Being Rich Towards God
Fr. Luke A. Veronis
Being “Rich Towards God.” What does that mean? Are you “Rich Towards God?”
Recently, I visited a man who was quite rich in worldly terms – he was wealthy, he was well-known worldwide in his particular field of work, and he was quite proud of himself - yet on his path towards fame, wealth and success he had abandoned God long ago. When I saw him, he was lying in a hospital bed for months with an ongoing illness. This stay in the hospital gave him much time to think about his life and achievements, yet he also had time to reflect upon the possibility of his impending death, and the meaning of life in relation to death. After several visits, he shared with me that he was starting to see the world from a different perspective. While in the hospital, he appreciated the loving care that he received, and how kind and compassionate others have been to him. At one point, he quietly said, “Savings, savings, and more savings. And now, what is it all worth? What is it all about? Life is about so much more than all of that!” This illness at the end of his life led him to question how he had lived for that past 60 years, and challenged him to see life in a new way!
Being rich and being rich towards God are two quite different things!
Is life about possessing and consuming more and more? Society’s fascination with the rich and famous often makes people longing for such things. We dream of what we would do with great wealth whenever we see the homes of the famous celebrities, athletes or musicians, or hear of someone hitting the lottery and winning hundreds of millions of dollars. Our society pushes us in the direction of longing for more and more. And yet, in today’s Gospel Jesus Christ not only challenges, but even shatters this “more is better” perspective! Jesus bluntly states “A fool is one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
These words of our Lord Jesus Christ warn us against the common temptation of greed - a desire for more, a focus and priority in buying, obtaining nicer things, bigger homes, fancier cars, the latest fashions in clothes, and I could go on. In some ways, this temptation towards obtaining more and more is the epitome of the American way of life, of a so-called “rich” life. The more we have, the nicer things we possess, the more our neighbors and others will look upon us as “having made it.” Isn’t this the standard by which many people determine whether one is successful?
Honestly we could say that if our society has to choose one standard by which it will determine “success,” it will be wealth! If someone is rich and living comfortably, we think that they are successful. We may even overlook or ignore the way one became wealthy and simply admire people who have become rich, famous and powerful.
Today’s Gospel lesson offers a stark contrast between worldly riches and riches in the eyes of God. Jesus describes a rich man who was so wealthy, that he decided to retire early. He built a huge mansion. He knew he had enough to live quite comfortably and prosperously for the remainder of his life. He said to himself, “Soul, you have done quite well; you have enough for many years. Therefore, take it easy – relax, eat, drink and be merry."
How many of us hear about such a life, with an opportunity to retire early in comfort and abundance, and envy it? In fact, most people would call this person a resounding success! Yet, God looks down and says to the man, “Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?”
Can it be that what the world sees as success is foolishness in the eyes of God? God is uninterested in money, or possessions, or status symbols in and of themselves. He is interested, though, to see what we will do with whatever gifts He gives us. To watch and see what type of stewards we will be with our possessions. Will we be self-centered, gathering only for ourselves and our family, and caring only for our own comfort, or will we understand life as an opportunity to help others – to love our neighbor as ourselves. God understands success from the perspective of divine love, which implies a life of giving, not gathering; of helping, not focusing only on oneself, a life of loving and serving others. Contrary to our society’s worldview, life is not about an individualistic, self-centered pursuit of wealth, fame, and power, where our ego becomes the center of the world!
Here lies the sin of the rich man in today’s Gospel. God calls him a fool because of his egocentric blindness. Regardless of his wealth and prosperity, his comfort and ease in life, the rich man forgot about the essence of life. He forgot that “Life is not about me!”
The rich fool forgot that “true richness” in God’s eyes is love, divine love. “Seek first the Kingdom of Heaven and His righteousness!” This Kingdom of love, which we can taste and experience here and now, should be the focus of any sincere Christian and follower of our Lord!
Living within this Kingdom of God implies faithfully living a life of sacrificial love, faithfully living a life of humble service to others, faithfully living a life of mercy and grace, faithfully living a life where we imitate Jesus Christ in our words, our actions, and even our thoughts! Being Rich in God’s eyes may mean raising a family with the fear of God, protecting and nurturing a Christ-centered marriage, caring for aging parents with tenderness and sacrifice! Being Rich in God’s eyes means following His commandments in our everyday lives, walking as Jesus walked, and sharing His love with all those around us. Being Rich in God’s eyes means finding time to commune with Him each and every day – through our prayers, in the worship of our Church, in our participation in the sacraments.
It’s quite interesting to note that “being rich towards God” has nothing to do with an abundance of wealth, fame or power. In fact, the wealthier we are, the more famous we are, or the more power we possess, than the responsibility for acting as faithful and good stewards is even greater! “To whom much is given,” Christ taught, “Much will be required!”
If we’re wealthy, God views “being rich towards Him” in terms of sharing our wealth with those in need. If we’re famous, God views “being rich toward Him” in how humble we remain, realizing that any gifts we possess, which have led to our worldly fame, come from Him. And being known in the world is simply an opportunity to use our influence to bless others and to set an example that will lead others to God!
So remember, “being rich towards God” does not depend on how many possessions we have, but on how few possessions we need to be content in life, and in our willingness to joyfully share our abundance with others. “Being rich towards God” does not depend on how comfortable and easy our life is, but on how we ascetically strive without ceasing to sacrifice for others and to bless the lives of others.
It seems quite appropriate that each year we read this Gospel lesson around the time of Thanksgiving. As we celebrate Thanksgiving and reflect upon all for which we have to be grateful, let us go one step further and ask ourselves, “What am I doing with all the blessings our Lord has given me? How can we take care to be good stewards, and become rich in the eyes of God, with all that we possess?