Jesus challenged the thinking of everyone who would listen to him. And he continues to challenge the thinking of everyone who listens to him! In the gospel selection read today from Luke, he said, "Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for oneís life does not consist in the abundance of possessions."
He challenges us with two fundamental ideas here.
First, he warns us about "all kinds of greed." Perhaps our application of greed has been less than it could be, less than it should be! Paul understood greed as an expression of idolatry.
Idolatry? Yes. The obvious manifestations of selfishness and hoarding come to mind. We are normally quick to recognize them, and to avoid them. But idolatry looks behind the familiar application in search of a deeper meaning.
Second, he cautions us that "life does not consist in the abundance of possessions."
These words challenge the community, and especially they challenge the religiously-minded among us. Never satisfied, we always want more. This is easily understood in the accumulation of trophies of this materialistic age. But it is more far-reaching than that. We can easily pervert the blessing of God by seeing his abundance and grace as an end in themselves, well deserved by us. Such greed is idolatrous. That we should be cautioned about the material abundance we cherish is equally challenging for things religious.
Many believe that Godís blessing and approval is expressed and confirmed in and through the abundant life we experience in North American society. But there is a wrong-mindedness to this sort of thinking. Thinking like this would soon have us building new barns to store all our grain and our goods. Weíd then be likely to say to ourselves, ĎSoul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.í
How are we to be rich towards God? What prevents us from looking beyond our accomplishments and blessings and seeing God? Where is our heartís desire?
We are blessed, and others are less deserving of blessing? Is Godís blessing seen as a reward, or even our wage well-earned for the goodness that we do? Such self-centered thinking places us perilously as the focus of our attention and marginalizes God. And along with God, marginalizes those whom God intends to bless through his blessing of us as well. Selfish greed is a serious caution here, for our soulís health! Jesus doesnít accept me to the exclusion of others; Jesus doesnít love me to the exclusion of others; forgiveness isnít mine, selfishly kept from others. Our displacement of God in Christ, and those in need of his acceptance, his love, his forbearance and forgiveness sets up for us a new idol, distinctly made in our own image.
Copyright © James T. Irvine