Wealth is such a contentious topic. Apparently our concern with wealth is deeply engrained in our humanity, as it seems it has been problematic for generation upon generation. Jesus confronts our obsession with money and wealth repeatedly in the Gospels, perhaps these confrontations live on in our hearts as we read the stories still. This abiding concern over wealth seems particularly troublesome when it comes to inheritance. As if the struggles around wealth in society weren’t enough, quarrels over inheritance often split otherwise meaningful relationships at times. It is disheartening to consider how many families have been fragmented over such disagreements.
Scripture offers a great deal of guidance about wealth. The law even delineates specific expectation about inheritance. In theory, this could help us avoid the heartbreak and anguish of sorting out it out from scratch. However, laws are left to interpretation and can be further complicated by practical consideration. By the law, the eldest son would inherit a double portion. That double portion came with certain expectation too, the eldest son now held more responsibility to care for the widow and their siblings.
As Jesus is called upon from the crowd, to enforce, or at least help interpret the law, he further challenges our understanding. As is often the case, Jesus redirects us to God and the purpose of the laws; refusing to be lured into questions and interpretation, Jesus calls the crowd to consider how wealth distracts us from God.
Jesus addresses the man directly, not quibbling over the details of the man’s particular situation, but cautioning us against greed. The parable that follows is a stark reminder of how possessions, no matter how dearly we hold them, are fleeting. It is easy to be deceived and put false hope in wealth, that it may make our lives easier. Indeed, a great many things can be made easier, at least temporarily, by wealth. But the real concern is how one can be rich toward God.
Jesus offers clear direction as to how to be rich toward God throughout the Gospel. Follow him. Love God. Love your neighbor. Be known by love. May we know the power of love to be greater than that of wealth. May we witness to the everlasting nature of love, over and against the wealth of the world that often fades away. May the Spirit of God unite us in the love of God, that we may be known to be rich in love and rich toward God.
The Rev. Paul Klitzke is rector of Church of the Ascension in Dallas