Not too long ago my family was returning from a family vacation out of state and we stopped to get some gas and use the restrooms at a a big truck stop/convenience store/gas station just off the interstate. It’s always fun to do a little people watching at these places. They are a great confluence of some of the best and worst our country has to offer. As I was pumping gas into the van I happened to look up and a couple was coming out of the building. The woman was wearing a shirt that said, “The one who dies with the most toys wins.” It absolutely took my breath away. Even now I look back and wonder if I should have shouted out, “Don’t you know you can’t take it with you!” I had heard this kind of thing (open, extreme materialism) joked about, usually in a dismissive way. But here was someone brave and audacious enough to wear it on a shirt, proclaiming to the world that the stuff we fill our lives with is what really matters. Of course many of us fall into the trap of greed easily, we’re just less hesitant to publish it so widely.
In the lectionary gospel reading this week Jesus comes into a contact with a man not afraid to ask for more stuff. Jesus refuses to help him in his quest to acquire more, and shares the great parable of the rich man whose wealth grew and grew, and the rich man’s thoughts always remained inwardly focused on how he could continue to have more and more. He was shooting to be the one with the most toys. He wasn’t thankful towards God, and he wasn’t generous with his neighbors. You can see where this is going now… God speaks and calls the man a fool because all that he has acquired will mean nothing once he dies. Apparently the man has even neglected his relationship with his family, since God asks him what will become of all his stuff after his death.
Jesus’ warning about materialism and greed is sometimes tough to handle in our society. We are surrounded by stuff and junk, and very, very potent advertising for stuff and junk. Jesus’ rough reminder is exactly what we need on more days than we would like to admit.