Life Does Not Consist of the Abundance of Possessions   Leave a comment

Parable of the rich man *oil on panel *31.9 x 42.5 cm *signed b.l.: RH. 1627.

Above:  The Parable of the Rich Fool, by Rembrandt van Rijn

Image in the Public Domain

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Luke 12:13-21 (Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition, 2002):

One of the multitude said to him [Jesus],

Teacher, bid my brother divide my inheritance with me.

But he [Jesus] said to him,

Man, who made me a judge or divider over you?

And he [Jesus] said to them,

Take heed, and beware of all covetousness; for a man’s life does not consist of his possessions.

And he [Jesus] told them a parable, saying,

The land of a rich man brought forth plentifully; and he thought to himself, “What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops.?”  And he said, “I will do this; I will pull down my barns, and build larger ones; and there I will store all my grain and my goods.  And I will say to my soul ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, and be merry.'”  But God said to him, “Fool!  This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”  So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.

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Luke 6:20, 21, 24, 25a (Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition, 2002):

And he [Jesus] lifted up his eyes on his disciples and said:

Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

Blessed are you that hunger now, for you shall be satisfied.

But woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation.

Woe to you that are full now, for you shall hunger.

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The quote from which I have taken the title of this post comes from the Parable of the Rich Fool, the entirety of which I have quoted above.  The Rich Fool has more than enough food at the same time that many people in his vicinity lack a sufficient supply thereof.  He could keep enough food to meet his own needs and share the rest with the hungry, but he chooses not to do that.  He trusts in material possessions, not God.  His wealth is his security blanket; his abundance shelters him psychologically from the prospect of hunger and poverty.  In the end he dies (as we all will do) and cannot take anything with him.

Life does not consist of the abundance of possessions.  One way to learn this lesson is to move.  Having to pack up one’s belongings, transport them, and unpack them can teach one how much one has and how inconvenient (even detrimental to one’s quality of life) too many of them can be.  I have moved often during my life, going back to my childhood; my father was a minister in the South Georgia Conference of The United Methodist Church.  I recall moving every two or three years (on average) and realizing that I moved with more possessions each time.  I also recall that, as I prepared to leave East Dublin, Georgia, for Athens-Clarke County, Georgia, in 2005, I donated many possessions to a thrift store and felt proud of myself for doing that.  Furthermore, I recall that, after I arrived in Athens-Clarke County, I wondered why I had not been more generous to that thrift store.

I have reduced my appetites for material possessions and become fonder of open space in recent years.  The largest category of my possessions is and has long been books.  I have come by this naturally, given the bookishness of my family.  I reduced my library from its height at more than 2500 volumes to about 1000 books a few years ago.  Then, over time, I added to the library before reducing it to about 1000 volumes again a few months ago.  Those nearly 1000 books fill seven tall book cases and a smaller one.  I have concluded that approximately 1000 volumes is the proper size of my library.  Given the size of my living space, having space for a sofa is more important to me than keeping more books.  Living in a relatively small space does help to provide one with a useful sense of discipline in these matters.

I have been inside the home of a hoarder, a woman with a mental illness.  (She has an emotional attachment to her trash.)  Her disorder has placed her health and that of her son at risk and detracted from the quality of their lives.  Certainly, to be able to walk easily in every room of the house and sleep on more than one side of one’s bed (because of the possessions occupying the rest of the bed) would improve the quality of life.  I avoid that house, for the messiness annoys me and something in the air makes me feel ill.

Life certainly does not consist of clutter.  In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968), the loose basis of Blade Runner (1982), which is not as dark as its source material, Philip K. Dick has a character, J. S. Sebastian, explain a theory of clutter:  it reproduces asexually.  Sometimes clutter seems to do that, does it not?  A problem with clutter is that it is in the way.  I know of a large, two-story home in Athens-Clarke County.  The wide corridors function as storage space, as do some of the downstairs rooms.  There is no more room in the storeroom.  Much of the contents of the storeroom is inaccessible.  The resident is not a clinical hoarder, however.  She has many possessions, a physical disability, a lifelong tendency toward disorder, and a desire to clean up her home.  I help her off-and-on to rein in the problem.  There is so much to do until we make the interior of the house resemble something other than an anarchistic warehouse.   She is, however, making plans to sell some large pieces of furniture and not to replace them.  Furthermore, I have carried many items away and donated them to thrift stores on her behalf.

I look around my living space and thank God for open space and horizontal surfaces lacking clutter.

One might do well to think of clutter metaphorically also.  To simplify one’s interior life–to avoid the temptation to fill the rooms, corridors, nooks, and crannies of one’s being with activities that get in the way of a healthy spiritual life–is a virtue.  One should not be so busy that one cannot stop and listen to God.  God speaks to us, but we do not hear Him if we do not listen.  We do not stop to listen for God’s voice if we are doing something else.  We do not make room for God in our spiritual interiors if we clutter those spaces.  Many people who do not attend religious services on a regular basis report that they are too busy to do so.  Too busy for God is too busy.

The Rich Fool was not rich toward God.  He was one of those who had received his consolation (Luke 6:24) and was the subject of one of the Woes following the Beatitudes in the Gospel of Luke.  The Rich Fool was a man with misplaced priorities–toward possessions, human beings, and God.  The Rich Fool crowded out God with, for lack of a better word, stuff.  He chose poorly.

Life is in God, not the abundance of possessions.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

THE FEAST OF ALL CHRISTIAN EDUCATORS AND INTELLECTUALS

THE FEAST OF SAINT TERESA OF AVILA, ROMAN CATHOLIC NUN

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