“The amassing of property, without an accompanying love Godward and manward, is suicidal. Increasing material and power are not safe except with proportionately improving character. Society can endure for a time without new inventions; it is doubtful how long it can endure without a better spirit.” George Buttrick (1901)
In the previous post we eaves dropped on what Jesus said to the siblings who asked him to settle their dispute about their inheritance. “Watch out!” he told them. “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”
To reinforce his point he told a parable about a hoarder.
I knew a card-carrying hoarder once. Her tiny apartment was stacked with old magazines, wrappers, and God knows what buried underneath. I always cut my visits to “Glenda” short and I couldn’t wait to get outside again where I would breathe. She’s gone now, no friends to speak of, the ones she had, had long since wearied of the clutter and chaos.
Hoarding comes in forms other than piles of trash and stacks of knickknacks. There are more socially acceptable brands of the disease for which you can earn a university degree, which can be just as self-destructive and harmful to other humans. It’s my view that there is a sociopolitical systemic hoarding of seismic proportions happening in our country these days. You can see it, for instance, in the way we budget.
Budgets are moral documents. They clearly reveal the priorities of a person, a family, a church, a business, a city, or a nation. They show what we most care about in comparison to other things we care about. In terms of big picture budgets, Jim Wallis said, “The government’s budgets are a disaster for the poor, a windfall for the wealthiest, and thus directly conflict with biblical priorities.”
The rich and powerful are obsessed with getting richer and more powerful. The middle class is terrified of losing ground. And the poor are, well, they have little to hoard to begin with. And people in each of these economic strata are afraid of anyone getting ahead of them in line.
I guess, among other factors, this craven fear of not having enough was exacerbated by 9/11 and the 2008 economic downturn. Enter elected officials richer than Solomon who pour accelerant on those fears and we follow like hypnotized sheep to the slaughter. And what grieves me most is when the Christian community drinks the same Kool-Aid as everyone else. If we lose our way, brothers and sisters, what can we expect of those who don’t have the Spirit to guide them?
I could throw out a bunch of Scripture about what God thinks of us fearfully clutching our possessions and barring those far needier than us with laws and walls, but let’s just look again at the story Jesus made up (or not) about a man he called a “fool.”
He wasn’t suggesting that there are no poor fools in the world. You can just as well be poor and foolish as rich and foolish. Whether it resides in the heart of a poor person or a rich one, Jesus had in mind a particular form of hoarding that’s brought on by the compulsive power of consumption.
At first glance you might wonder what was Jesus’ problem with the guy who just seemed to want to expand his business and save up for retirement. Does God object to diversifying, expansion, or having a savings or retirement account? Not necessarily, but the man in his story was afflicted with the same heart condition as the disputing brothers––a heart of greed.
“A certain rich man” The man was already rich before his bumper crop came in. It wasn’t like he needed this particular harvest to make the ends meet or pull him out from poverty. He was wealthy to begin with, and then, apart from his own doing, an exceptional harvest came in that stood to make him even richer, rich enough to retire and take it easy for the rest of his life.
Is there something inherently wrong with the rich getting richer? Well, no, but it would depend on how they got rich, how they managed it, how much they had an internal “need” to get richer, and how generous they were with their riches.
Our country is facing a crisis that includes an decadent distribution of wealth. Allen Green said, “When human systems distribute God-given resources in a way that places a small fraction of humanity in luxury while a billion people live – or die – on less than a dollar a day, can that be anything other than sin?” I don’t think it can.
“Unto whom much is given much shall be required.”
Let’s unpack the parable further next time and see if we can relate.