July 30, 2013

Fooling Ourselves about Money

            An article in yesterday’s Kansas City Business News said that most people worth $1-5 million dollars do not feel wealthy; indeed, they are not sure that they have enough to continue to live comfortably as they go into retirement.  Living with fear that their money will run out saps the joy out of what, by most reasonable standards, is a cosseted lifestyle. 
Yet, they are not alone.  Many of us think that if we “just made a little bit more,” then our economic challenges would go away.  We also believe that if we worried less about money, we would be happier.
There have been some interesting studies of late seeking to index at what level of income happiness increases.  One study from Princeton University suggests that $75,000 is the threshold, and no matter how much more than this figure people make, they do not report any greater degree of happiness.  The lower a person’s annual income falls below that benchmark, the unhappier he or she feels—for good reason if one cannot support one’s household.
As important as our livelihood is, it is not the ultimate determiner of well being.  Enjoying loving relationships with God and others is the better measure.

Jesus had a great deal to say about money, and in the Gospel reading for next Sunday, he warns against greed, “for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15b).  The parable of the “rich fool” portrays the hold that resources can have on one’s life.  Having insufficient space to store his abundant crops, he pulls down his barns and builds larger ones.  Rather than sharing his overflow, he seeks to protect it to secure his life.
The outcome of the parable is stark; God demands an ultimate reckoning of the intent of the rich man’s life.  Jesus concludes with: “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God” (v. 21).
Our lives simply cannot be reduced to what we accumulate in this life.  Becoming “rich toward God” is the goal, and we demonstrate this passion in caring for the “least of these.”
Much of the enthusiasm for Pope Francis is because of his personal humility and deep care for the poor.  His call to simplicity can refresh his church, indeed the wider Body of Christ as we learn where our treasure lies.

Molly T. Marshall

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