Inheritance

An inheritance is wealth or possessions that come to us when a family member dies.  That person passes on his or her wealth out of love and care for those he or she leaves behind.  The readings for today reflect on inheritance in terms of the nature of our possessions and our attitude toward them.  They raise questions about the nature of our possessions.

In the first reading from Ecclesiastes, it describes our possessions and our concern for them as “vanities” that should not occupy our worry.  Jesus, in the Gospel, offers us the parable of the rich man, who comes upon a great harvest.  Though he is rich, he seeks to build bigger barns to store his overabundant bounty. God calls him out saying, “You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’  Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God” (Lk. 12: 21).

So this story begs the question, what does matter to God?  Well, if we look at Jesus’ warning to the crowd, we may gain some insight.  He says, “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions” (Lk. 12:13).  Jesus’ concern is one of how we steward what we have.  If we see our life’s goal as building up our possessions only for our benefit, like the rich man, then our focus in life is off, and we miss the giftedness of what we have.  Ecclesiastes tries to help us understand the transient nature of our possessions.  An inordinate focus on what we own and safeguarding what we possess is a “vanity” that can blind us.

Through Christ, we are all connected.  In our second reading, Paul tells us “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all and in all” (Col. 3: 11).  In other words, we live in partnership with all of our brothers and sisters and are called to work for the benefit of each other.  The sin of the man with the barns was to hoard his bounty.  Scripture calls us to share our possessions with those whose need is greater than our own.

The Church’s social teaching has always contained a special care and concern for the poor.  We are called to be more concerned with the care of our brothers and sisters than with our possessions.  Paul describes the proper Christian stance this way.  “Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry” (Col. 3: 5).  It is not that possessions are bad, it is when they become an idol and take over our concern at the expense of the care of others that they become a problem.  Fr. Ronald Rolheiser puts it this way, “When we are rich, we have a congenital incapacity to see the poor and, in not seeing them, we never learn the wisdom of the crucified.”

So we can ask ourselves, How does what we own, possess us or our concern?  How does the wealth of our possessions separate us from the needs of others?  Do we see our possessions in terms of entitled ownership, or do we see them in terms of stewardship, as part of our inheritance from God?

-Chris McCullough

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