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Luke has a special concern for the poor and accordingly he had a keen eye for what wealth does to people. In the story of the rich man and Lazarus, for example, the poor man has a name, Lazarus, but the rich man has no name. The rich are inclined to define themselves by what they own, not by what they are. Riches can clog up your inner being, so that you do not know who you are. Then you look at other people and don’t really see them; you only see what they own – or do not own. Others looked through the doorway and saw a poor man there, the rich man looked and saw nobody.
In today’s reading the family shattering subject of inheritance arises. In the time of Jesus, the practice in the case of disputed inheritance was to get a recognised rabbi to agree with one’s proposed division of the property. The first to get such an agreement won the case, the other was bound to accept the rabbi’s ruling. But instead of giving a ruling Jesus told the man a parable.
In the parable the rich man having become richer, does not call his friends and throw a party. He celebrates alone. He doesn’t even seem to have anyone to talk to. ‘He thought to himself, “what shall I do?”. And then he answered himself. ” I will pull down my barns and build bigger ones .. and I will say to myself..” the loneliness of wealth, and the blindness.. In fact the rich man subtly changes places with the beggar.
Even in these times of recession the advertising industry bombards us with the message that life consists in driving this or that car, in having this logo on your shirt .. ‘because you are worth it’ The cult of unthinking greed can destroy us.
That is the ‘real vanity of vanities’. We may have to spend a few more years working out what we need rather than what we want before we begin to emerge into the world of the Gospel.