Luke 12:13-21
True Riches
by Rev. Jack Peterson
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"

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Written to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.

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 all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God."

When I was a young boy at St. Anthony’s elementary school in Falls Church, I had nuns who taught me English.  I did not enjoy studying the rules of grammar, how to properly construct sentences, and why it is improper to say, “The nuns gave you and I a sound education.”  In fact, I pretty much hated those classes.  My mom kept encouraging me to study diligently, and she reminded me that I would appreciate these skills down the road.

As the years went by, I did come to appreciate the knowledge and skills that were the fruit of those hours of difficult study.  Learning the fundamentals of English helped me in a variety of ways when I had to write papers in high school and college, learn French as a second language, and craft homilies for the Catholic Herald.  My mom and those nuns were wiser than I.

When you and I come before Jesus, we stand as children before the Master.  No matter how experienced or wise we think we are, we always have more to learn from Jesus who is truth and who came into this world to bear witness to the truth.  He regularly asks us in the Gospels, in prayer and through the church to do things that are difficult or that do not make sense to us as children.  Yet, Jesus knows what leads to true human fulfillment and what fills us with lasting joy.  He guides us on the path to eternal happiness, which is often different from the path we would choose on our own.

In our Gospel this Sunday, Jesus addresses one of the great temptations what every human being faces – to think that happiness lies in material possessions. We all need a certain amount of food, education and shelter to live dignified, human lives.  However, most of us are sorely tempted to think that we will finally be happy if we just had a newer car, a larger home, a more substantial savings account and a fancier vacation.  Jesus sternly warns us: “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.”  In our better moments, we realize that He is right, yet we are easily lulled by society and advertisers into thinking that nicer things make us happy.

We have all known rich people who are clearly unhappy.  The newspapers reflect this reality with stories of the rich and famous who commit suicide, get divorced numerous times, overdose on drugs and give up on God.  It is quite clear that riches are not a guarantee of happiness.

We have also known poor people who are remarkably happy.  I served as a seminarian for a summer in the U.S. Virgin Islands.  One Sunday a taxi driver picked up another seminarian and me to take us back to the parish on a Sunday afternoon.  We soon discovered that he was a member of the parish.  His taxi was old and a little worn out, but it was clean and filled with an air of life.  He engaged us in a very lively discussion about life on St. Croix and the blessings of our Catholic faith.  He was very animated, upbeat and happy.  He refused to let us pay for the ride that afternoon. We mentioned this kind gesture to another parishioner, and he told us that cabbie gives free rides for all every Sunday.  Sunday is the Lord’s Day, and that is one way that he chooses to celebrate it.  This man was poor, yet he was rich.  He had few possessions, but he was a friend of Jesus, and he was happy.

In the Gospel this Sunday, Jesus tells a story about a fool who put all of his focus on his earthly possessions and was surprised when his last day on earth came earlier than expected.  “Thus it will be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.”  The invitation for us is to become rich in what matters to God.

A prayerful glance through the Gospels will give us a clear picture of what matters to God.  Loving God with all of our heart and trusting in Him, offering humble service to our neighbor, especially those in need, welcoming children in His name, living in gratitude, bearing witness to Jesus in the world, and obeying God even when we are not in the mood are several of the things that help us to become rich in what matters to God.  These practices and attitudes are the riches that lead to true happiness.

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