The quote above is from our second reading today. All three of our readings touch on the sin of greed. In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us, “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.”
Tolstoy tells a story about a peasant called Pakhom who desperately wanted to own some land. By saving every penny he had, he bought forty acres. He was overjoyed. However, he soon felt cramped, so he sold the forty acres, and bought eighty acres in another region. But this didn’t satisfy him for long, so he began to look again.
One evening a stranger arrived. Pakhom talked about his desire for more land. The stranger told him that beyond the mountains there lived a tribe of simple people who had lots of land for sale.
Off he went the next day. The chief welcomed him and said, “For only a thousand rubles you can have as much land as you can walk round in a day. But you must return to the spot from where you started on the same day, otherwise you forfeit the money.”
Pakhom was thrilled. He couldn’t sleep all that night, thinking of all the land that would soon be his. As soon as the sun peeped above the horizon a marker was put down on top of a knoll, and he was off. Men followed him on horseback and drove stakes into the ground to mark the path he traced out.
He walked fast and made excellent progress. The farther he went the better the land became. In his eagerness to encompass as much as he could, he lost track of time. Then to his horror he saw the sun beginning to go down. He headed for the knoll as fast as he could. He just made it to the top as the sun vanished. Once there, however, he collapsed face downwards on the ground.
“I congratulate you,” said the chief. “You have earned more than any man I can remember.” But Pakhom made no reply. They turned him over. He was dead.
A certain amount of money and material possessions are necessary. Jesus’ parable is not about need but about greed. The farmer was rich to begin with, but he still wasn’t satisfied. Greed is like a fire – the more wood you pile on it, the hungrier it gets. One of the chief problems of our times – people don’t know when they are well-off.
At a retreat I went to the director talked about greed, especially in our country. He said, “We have been taught to want without limits.” Pope Francis has been teaching us about limits by how he lives and what he has said. He chooses to wear simple vestments, live in a simple place, and he challenges us not to get caught up in materialism.
St. Augustine, knew what it was to be wealthy and carefree, but after his conversion, he had this to say: “Poverty is the load of some and wealth is the load of others, perhaps the greater one of the two. It may weigh them to perdition. Bear the load of your neighbor’s poverty, and let him bear with you the load of your wealth. You lighten your load by lightening his.”
Whose load have you lightened lately?