In other words, I don’t think any of us saw Monopoly as a metaphor and recipe for life, but I do think that we saw in that game a lesson to be prudent in our savings and that it was necessary to make strategic purchases. This was stuff we learned from our parents anyway, so the game became a sort of reinforcement of the good parenting we received. To my knowledge, none of us aspired to be wealthy or acquire possessions beyond our ability to use them properly. So, aside from owning Boardwalk and Park Place every now and again, and aside from saving a bit of our earnings for the security of our families, not to mention retirement, none of us ever got too focused on wealth, but that probably had more to do with a mindset that was never really geared to that anyway. Besides, none of us ever made enough to suggest that amassing great wealth could be a possibility.
Still, that doesn’t mean that my brothers and sisters and I didn’t think about that kind of thing, and in my case, there was a period of time where I actually read some books about building wealth. This went on for a couple of years when I was much younger, and it came to an end when the realities of family life began to force those notions out of my thinking.
Today’s gospel reading is Jesus’ teaching on what you might call counterfeit wealth versus real wealth. We hear about the rich fool who laid up earthly wealth and treasure in a completely selfish way. It was all for him, and he celebrated his wealth by eating and drinking and being merry. Now, don’t get me wrong, those are not bad things in themselves, especially in moderation, and Jesus himself was known for engaging in them from time to time. He was even accused by some as being a drunkard – which he wasn’t, but you understand the point. But the wealth and the extravagant living, that’s what we’d call the counterfeit wealth – in other words, lots in the bank, solely for me, and a life of leisure and privilege, again focused solely on myself. And, whether we’re seriously wealthy or not, I think most of us have flirted with the idea and desire at times of having that kind of advantage. I know I have.
But Jesus tells us today that the real kind of wealth that we should set our sights on is not that artificial wealth. Instead, what we should be focused on is what matters to God, and in light of that he says that there is a kind of wealth that we can build and accumulate that is pleasing to God and will enable rewards that far surpass what amounts to a fleeting and temporary wealth that is possible on this earth. And so, for Jesus there is the kind of wealth that you can’t take with you when you die, and then there is the kind of wealth that you can take with you. He’s telling us that we should build that up, he encourages it, and he promotes it today.
The real wealth, true wealth, is spiritual wealth, and that consists of being rich in the things of God. Earthly life is good, be we aren’t meant to live forever here, and for that reason alone our life here is not what we should be centered on to the exclusion of where we will be living once our early lives are over.
Our first reading reinforces that when it says that all things are vanity. Vanity here doesn’t mean the pride I take in how I appear to myself and others, although it can be a part of it. It means that the things of this world, including my pride, are fleeting, temporary, and will eventually pass. These things aren’t permanent.
Our psalm, too, recognizes the same thing. It says that a wise person knows that life is short and what we possess today will be gone tomorrow. And yet the fool of our gospel thinks that all his stuff means that he has somehow secured happiness for himself. He forgot that basic truth that, in the long run, life is short. He’d have been better off with one additional consideration: that in some way God had blessed him so that he could in turn bless others. Had he considered that it could have led him to new priorities and a place for better things in his life.
Our lives and our possessions do not belong to us, they are not our own. They belong to God, and we are merely stewards for the time that God has given us to be here. Yet, it’s true, we have a tendency to rebel against this because we want to be in charge of our lives and our things. And so it’s likely that most of us have attachments to something or some things that may be keeping us from a more complete attachment to God.
Now, I should add that I’m not talking just about churchy things – piety and all that – when it comes to things of God. Yes, they’re very important and I would never want to discourage those things. But, there’s an unglamorous side to the things of God that we should not forget – the things you do as parents for your kids, or taking care of an ailing relative or friend. It might be even feeble efforts to help the homeless or those who are discriminated against.
It could be very useful to do a sort of inventory, an assessment, of where you are right now. So, here’s a couple of questions you might ask yourself over the next few days.
1) Who and what is most important in my life? Is it money, status, possessions, or esteem? Or is it people I love, and people in need?
2) Do I work to make a difference in the world by my love, care, and generosity, and do I share the gifts that God has given me?
These questions can help reorient ourselves. Give them a try and see where you might find some area in which you might seek some improvement. I think we all can find some aspect of our lives that could use a little boost toward the things of God.