The unknown wag first said it, likely hoping to appeal to a wide audience. This is what he said: “Money isn’t everything but it’s way ahead of whatever is in second place.”
You can certainly smile at that, and I suppose many of us feel that way at certain times, especially when we face a pile of bills just after learning about the latest “Power Ball” winner.
Today we meet up again with our old friend Qoheleth, whose name means something like “wisdom gatherer.” He wrote about a century and a half before Christ, and he gave us his famous commentary on life: “Vanity of vanities, all things are vanity.” Not very uplifting when you sum up all the good things in your life.
Clearly, that anonymous cynic I just quoted accurately describes the popular wisdom in our culture on the subject of money. But just as clearly does Qoheleth give us another way to look at earthly wealth. St. Paul in his letter joins in with his warning that “greed is idolatry.”
And oh! Does Jesus not run right into one of the most contentious times in family life concerning money: the reading of the deceased member’s will and the whole matter of who gets what. Over the years I have listened to the woes in many families that have split apart over somebody’s will.
As so often happens in the gospels, Jesus weighs in on an issue with one of His inimitable parables that shows Him living up to His acquired title of “the Master.” This story involves a rich man thinking of building bigger storage barns. That notion fits right in with the current decision lots of people make these days to rent a storage unit. I read an article earlier this summer about how to meet this craze in an urban setting minus the acres available for such in the suburbs and rural areas. The solution: build upward! So now we have huge multi-story buildings, with now windows looking like giant boxes going up in Philadelphia and other cities just for storage. The late comedian George Carlin would insist on building these things because people need places to “store their “stuff.” What does God say to the rich man in the story? “You fool!”
So where does all this leave you and me on this summer Sunday? I would guess somewhere in that elusive middle where they tell us “virtue lies.” We know our basic needs. We just have to resist this stubborn desire for more “stuff.” Be grateful for what we already have and cut down on what more we want. Resist the clever sales person whose goal has nothing to do with your spirituality. In all fairness, the seller is not the problem here.
There’s a consequence to our consumer mindset that you might not experience. That is never to think of our death. I’ve been told that some of us avert our eyes when we see a hearse on the street because it jars our reverie. I’ll never forget the imagery of a typical Saturday shopping scene with a Costco in the background as other drivers were forced to stop and let a funeral procession pass with the hearse as the first car in line. Worthy of a photo to accompany this Gospel. We know what the Lord says, but we’d rather not think about it. That hearse you might call a “cautionary Cadillac!”
Remembering that our loving God really does have our best interests at heart. Much like the good parent who just has to say “No!” to his/her child once in a while to make him accommodate to real life. In the Bible, God often has to shock us into reality, as He does here, to announce boldly that “one’s life does not consist of possessions.”
Jesus should know this first of all because He said “I am the Life,” and secondly because all He ever owned were the clothes on His back. And Roman soldiers stripped Him of those while He was dying on the cross above them.
So we have to keep on trying for a sense of balance on this matter of how much “stuff” we really need. To stay balanced, may I suggest that we also keep on laughing at ourselves for getting it wrong. For instance, look how funny it is that a dollar can look so big when you take it to church but so small when you take it to the supermarket.