Yesterday’s gospel reading struck me in relation to the protests which have been continuing to occupy their at once earnest and farcical place on our front pages.
Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.”
He replied to him, “Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?”
Then he said to the crowd, “Take care to guard against all greed,
for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.”
Then he told them a parable. “There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest. He asked himself, “What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?” And he said, “This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones. There I shall store all my grain and other goods and I shall say to myself, “Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!”” But God said to him, “You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?” Thus will it be for the one who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God.” (Luke 12:13-21)
What Jesus is doing here is exactly what Christians who put utopian hopes in “social justice” causes in there here and now often accuse more traditional Christians of: When he is asked to step in and enforce a more just distribution of wealth, Christ instead points out that wealth is, itself, a passing thing. That building up wealth in this world will gain us nothing (perhaps worse the nothing) in the next.
It bears emphasizing, this in no way represents an endorsement of injustice or an assertion that those with wealth “deserve” their possessions. Christ’s parable with which he follows up his reply to the wronged brother offers the most harsh fate possible to “the one who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God.” But it is a response rooted not in attempting to right every wrong though some sort of Christian re-ordering of the economy or polity but in a call for conversion, in a reminder that wealth, whether a barn full to bursting or a bank account that runs to billions, will be nothing but a list of missed opportunities in that eternity to which we may be called at any moment.