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GREEDINESS AND SALVATION

Read­ing Time: 8 minutes

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18th Sunday of the year [C] – July 31, 2016

(Ref. Text: Luke 12:13–21)

Wel­come to anoth­er week of grace! Wel­come espe­cially to the last day and last Sunday of the month of July. To have exper­i­enced this day is a sign of God’s grace. As we learnt last Sunday, God has also giv­en us today the grace to live this day.

In the past three Sundays, we have reflec­ted on Jesus’ teach­ing on the true sig­ni­fic­ance of neigh­bour and on how to be a good neigh­bour (cf. Luke 10:25–37). ii) The neces­sity of hos­pit­al­ity and the invit­a­tion to avoid dis­trac­tions so as to be able to make the right choices in life, espe­cially in terms of spir­itu­al life and etern­al life (cf. Luke 10:37–42). iii) And how to pray and the need for con­stancy in pray­er (cf. Luke 11:1–13). This Sunday’s Gos­pel read­ing is a warn­ing to beware of greed­i­ness in its vari­ous forms (cf. Luke 12:13–21). Although these teach­ings are meant for our spir­itu­al and mater­i­al well­being, they are espe­cially meant to bet­ter our inter and intra per­son­al rela­tion­ships. Unless our hori­zont­al rela­tion­ship is cor­rec­ted, our ver­tic­al rela­tion­ship may not be guar­an­teed (cf. 1John 4:20–21).

The Problem of Inheritance

The prob­lem of inher­it­ance is an age long prob­lem. Every gen­er­a­tion exper­i­ences it, though dif­fer­ently. Today in our vari­ous soci­et­ies, the issue of pat­ri­mony has become a source of dis­har­mony in many fam­il­ies, vil­lages, com­munit­ies, towns, States, Regions and Nations. It has giv­en rise to hatred and enmity among chil­dren of the same par­ents, people of the same cul­ture and who share com­mon belief, and in most cases, lives are equally lost. When we reflect on the plea of the man from the crowd who beckoned on Jesus to inter­vene between him and his broth­er in shar­ing their father’s pat­ri­mony (cf. Luke 12:13), the impres­sion is that they have been quar­rel­ling and can­not reach any agree­ment. But did Jesus actu­ally come to settle inher­it­ance issues? The dis­pute over inher­it­ance is wit­nessed mainly in the case of the death of the fath­er or the moth­er as the case may be. In some cases, argu­ments on inher­it­ance are giv­en pri­or­ity over the buri­al and mourn­ing of the deceased per­son. Some­times, this even takes place while the per­son is still alive and on sick bed. This is scan­dal­ous! In the Lukan lan­guage, those involved in this ignoble act are fools. That is, deprived of divine wisdom.

On his part, Jesus remained faith­ful to his mis­sion, avoid­ing every dis­trac­tion. The request to inter­vene in the shar­ing of inher­it­ance, which he know noth­ing about, is a ser­i­ous and cal­cu­lated attempt to dis­tract him from his mis­sion. Instead of reflect­ing on Jesus’ words and teach­ings con­cern­ing being a true, con­vinced and faith­ful dis­ciple, the man who made the request to him had his mind on anoth­er thing. While Jesus was teach­ing and show­ing people the way to sal­va­tion, this man was busy think­ing of mater­i­al things. As if this was not enough, he wanted Jesus to join him in his quest for eph­em­er­al­ity. This is ser­i­ous food for thought. Most often, our Churches are filled with people who occupy the sits with their bod­ies but whose minds and thoughts are else­where. This man was among those listen­ing to Jesus but he was there with anoth­er inten­tion. Yes, he saw Jesus as the solu­tion to his prob­lem. Unfor­tu­nately, he was unable to decipher that the issue of inher­it­ance was not among the prob­lems Jesus came to solve. There are those who can do that per­fectly. Moreover, the prob­lem of inher­it­ance per­sists because those involved lack the spir­itu­al qual­i­fic­a­tion to enable them handle it. Jesus’ mis­sion involved the pro­vi­sion of such spir­itu­al qual­i­fic­a­tion, which the man could not per­ceive because he was deeply distracted.

Beware of Pleonexia

To the dis­trac­tion of the man from the crowd and the attempt to devi­ate Jesus’ atten­tion, Jesus respon­ded with a ser­i­ous warn­ing and a touch­ing story. “Man, who made me a judge or arbit­rat­or between you and your broth­er?” With this inter­rog­a­tion, Jesus shunned the man and asked him to take his worldly prob­lem else­where. How­ever, it must be acknow­ledged that this man’s request even­tu­ally became use­ful. It offered Jesus the occa­sion to deliv­er a stun­ning teach­ing on the trans­it­or­i­ness of mater­i­al things. Hav­ing silenced the man, Jesus turned to the crowd and said to them “watch out and guard yourselves from all kinds of greed, for a person’s life does not con­sist in the abund­ance of his or her pos­ses­sions” (Luke 12:15). In report­ing this warn­ing, Luke uses the word ple­onex­ia. The Greek term ple­onex­ia means greed or greed­i­ness, cov­et­ous­ness, avid­ity, insa­ti­able­ness, avarice, excess, arrog­ance and want­ing more. These are the vices sum­mar­ized in this single term ple­onex­ia. And Jesus invites not only the man from the crowd, but all to avoid them due to their neg­at­ive con­sequences in a person’s life and spir­itu­al health.

The Foolishness of the Rich Man

To but­tress his obser­va­tion that the worth of a person’s life is not and should not be foun­ded on the abund­ance of mater­i­al pos­ses­sion, Jesus told a par­able, using the example of a farm­er whose farms pro­duced abund­ant goods, to the extent it war­ran­ted pulling down his old barn to con­struct a lar­ger one to store his many goods. We know the rest of the story. The les­son of the par­able and the sig­ni­fic­ance of the say­ing or warn­ing in Luke 12:15, con­sists in the farm­er being described as fool and in his sud­den death the same night he planned to erect a big­ger store­house. Unfor­tu­nately, he for­got to heed to James’ advice to add if God wills we will live and we will do this or that (cf. Jas 4:13–15). Regret­tably, we make the same mis­take because we rely and believe so much in our mere human capa­city. In Luke 12:21, Luke reminds the man from the crowd and every believ­er that what happened to the rich farm­er is the same fate that awaits those who use mater­i­al riches as the yard­stick for meas­ur­ing the worth and sig­ni­fic­ance of their lives. Who­ever accu­mu­lates riches for him­self or her­self and does not enrich him­self or her­self before God, is a fool and will cer­tainly lose his or her life, liv­ing his or her many riches to those who have not laboured for them (cf. Ps 39:6). What a dis­aster! What van­ity! This man’s case is a prac­tic­al mani­fest­a­tion of the empti­ness of mater­i­al wealth (cf. First Reading).

Both the man who implored Jesus to settle the inher­it­ance prob­lem between him and his broth­er and the rich man of the par­able showed signs of greed and fool­ish­ness. Their greed and fool­ish­ness con­sist in pre­fer­ring mater­i­al goods to heav­enly inher­it­ance. Jesus did not say it is fool­ish­ness to work for mater­i­al goods. Neither is it wrong to con­test for one’s right. On the con­trary, what is folly is liv­ing as if a person’s life con­sists only of mater­i­al wealth. The rich man was addressed as a fool and his life taken away because in his dic­tion­ary, oth­ers do not exist. As a mem­ber of the Lukan com­munity, he ought to have known that things are shared in com­mon (cf. Acts 2:44–45; 4:32–37; 5:1–11). He exhib­ited deep selfish­ness in a com­munity where things should be shared in common.

On his own side, the greed and fool­ish­ness of the man who wanted Jesus to inter­vene in the case between him and his broth­er con­sist in doing as if without that inher­it­ance his life would be mean­ing­less. Instead of listen­ing to the mes­sage of life, he was busy think­ing of how to share prop­erty. In line with the Lukan theo­logy, mater­i­al goods are to be shared by mem­bers of the com­munity. If this was the rule of the com­munity, why then did the man from the crowd and the rich man prefer keep­ing their mater­i­al goods only to them­selves, when oth­er mem­bers of the com­munity were dying of hun­ger? We must not pos­sess the entire uni­verse before we can share. It is also through shar­ing that a per­son becomes rich before God (cf. Luke 12:21). How­ever, it is not only mater­i­al goods that could be shared. There are oth­er things we can share. For instance, I can also share my time, my good and hon­est advice, tal­ent, pos­it­ive con­tri­bu­tions, patience, intel­li­gence, under­stand­ing, joy, hon­esty, care, pray­er, etc. No indi­vidu­al is so poor that he or she has noth­ing to share with oth­ers. Remem­ber, shar­ing is not char­ity. While many show char­ity, only few people can share. Learn to share what you pos­sess wheth­er mater­i­al or otherwise.

Our Greediness and Foolishness

If there is any time Jesus’ warn­ing to beware of greed­i­ness is mostly needed, it is today, now. It is very clear to all the greed and fool­ish­ness freely exhib­ited by almost all the politi­cians, reli­gious lead­ers, Uni­ver­sity lec­tur­ers, Primary and Sec­ond­ary school teach­ers, busi­ness men and women, work­ers, men, women and youths in Afric­an coun­tries, Europe, Amer­ica, Asia and oth­er parts of the world, and par­tic­u­larly Niger­ia? Greed has many off­spring among which are cor­rup­tion, cheat­ing, lying, decep­tion and injustice. And these give rise to oth­er evils. Greed is respons­ible for series of wars, deaths and civil unrests in vari­ous parts of the world today. The vari­ous gov­ern­ments of the world includ­ing Niger­ia do not care about the thou­sands of inno­cent people that are killed on daily basis by greedy assas­sins. Is it not the greed to dom­in­ate that leads to the killings of Chris­ti­ans in Niger­ia on the part of some Muslims? On April 24, 2016, unknown gun­men pop­ularly known as kid­nap­pers abduc­ted the Vicar Gen­er­al of the Cath­ol­ic Dio­cese of Otukpo (Niger­ia), Fr. John Adeyi. Two months after, the decom­pos­ing body of this priest was found at Otukpa in Ogbadibo Loc­al Gov­ern­ment Area of Benue State. This is the effect of the urge to make fast money and live big. Again, on July 26, 2016, an 84-year-old Cath­ol­ic priest was killed and four oth­er people taken host­age by two armed men who stormed the church in a sub­urb of Rouen in north­ern France. The two assas­sins, who said they were from the so-called Islam­ic State (IS), slit Fr. Jacques Hamel’s throat dur­ing a morn­ing Mass. This is sheer reck­less­ness. What about those inno­cent men, women, youths and chil­dren whose lives are abruptly ter­min­ated? All because of greed in its diver­si­fied forms. If greed is not the only reas­on behind child and human traf­fick­ing then, what is the reas­on? Greed makes most lead­ers espe­cially Afric­an lead­ers to want to remain in power at all cost, even after death. Due to greed to make money, acquire wealth and become fam­ous, people are will­ing to do any­thing. Why have we refused to listen to Jesus’ warn­ing in Luke 12:15?

We have instances of greed both in the State and in the Chris­ti­an Churches, Mosques, Syn­agogues, Temples and oth­er places of wor­ship. How many people are being deceived due to greed? Politi­cians and many Reli­gious lead­ers would want to make people believe they are work­ing for their well­being, when in real­ity, they are only pro­mot­ing their insens­it­iv­ity and unquench­able greed and fool­ish­ness. The quest for author­ity and power in the State and in the Churches are prac­tic­al mani­fest­a­tions of greed and fool­ish­ness. How many inno­cent people have been ruined, poisoned and even killed because of the quest for power espe­cially in the Churches? Is it not due to the greed for power that many reli­gious lead­ers get involved in all kind of evil, even to the extent of pois­on­ing and killing their col­leagues? The con­fu­sions in many Chris­ti­an Churches today are due to greed for power. This is shame­ful! Chris­ti­ans must listen to Jesus and get rid of ple­onex­ia. This is a con­crete way of show­ing one’s faith and love for God and for oth­ers. And until we do this, we shall only be wor­ship­ping God with our lips while our hearts remain not just far, but com­pletely detached from God (cf. Isa 29:13).

Beloved friend, dis­cov­er your own greed and fool­ish­ness and start work­ing on them. Remem­ber, greed and fool­ish­ness are enemies and we must fight them with every neces­sary weapon at our dis­pos­al. They are ser­ous obstacles to our well-being and sal­va­tion. There is no profit in a per­son gain­ing the entire world and los­ing his or her soul (cf. Mark 8:36). Learn to be rich towards God (cf. Luke 12:21). Have a nice week and enjoy the month of August. Wait­ing to meet­ing you again next week. Till then, take care of your­self and remain blessed. Sha­lom!

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