His first wrong priority was never seeing beyond himself, focused only on “I”. But “I” is the shortest word in our language, and requires just one stroke of the pen. Perhaps this is the best indication of its relative importance.
His second wrong priority was his inability or unwillingness to see beyond this world. A true materialist, he based his security entirely on his personal wealth, showing us again how little the world has really changed since Jesus’ time. For many today the driving force is to build better and bigger barns, to create increasingly more personal wealth.
Now wealth, in itself, isn’t bad. But when it’s misused, when it becomes an end in itself and not a means to help others, when it’s unjustly accumulated at others’ expense, when greed and envy become the guiding forces in its acquisition, then it becomes evil.
During my working years I encountered many like the man in the Gospel. So consumed by their desire for wealth or fame or power, they ignored or neglected the morality of their actions. So driven by greed, or so self-absorbed, they were indifferent to its disastrous effects on others.
So the Gospel message is nothing new. Greed and self-absorption will always be with us. Many people are still owned by their possessions; and yet, by spending their lives collecting riches, they prove only how poor they are. And for the truly greedy, no amount of wealth is sufficient, for no amount can bring true happiness. How sad for them. They devote their lives to adding zeroes to their net worth – so much work for nothing, just another zero!
Remember, though, Jesus preached this parable to people who were far from rich, so don’t assume you must be wealthy to be greedy. Greed and meanness, and the self-absorption that breeds them, cut across all income levels. The only real difference between a greedy rich man and a greedy poor man is that the former has managed to convert his greed into wealth.
But both behave as if they will live forever. Did you notice that it’s through the rich man’s encounter with death that his true poverty is exposed? All that wealth is suddenly eclipsed by the person he became during the process of living. Yes, this man the world sees as so successful is an eternal failure in the deepest sense because he tries to live without God’s sustaining power.
So the parable is really a story of a person who spends life with little or no reference to God. Jesus warns us against going it alone, trying to hold our future in our own hands, of wasting our time, of reveling in our possessions and life’s comforts.
We need humility and courage to trust that the Good Shepherd will continue to lead us and guide our lives along paths we cannot wholly anticipate, let alone understand. Self-sufficiency, so highly touted today, is one of the great myths of our time. For just as with God, nothing is impossible [Mt 19:26; Lk 1:37], so too without Him, nothing lasting is possible.
Brothers and sisters, we are a spiritual people; for that is how God created us – in His image and likeness – so there’s a hunger in our hearts for more than bread, more than possessions. We hunger for the transcendent. We hunger for God – a hunger He will satisfy, if only we let Him. The only truly satisfying nourishment – God’s Word poured into our hearts – comes to us from the One Who is pure spirit – the holy mystery at the heart of our universe.
Instead of grasping after the world's riches, which all pass away, seek what God offers. As St. Paul reminds us in our first reading:
Let’s pray today that we open our hearts to the riches God offers us, that we strive always to know God’s will for us, and that we use well the gifts He has given us, especially the gift of life itself."God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us...brought us to life with Christ" [Eph 2:4-5].