Yesterday’s gospel reading from Luke is an exploration of the dangers of wealth and it ends with the uplifting short phrase “rich toward God.” How can we live a life that is rich in God’s sight?
Jesus tells the story of a farmer who is already rich, and has a full year of crops. He has so much grain to store that his barn is not big enough. He decides to tear down the barn and build a bigger one, and then he will be completely happy – he can eat, drink and rest because he will have enough stock to last him a long time. can “You fool!”, cried God. “You’re going to die tonight, and what’s the use of all that hoarding?”
The kind of financial security a farmer enjoys is very attractive to me and probably to many of us. Yet Jesus warns us, again and again, that being rich is a danger to life. Wealth separates us from those around us and distracts us from the truth: that we are totally dependent on God for everything.
Poverty is also troubling. When Jesus speaks of “the poor,” he is not referring to a marginalized group that is separate from the rest of us. Rather, he is addressing his main audience. It is likely that most of those listening to Jesus were extremely poor, and perhaps accustomed to constant hunger. How would this story sound to someone whose real concern was where the next meal was coming from? I can hardly imagine.
Swiss theologian Lucia Sutter Rahman has written an eye-opening book called “Rage in the Belly” in which she argues that hunger is a fundamental reality based on the New Testament. Reading the Gospels from the perspective of extreme hunger brings a whole new dimension to an all-too-familiar text.
I have been reading “St Francis of Assisi” by GK Chesterton. St. Francis lived a life of incomparable richness toward God from a state of absolute poverty—careless, joyous poverty that required total dependence on divine sustenance—an opportunity to share in the sufferings of Christ with hunger. Welcomed as Francis was a great saint, unlike the rest of us – we little saints if we can call ourselves saints at all – but his holy martyrdom still haunts us centuries later.
Another person whose life was fully devoted to God was the missionary Dr. Paul Brand. Brand spent most of his life in India, pioneering hand surgery for leprosy patients. In the latter part of his life he lived in Louisiana, and I read that he was uncomfortable eating in restaurants because he was overwhelmed by the senseless food waste that occurred every day. There is something both beautiful and terrifying about this radical solidarity with the poor. I find it hard to last long.
Paul Brand lived a life that was rich toward God. He wrote: “Where I practiced medicine, I never made much money. But when I look back on a lifetime of surgery, a host of friends who were once patients bring me more joy than wealth.” “
So how can we live more richly toward God? If we enjoy running water in our homes, we can help Water Aid. If we have more than one toilet, we can sponsor a toilet in a country where many people don’t have one. www.toiletwinning.org. If we have money “resting” in our account, we can provide long-term low-interest loans to people who otherwise could not afford to buy a home. We can drop a confidential envelope containing cash through the letterbox of someone we know is in need.
But the foundation of all giving is gratitude. To live a life that is rich toward God is to live in the freedom of knowing that all things already belong to God: “For all things come from you, and from you, we give you “. Eventually we will all die and what we have accumulated will no longer mean anything. The only thing that will endure is the love we have given and received and shared.