Poverty to riches

Luke 16: 19-31

“Them that has, gets.” So the old expression goes… but what exactly do they get? And what does it cost them to get it? In this week’s gospel Jesus addresses the price of worldly wealth, its value, and the ultimate unintended consequences of riches. The “poor little rich girl” was a familiar figure in 19th Century popular literature. She had inherited everything but happiness. Her male counterpart was “Scrooge” whose name entered the language as the picture of grasping, hard-hearted wealth. Whether inherited or acquired, both paid a terrible price for riches. As the Beatles rock standard laments: “Money can’t buy me love.” And as the tabloids regularly attest: money can buy you boredom, addiction, despair and the cliché of beautiful lives broken by excess.

“You can’t take it with you.” Is another old saw that this gospel evokes. The rich man’s bounty does him no good in eternity. He lives for comfort and pleasure in this life. He callously ignores the poor suffering at his door. And because our merciful God is also a just God, in the netherworld the rich man is in torment. In a dramatic metaphor, Jesus pictures the patriarch Abraham refusing even a drop of water to ease the rich man’s suffering. The lesson: an earthly life without love buys and eternity without love. It is the ultimate poverty of riches. And it is obviously a very, very bad bargain.

In conclusion to his cautionary parable, Jesus goes on to have Abraham foretell his death and Resurrection. As he does so often, Jesus addresses his remarks, not only to his immediate listeners, but to unborn generations: If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.

Are you persuaded yet? What will it take to help you put worldly wealth and eternal salvation into their proper perspective? The currency of this life is not dollars or euros, it is time. How much time do we spend chasing, growing and protecting wealth that will be worthless to us long before our body resumes room temperature? As Jesus tells us: Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Mat 6:20-21)

Where your heart is, your time will be. Whether on the fast track or in the rat race; whether day trading or career building, whether networking or grinding it out, whether planning or pitching… so many of us spend our lives not just making a livelihood, but relentlessly, mercilessly chasing the brass ring… the key to the big break, beyond which lies the prestige, the title, the big bucks. But at what price? Jesus does not demand that we take a vow of poverty. But he does demand that we love God with our whole heart and our neighbor as ourselves. And that takes time.

Can we have it all? Can we prosper both in this world and in the next? Yes, we can. But it’s not easy. You can’t fake it or phone it in. Start by giving every day to God. Dedicate your work, your commute, your frustrations, your achievements all in his service. Work hard. Pray hard. Stay close to Jesus. Actively look for opportunities to witness his love, especially to those who need it most. End the day giving thanks to God for another day of love in the bank and another day closer to him.

Love of God and neighbor are the only riches that ever really count. And we get them all for free. They were bought for us by the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. There is no poverty in these riches. They are a priceless gift of grace that keeps giving and giving. And here’s the best part; the more we spend these riches, the more we have… ours for the asking, ours for eternity.

Committed to a vocation that focuses on encountering God in the midst of everyday life, the Rev. David Sellery serves as an Episcopal priest that seeks to proclaim the good news of God in Christ in worship, pastoral care, education, stewardship, and congregational growth.

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