Jesus often taught by means of parables, simple stories that illustrate a point. An instance of that is a passage in Luke’s gospel (12: 13-21). After warning against “avarice of any kind” Jesus reinforces his warning with a parable. It is the story of a rich man and his concern for his material possessions.
It is a common human tendency to want more and when we have more to want better. This tendency is fostered by the consumer society in which we live. We are literally bombarded by appeals to buy, to consume. As an example, think of the Sunday paper. If one would take the trouble to weigh all those ads against the rest of the paper it is likely that if the ads weigh less than the rest of the paper it will not be by much.
The parable reveals two things about that rich man. First he never saw beyond himself and his self-interest. The parable is full of personal pronouns (I, me, my, mine). Today we would call him a narcissist.
The rich man’s attitude is the very reverse of Christianity. Instead of denying himself, he aggressively affirms himself. Instead of finding happiness in giving he tried to assure it by hoarding. The man is completely self-centered. Self-centeredness is something we all have to struggle with. The fundamental challenge of the spiritual life is to become less and less self-centered and more and more God-centered.
The second thing to note about that rich man is that he never saw beyond this world. He illustrates a dilemma we all face as Christians. We must live in the world without making it our center. At the same time we must we must look beyond this world without neglecting things that must be done in this world. It is a kind of paradox that the greatest saints, who were intensely focused on God and the world beyond actually made some of the greatest contributions to this world.
We are challenged by the words of Jesus to be “in the world but not of the world.” That is not easy. It is like walking a tightrope. We can learn from tightrope walkers. They neither look down nor to the right or left but on the wire as leading to the goal, the opposite platform. We would do well to focus on Jesus as the wire leading to our final goal,