man who is truly “rich in the eyes of God.”