Friday Focus: The Poverty of Riches
Then the manager said to himself, 'What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.' So, summoning his master's debtors one by one, he asked the first, 'How much do you owe my master?' He answered, 'A hundred jugs of olive oil.' He said to him, 'Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.' Then he asked another, 'And how much do you owe?' He replied, 'A hundred containers of wheat.' He said to him, 'Take your bill and make it eighty.'
And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.
And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes. Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth." - Luke 16:1-13
“You can’t take it with you.” Is another old saw that this gospel evokes. The rich man’s bounty does him no good in eternity. He lives for comfort and pleasure in this life. He callously ignores the poor suffering at his door. And because our merciful God is also a just God, in the netherworld the rich man is in torment. In a dramatic metaphor, Jesus pictures the patriarch Abraham refusing even a drop of water to ease the rich man’s suffering. The lesson: an earthly life without love buys and eternity without love. It is the ultimate poverty of riches. And it is obviously a very, very bad bargain.
In conclusion to his cautionary parable, Jesus goes on to have Abraham foretell his death and Resurrection. As he does so often, Jesus addresses his remarks, not only to his immediate listeners, but to unborn generations: If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.
Are you persuaded yet? What will it take to help you put worldly wealth and eternal salvation into their proper perspective? The currency of this life is not dollars or euros, it is time. How much time do we spend chasing, growing and protecting wealth that will be worthless to us long before our body resumes room temperature? As Jesus tells us: Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Mat 6:20-21)
Where your heart is, your time will be. Whether on the fast track or in the rat race; whether day trading or career building, whether networking or grinding it out, whether planning or pitching… so many of us spend our lives not just making a livelihood, but relentlessly, mercilessly chasing the brass ring… the key to the big break, beyond which lies the prestige, the title, the big bucks. But at what price? Jesus does not demand that we take a vow of poverty. But he does demand that we love God with our whole heart and our neighbor as ourselves. And that takes time.
Can we have it all? Can we prosper both in this world and in the next? Yes, we can. But it’s not easy. You can’t fake it or phone it in. Start by giving every day to God. Dedicate your work, your commute, your frustrations, your achievements all in his service. Work hard. Pray hard. Stay close to Jesus. Actively look for opportunities to witness his love, especially to those who need it most. End the day giving thanks to God for another day of love in the bank and another day closer to him.
Love of God and neighbor are the only riches that ever really count. And we get them all for free. They were bought for us by the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. There is no poverty in these riches. They are a priceless gift of grace that keeps giving and giving. And here’s the best part; the more we spend these riches, the more we have… ours for the asking, ours for eternity.