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Being rich in the sight of God PDF Print E-mail

04 August 2013: Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

St Mary of the CrossTo whom will all this wealth of yours go?

A rich landholder is surprised by a harvest that exceeds all his expectations. His fields have produced so spectacularly that his granaries are too small to store the grain and other products. What shall I do? Would the landowner, like Joseph, the Egyptian pharaoh's administrator, store the grain so that the people would not die of hunger? Would he think about the labourers who work in his land? Would he have compassion on the hungry?

The rich man makes the decision one expects of a powerful man, not to add one more granary, but to destroy them all and build newer, larger ones. He isn't thinking of the workers, the dispossessed, the hungry, he alone will enjoy the unexpected harvest. Don't they who have accumulated wealth have the right to enjoy the true blessing that God has bestowed on them?

God intervenes in an unexpected way. His words are harsh. That rich man will not enjoy his wealth; He will die in his sleep that night. His act is typical of the fool who ignores God and forgets other human beings.

Jesus' parable is a challenge to the whole system. The rich man in the story is not a monster. He is acting like the other rich people in Sepphoris or Tiberias. Jesus is saying that it is foolishness that destroys the weak and does not give security to the powerful. It is the vulnerable who keep the world safe.

Mahatma Gandhi, on being asked what he thought about Western civilisation, famously replied: "It would be a good idea". A similar response comes from the minds of bankers and church figures who are reflecting and debating on the ethics of business today. It is five years on the start of the global financial crash in 2008. The culture change has been slow to come and business leaders now realise that for culture change within the organisation to take place there needs to be a climate of virtue, or 'Structures of Virtues' that resonate with the Catholic Social Teaching. Companies clearly still have to look after their shareholders but they see profitable growth not as an end itself. This appeal to higher purposes can galvanise employees, suppliers and other stakeholders, and can be a powerful force for culture change. As Archbishop Nichols from Westminster said; "the justification of business is when profit is made through delivering a purpose that genuinely adds to human well being". This definition influences how employees should be trained, incentivised and appraised, although implementing it can be a complex task. If the virtues and values of businesses are not lived by senior executives, managers and employees, then businesses have forgotten what their role in society was and for whom they were there to serve.

The only security that is really lasting consists in being rich in the sight of God. Our parable powerfully highlights how attachment to wealth, the desire to acquire, hold on to and enhance it, prevent people from attending to the relationship with God, and such desire poisons human relationships and erodes the concern for others. Business for businesses sake is incompatible with living sharing and celebrating.

St Mary of the Cross, whose feast we celebrate next Thursday, believed God was active in her life and in the lives of her early companions and was calling them to service of others. Its members were women who worked in a simple ordinary way to bring the poor the message of their human dignity and of Christ's saving love. She called her sisters to be open to God's action in and through their weakness in a joyful and generous spirit for in fidelity to the cross they would be open to love and freed for missions.

At the close of the World Youth Day gathering of 3 million people, Pope Francis called for solidarity and renewal at the great beach party on the shores of Copacabana. We want to build a Church that is big enough to accommodate all humanity. Pope Francis drew an analogy between a good football club and a Church that did not betray its following, but drew it into a positive relationship with Jesus, and through him with the world, making it a more just, equitable and ethical place. Jesus asks us to play in his team but he offers us something greater than the World Cup - a life that is truly happy and fulfilled.