Summary: Greed is every bit as much -- maybe more -- a poor man’s vice as it is a rich man’s folly.
Fifthteenth Sunday in Trinity:
"Is Greed a Poor Man’s Vice?"
The lessons appointed for today have three things in common. First of all, both contain teaching from men who were named Jesus. Jesus ben Sirach composed the passage from the apocryphal book Ecclesiasticus in the first lesson, and Jesus ben Joseph delivered the teaching contained in Luke’s gospel. The second thing these lessons have in common is the idea of greed or covetousness. The third thing these passage have in common relates to those of gathered here today: the subject of greed does not seem particularly applicable to me, or to any of the rest of us here today, especially the words of Jesus from Luke’s gospel.
Jesus specifically warns against covetousness, against greed, against the idea that our life consists in the abundance of things which we possess. So also, Jesus ben Sirach warns us in the opening words of this reading, “Set not your heart upon your possessions.”
The problem in contemplating teaching like this — especially the passage from Luke’s gospel -- is easy to spot – what does it have to do with me? I don’t even HAVE any barns, and if I DID have any, I wouldn’t have anything to PUT in them.
Because we are a small group here today, because we all know one another well, we all know that all of us here today are NOT the kind of people with bulging barns and piles of goods lying around until we build more barns to put them in. If there were some wealthy, prosperous, barn-owning folks in our parish, the message I would bring you would be somewhat different than what you’re about to hear; and if I were the priest of a parish of people like Bill Gates and Michael Forbes and Warren Buffet or the heads of Fortune 500 companies – well, the message from these readings would probably reflect that audience.
But, here we are – just us ORDINARY folks, at the time of our lives when the financial pressures are very real, the financial needs are more or less constant, the financial future is at best blank, and at worst it’s pretty gloomy. It’s a simple thing, and an understandable mistake, to suppose that Jesus’ teaching here is only for those people with big barns and the need to build more of them. Certainly his words apply to those kind of people; but they also apply to YOU AND ME, we who have no barns, and nothing to put in them at the end of a pay period.
To see Jesus’ point more clearly, it is important to notice first of all what Jesus does not say.
First of all, Jesus does not say that it was evil for the rich man to be rich. He does not say that the rich man was wrong to acquire the abundance of goods. Indeed, Jesus puts into God’s mouth the admission that the man’s own industry had a hand in producing the goods. He’s a farmer, and farmers do not just sit around doing nothing while the land produces an abundance of fruit. It must be cultivated. Work goes into the production of agricultural produce. And so God candidly acknowledges “those things which thou has provided,” at the end of the parable.