(This is another in the ongoing series of “Noon Wine” reflections on “the poor” and the multiple meanings of “poverty” as found in scripture.)
SCRIPTURE READING: Luke 12: 13-21 (Parable of the Rich Fool)
KEY VERSES: (15) “And he said to them, ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.'”
The salt-of-the-earth old-timers in oil- and cattle-rich Texas used to say, “Some folks are so poor, they got nothin’ but money.”
St. Augustine knew what it was to have “nothin’ but money” in his pleasure-seeking youth–days that he looked back on as the poorest of his life. So the fully converted, spiritually mature Augustine knew of what he spoke when he said:
“Poverty is the load of some and wealth is the load of others, perhaps the greater one of the two. . .
“Bear the load of your neighbor’s poverty, and let him bear with you the load of your wealth. You lighten your load by lightening his.”
I’ve never had to “bear the load” of what I would consider financial wealth, since I’ve never been burdened with any too much money. Thank God I’ve never had to bear the load of poverty either.
But it’s obvious that rich and poor alike can suffer the spiritual emptiness that comes with separation from God. As I’ve said in this series and will say, being financially poor does not a saint or even decent person make, any more than being rich does.
But Augustine, who became one with the poor by “making myself a beggar with the beggars” (Sermon 66: 5), said repeatedly what the bible makes clear–that “the presence of the Lord is in the person of poor.”
As Christians let us be ever-mindful that the presence of the Lord was found by “three kings,” bearing their lavish gifts, in the presence of a baby that they found in the muck and mire of a barnyard out behind an inn, not in some royal castle that they anticipated.
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Augustine acknowledged that wealth can do good, but warned repeatedly that money and valuables are simply dangerous for the arrogance and avarice they can spawn. Avarice, he warned, is the “worm of wealth,” noting how easy it is to become arrogant, greedy and corrupt in heart when you hold the gold.
Kneeling in humility before the power of God comes more naturally to the poor than the rich because the poor already are laid low by the heavy load of poverty. The wealthy can be too burdened by pride–the sin that Augustine considered the sin of sins in that it leads to so many other sins–to stoop down, as the divine Jesus stooped down to be in solidarity with us in all our poverties of the heart, the mind, the soul, the spirit.
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Two lessons are obvious but significant from the story of the rich fool:
1. Greed, contrary to the famous movie line, is not good; nothing good can come of it in relationship with God and our neighbors, or for the welfare of a community, a nation or the world. Reading today’s financial and criminal news goes right back to the reasons Jesus warned so emphatically to “be on guard against every kind of greed!”
2. One can, as the rich fool in the parable learned, build more and bigger barns for selfishly hoarding riches. But in the end, it’s the treasures you laid up yonder when, as the old hymn goes, the roll is called up yonder, that count.
“You fool!” God roared in the parable of the rich fool. “This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”
Or as the old folks in Texas used to say, “You can’t take it with you.”