Tuesday, August 03, 2010

"..you have ample goods laid up for many years..."

The above quote is from the Gospel for this past Sunday August 1: Luke 12:12-21. These are the words of a person Jesus calls a fool, a rich fool. I was struck that if we (most classes in the U.S) allow ourselves to be identified with the rich man of this parable we can see that the rich mans attitude is the expectation and/or desire of most if not all classes of people. Our sense of the good life and a just society is one that would provide for all a job that allows everyone to store up ample goods for many years in the form of retirement plans of various kinds, homes, cloths, cars etc. This is of course complex for the inability of many to store up for themselves something is an issue of injustice and exclusion from the centers of economic power. So the expansion of this ability to lay up goods for many years and allow one to stop working at a certain age was and still is a matter of justice. And yet Jesus' words here challenge such a sense of economy, prudence, and justice. I would say Jesus' words even critique state run versions of the rich mans individual safety net.

Since, our economy tanked and we uncovered numerous problems with our economic and financial system based upon accumulation of wealth through investments dependent upon the actions of financiers and gaining the largest possible return on ones investment, I have personally been puzzled and struggled with the general attitude to locate greed only in the bankers financiers and professional investors while excluding from greed the middle and lower classes who have been hit so hard by the failure of the financial system. I struggle with this because part of what allowed greater access to mortgages, high yeild investments for retirement was in part the invention of new ways to make and accumulate wealth. I have wondered at our continued faith in this system shown by our demand that it be controlled by more government regulation. Few if any have asked if there is perhaps something simply ethically flawed about the whole system tightly regulated or not. It seems that what we want as an American people to one degree or another is the expansion of who gets to live as though they are wealthy. We are seeking to expand this storing up that allows one to have a disposable income to spend on investments that if it pays off (and we want the guarantee that it will) will ensure that we will after a certain point in life have no worries about our financial well being.

This seems like a good, and yet here is Jesus saying that that attitude is that of the wealthy and foolish person, who has no understanding of what the Kingdom of God is and will find that when God comes calling that said person will not even know it, and will have lost their soul.

We'd like to say that those other peoples forms of wealth accumulation and creation are greedy. Thus the average American who has been hit deeply and fallen on hard times was not greedy, only those financiers and investors who took risks and invented new and ever more risky ways of making money and increasing their own but also that of the average American's portfolios, it is those people labled "Wall Street" who are the only greedy and unethical ones. Even I would like to say that I am exempt from this parable, that I who have no investments or pension fund, who left aside 7 years ago now seeking to only accumulate things and space for my wife and I and our family alone am free of this. And yet, if I am honest I too when and if a financial windfall comes want to store that money and goods up. I have many things that I have for some future that may never come, for a future I may not be called into. I seek to acquire things that may have nothing to do with God, or what God requires of me. My own denomination requires that its clergy store up for themselves with the denominations pension plan.

The good news here I think is that Jesus is talking about true liberation and true security, which we should know now can't come from our government nor the financial and economic institutions that set themselves up as necessary for our ability to survive and live and thrive. Also, what allows me to be prepared for the future or for that moment which is now to render to God's what God requires of me which is my whole being my soul, is God's own invitation in Jesus Christ. Also it is that the moment is always now, God continually comes and asks us to follow and as Bonhoeffer says bids us come and die. Our soul is always required of us and the grace I know is that God accepts the amount of ourselves we understand to give. The challenge of this parable is to seek to be one who seeks to have no possessions as the one who seeks to have them. However, it seems to me that our entire culture is bound up in the attitude of the foolish rich man, and so to answer Jesus' call we must begin by letting go of the values of a culture that says security and prudence are found in storing up so that one may at some point when old have more than enough to survive without needing to work.

Tripp has preached something similar .


In this passage Jesus refuses to be the one to decide how and who gets what they are due, rather he calls all to abandon the search for the accumulations of things and wealth. We are to have our attention elsewhere, we are to trust that there will be enough,that there is enough. When God provided manna in the desert for the people of Israel, it could not be stored up even for a day except before the Sabbath. The year of Jubilee undid all accumulation of wealth and in fact the whole cycle of sabbath years and Jubilee does seem to indicate that wealth creation and accumulation takes place at the expense of others: if one has surplus of something it means another has less off it, such disparities are reversed in the year of jubilee. We on the other hand seem to believe quite the opposite: we believe that everyone can have a surplus without someone else having less or less than they need. But the issue isn't simply justice, or rather justice isn't simply about liberation and freedom from oppression but living according to the call of God, the claim of God on us each one. justice is then ultimately to place us in that moment where we can receive God's call and claim on our souls, our whole beings. Justice is not an end in itself, but a means to true communion with God. So, if we work for economic justice in our system of wealth creation and accumulation, of the need for economies to grow without end, or slip or stall, we must understand that the system itself could be just by our standards (perhaps) but fail to open us up to the call of the Totally Other, who has an absolute claim on our lives. In the End Jesus says gaining entrance into wealth and the supposed security of having enough to sustain one without worry, will hide us from the truth of life.