There is a saying popular in this modern age: “He who dies with the most toys, wins!”
It is an apt description of a modern age that has forgotten itself. A materialistic mindset that reduces human existence to the sum total of possessions and the amount on the balance sheet at the bank.
But let’s look at the consequences of such a mindset, an attitude. First if it is true that our possessions define us and establish our true identity, then love for another is based solely on how that other can help me gain more stuff. Daily life only has meaning when I can look back and see that I was successful in obtaining more stuff. My relationships, my work, my waking and even my sleeping all serve only to help me amass more stuff.
Even to the casual observer, that attitude toward life has no choice but to be centered only on the self and all others are mere tools to be “used” in the truest sense of that word for my benefit. Yuck!
Pushed to its logical conclusion this attitude toward life leads to justifying exterminations of people, the accumulation of power for its own benefit, and the subjugation of others specifically for the advancement of my own self interests. Of course, no one in their right mind would subscribe to such a philosophy of life, at least no one would admit it!
No, this poison of a worldview is dressed as Satan always dresses: as an Angel of Light. The politicians couch this self-centered politics in language of benefit, appealing to our own desires for comfort over truth. “This is for the greater good” and “It’s for the children.” Language that spreads a thin veneer of sweetness over the bitter ugliness of the accumulation of power for the benefit of the powerful.
Of course, there is Another Way. But it is so counter-intuitive to most of modern life that the safest way to talk about it is to relegate it to “private religion.” This Way both condemns and offers hope to those gripped by the shallow poverty of spiritual blindness. However, one must be warned that history is filled with the stories of those who chose this Way and were hated by the vast society around them, with many of these brave souls paying for their belief in the Way with their very lives. Make no mistake, dear one, followers of this Way will not and cannot be tolerated by the sick system described above.
Look at our Gospel Lesson this morning. Jesus is confronted by a man who wishes our Lord to settle a family dispute over an inheritance. Isn’t it funny how money can make enemies of family members? Truly situations like this reveal the true hearts of those involved. Jesus doesn’t waste any time getting to the heart of the matter. Look at what He says: “Man, who made me a judge or divider over you?” And he said to them, “Take heed, and beware of all covetousness; for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Luke 12:14-15 (see the whole reading in Luke 12:13-15, 22-31)
“Man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Do you really believe that?
There is a story about two monks living in the desert who one day began a conversation. They noticed that men in the world argued over who possessed what. These monks had never argued over possessions, so they said to one another “We have never been in a dispute over who owns what among us. So that we might understand the men of the world, let us argue about something.” But they had nothing to speak of in their very austere monastic life. One of them found a brick and he set it between them. He said to his brother “Let us argue over who owns this brick.” And the other brother agreed. So, the next day the brothers sat across from one another and set the brick between them. One brother volunteered to begin. “This is my brick” he said to his brother. The other brother replied “Fine, it is your brick.” And with that they discovered they simply couldn’t understand disputes over who owns what.
The insidious attitude that leads to such spiritual poverty shows itself in a multitude of ways in our daily lives. Who got the best parking space, who is ahead in office politics, who has the power in a community; all these disputes and many others contain the central poison of a covetous spirit. Frankly, if we were truly honest with ourselves, we would see this spirit working in our hearts to varying degrees in many ways.
But how do we overcome this sickness in our lives and leave behind this spiritual poverty?
Our Lord gives His disciples the key insights into destroying the power of this spiritual illness (for that is what it truly is and it is a sickness that will kill your soul!) in their lives. He tells them that we have no power to add a minute to our lives. We have no power to save ourselves from mortality. He tells them that all of nature is provided for in the creation. He reveals to His disciples that the worrying about food and clothing and the poverty stricken idea that somehow I can ever be truly self sufficient are all seeds of covetousness and these fears and shallow desires all lead, ultimately, to the mindset described above. Seeking after these creature comforts reveal a misguided set of priorities!
Our Lord declares the key to freedom from this spiritual prison is found in a re-oriented set of priorities that makes the Kingdom of God the first priority in my life. He teaches His disciples that setting that priority in my life will so align my life with the life of God that all the other things I need in my life will be added to me. If I put the Kingdom of God first, if I give my best energies to knowing the Lord, if I use my time in such a way that it is clear to me and all around me that my spiritual health comes first in my life, if I use my possessions in such a way that I reveal they are not my master, if I spend my money in such a way that it is clear that my priority is not mere acquisition of stuff, then all my needs will find their proper place in the priorities of my life and I will be living on the same “wavelength” as Christ Himself lives.
Today, take a moment and take stock of your priorities. What masters your mood? What gives you joy and takes away your joy? Answering honestly these questions will properly diagnose whether you are being healed from our common human malady of covetousness.
Today, ask God to strengthen your faith in His care for you and release the anxiety over temporary things that blind you to eternal realities. Be free from the merely comfortable, and watch as your soul grows ever more able to trust in Him Who clothes the lilies of the field with such beauty and even feeds the birds of the air. How much more valuable are you that flowers and flocks? Do you really believe He loves you? When you dare to believe this amazing truth, your soul will be free to trust, rest, and grow.
You are such a treasure. How wonderful and beautiful you are! Such splendor should never be traded for mere existence. No wonder the loss of even one soul is such a cosmic tragedy. Escape such a fate for your soul by putting the Kingdom of God first in your life.