“Be rich in what matters to God” (Luke 12:21).
18e Ordinary Time Sunday
Ecc 1:2; 2:21-23; PS 90; Col 3:1-5, 9-11; Luke 12:13-21
The late historian and philosopher Tony Judt, in his 2010 book, The earth is bad, lamented the dismantling of social democracy in Europe and the United States as one of the causes of the global economic collapse of 2008. The long-standing emphasis on economic models that protected social well-being and the common good in the post-war period had given way to unregulated capitalism, the monetization of wealth controlled by banks, traders and fund managers. Ethical restrictions and government regulations have been lifted to allow maximum profits for corporations and investors in a globalized and computerized system blind to its impact on the general good and on the environment.
Pope Francis’ criticism of the state resulting from income disparity, exploitation of cheap labor and the environment has raised howls from those who still support deregulated capitalism like the best possible system for generating wealth, creating jobs and rewarding innovation in competitive markets. Debates have continued in the current political crises around the world between different visions of how the human community can achieve a balance between ethical rules and practical realism.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus refuses to arbitrate between two brothers over their inheritance, but he does not hesitate to criticize anyone who puts material wealth first. The wealthy farmer who measures his success by the size of his barns is portrayed as a fool for not devoting the same attention to building real wealth in his spiritual and social investments. His preoccupation with wealth deprived him of cultivating the other values that show us how to use our gifts and benefits for the benefit of others. Pride in his own supposed accomplishments replaced humility and gratitude for the blessings of birth and privilege, the role of workers and others in enabling him to succeed.
The self-satisfied farmer goes to bed that night dreaming of the life of luxury, pleasure and ease he can now enjoy, not realizing that death is about to claim him, and he will stand before God unprepared to give an account not of what he has earned for himself but what he has shared with others. He will face a judgment filled with himself rather than concern for the needy and a passion for justice.
The choice we face today is not between wealth and virtue, but between wisdom and myopia. Jesus does not arbitrate between different economic systems, but he specifies the values that create a sustainable world and promote community as the true fulfillment of each individual. If we ignore this, we will create a world destined to fail the poor but also the rich and everyone in between.
Be rich in mercy and compassion, wise in creating just structures, equality of opportunity and care for the weak. Then we will rise together as children of God, heirs to life here and in the world to come.