It is hard being poor! Not that I have direct experience, but working with Christians Against Poverty Swansea Debt Centre brings reminders and stories. It might be enough to make me anxious, or reinforce my mean nature, but this weeks reading in Luke 12:13-21 is a good antidote.
Jesus refuses to arbitrate an inheritance dispute (did he want to leave it to those appointed for this, or recognise that to divide a small inheritance would leave no-one enough, or was he just making a point?). He goes on to talk about greed, and tells a parable about a rich man who plans a life of idle luxury, and dies before he can enjoy it.
He doesn’t complain about the good harvest, nor even the man’s riches, but about perhaps three other things. First, this man is stupid to forget his mortality; he can’t control how long he will live. Death isn’t something we talk much about, but perhaps it ought to be better prepared for – hopefully not because terrorism makes sudden death more common.
Then there is his obvious selfishness. He either totally fails to recognise the needs of others, or thinks they are none of his concern. It looks almost as if the person has been taken over by his possessions – who is making use of who? In any case, he is quite wrong; the whole point of the abundance of the earth’s resources is that they are for the benefit of all God’s people. Those who are rich have added responsibility, and an opportunity for good (remember the Good Samaritan?).
Thirdly, he misses a safety net. If he had only paused to thank God for his gift, he might have been led to remember that nothing we have is “owned”, but only ever “lent”. Just as we tell children to be specially careful of how they treat something belonging to someone else, so we need to relabel “mine” as “God’s loan”. Perhaps it is only a verbal trick, but it helps sort my attitudes.
Generosity is not something we talk about much. Which is odd, when from a world point of view we in Britain are so rich. Luke, and the other gospel writers, make it clear that this is a gospel issue. How we own / deal with God’s loan, is central to our life with God. Poverty is hard, but wealth may be even more disabling if not handled with faith and generosity.