Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me
Our selection today does not identify which of the brothers in the dispute brought to Jesus is greedy. It does imply that at least one of them is. As a teacher (rabbi) Jesus is being asked to state, or interpret, the laws of inheritance, as given in scripture. Rather than rule on the question, Jesus takes the opportunity to teach the crowd.
This is not, literally, a teaching against having wealth. At the time of Jesus, wealth was still a sign of God’s favor. The teaching is against greed our substituting wealth for “being rich in what matters to God.” The question, then, is, what matters to God and how do we become rich in such things? Other stories in Scripture, concerning, wealth, might shed some light on this question.
There is the story of the poor widow placing a few small coins in the temple treasury (Mk 12:41-44) while many rich people put in large sums. Jesus points out that the widow gave more than the rich because she gave from her need. He doesn’t condemn rich people here but he does seem to be commending the widow. Is she an example of the things which matter to God?
There is also the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Lk 16:19-31). Remember, Lazarus used to sit and beg outside the rich man’s gate and the rich man ignored him, until they both died. Lazarus was “in the bosom of Abraham” while the rich man was in a place of torment begging for relief. Is the Lord saying that taking care of the needy, from our position of wealth, is something that matters to Him?
Even if we don’t have a lot of wealth, it seems that the Lord wants us to take care of the needy. Remember the story of the Judgement of the Nations when the people were separated to His right and left like sheep and goats (Mt 25:31-46). Remember what happened to the people who didn’t take care of the needs of others? There is no mention of wealth or poverty here… only the mention of need and the choice to help or not to help. Of course, wealth helps, but it is not the issue. What matters to God is, evidently, that we see the needs of others and that we respond.
Paul is pretty explicit as he instructs Timothy on what to say: “Tell the rich in the present age not to be proud and not to rely on so uncertain a thing as wealth but rather on God, who richly provides us with all things for our enjoyment. Tell them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, ready to share, thus accumulating as treasure a good foundation for the future, so as to win the life that is true life.” (1 Tim 6”17-19) He seems to be commenting directly on our Gospel selection for this weekend.
Another reflection might be on the question of what does it mean to be wealthy. Some, in the U.S., who struggle to make ends meet, day-by-day, may seem wealthy to people from developing countries. Others, who may seem wealthy to a lot of us in the U.S., may be struggling to carry out their perceived responsibilities like providing for a good education for their children or helping their children buy a house and start a family in a time and place where these things are so expensive. Others may be struggling to maintain the wealth of their families for future generations. Notice the word “struggle” in each of those scenarios. What do these things mean as we hear the words of Mt 25:31-46? Will we be sheep or goats? Will we store up the treasures important to God?
“But God said to him, ‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’ Thus will it be for the one who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God.” Lk 12:20-21
What words or phrases grabbed your attention during the Liturgy of the Word on Sunday? What connection do those words or phrases have to your day-to-day life? (Why do you think they grabbed your attention?) What might God be trying to say to you through these words or phrases? What response should you make? What action should you take?
Share about/Reflect upon the treasures you store up. Are they things which matter to God? What things, in your life, do you think matter to God? How can you increase, or add to your life, the things that matter to God?