Take care to guard against all greed, says Jesus in Luke 12:13-21. But what is greed?
Someone in the crowd said to Jesus,
“Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.”
He replied to him,
“Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?”
Then he said to the crowd,
“Take care to guard against all greed,
for though one may be rich,
one’s life does not consist of possessions.”
Then he told them a parable.
“There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest.
He asked himself, ‘What shall I do,
for I do not have space to store my harvest?’
And he said, ‘This is what I shall do:
I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones.
There I shall store all my grain and other goods
and I shall say to myself, “Now as for you,
you have so many good things stored up for many years,
rest, eat, drink, be merry!”’
But God said to him,
‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you;
and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’
Thus will it be for the one who stores up treasure for himself
but is not rich in what matters to God.”
You would think it would be just for the man to ask that his brother share the inheritance with him. Probably it was. But that wasn’t the issue. The issue was caring about treasure at all. Greed in any form. “Take care to guard against all greed,” Jesus teaches. “Though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.” The attachment to possessions, to material things, is greed.
Then Jesus teaches through the parable of the rich man with the bountiful harvest. The harvest is so good, he is thinking of tearing down his existing barns and building bigger ones. He will have so much at hand he can spend his time making merry instead of being productive. But Jesus cautions through the voice of God that the man’s life is forfeit and all those possessions will no longer be his: The one who stores up treasure for himself is not rich in what matters to God. A brief summation of Jesus’ story.
A lot of emphasis in our modern day culture is put on building wealth, living lavishly, garnering possessions. There has been a movement lately on simple living, even buying tiny houses, but even that emphasizes ownership. Any of it benefits you now, but how does it benefit you when you will stand before God?
Riches, possessions, and power are earthly matters. But they don’t matter to God. God is the almighty. He is unimpressed by any of it. And quite frankly, when you stand before God you will stand alone without a sign of your wealth or your possessions. Everything you have on earth remains on earth. And all you will have before you when you face God will be your soul and what it treasured on earth.
How will you account for your life before God? “I ate steak and lobster every night” or “I fed the hungry”? “I built a 21-room mansion” or “I housed the homeless”? “I had a closet full of shoes” or “I clothed the poor”? “I didn’t worry about health insurance, I could afford my own health care” or “I took care of the sick”? “I vacationed a month in Tuscany” or “I helped with the recovery in Haiti”?
Can you have both? God grants us wealth to share. I don’t believe He ever said that wealth was bad. It is greed that Jesus says to avoid. It’s that attachment to wealth, possessions, that Jesus cautions us against. For, as Jesus tells us in another passage of the Gospels, it is harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of Heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle.
So, you can have wealth and take care of the poor. You can have possessions and share them with the needy. You can live well and make provision that others live well, too. You can be dedicated to others whom Jesus would call the least among us. Greed is seeking possessions and keeping them to yourself. And Jesus says, take care to guard against them for they are not what matters to God.