“A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” – Luke 12:15
Many years ago several of us were sitting around fantasizing about winning the lottery, when one of our colleagues remarked that it was a good thing that he had not won the lottery and become rich, because “if I was rich,” he mused, “I would become a really sorry human being.” A roar of laughter filled the room when he said that because we all knew, just as he knew about himself, that he was already a scoundrel anyway, and sudden wealth was not going to change that, only turn him into a worse scoundrel.
In a profound parable Jesus tells about a man whose farmland produced an enormous crop one year, big enough that it was like winning the lottery. All that was required of him at that point was to build bigger barns to store away his harvest, then sit back and enjoy his good fortune the rest of his life – eat, drink, and be merry; that is, until he was reminded just how brief this frivolous lifestyle, of being a sorry human being, was going to last. Whether that meant he was literally going to die, or simply become so disgusted with himself that whatever happiness he thought he would gain from his newly found wealth would quickly lead to misery instead.
“We are not our best perched at the summit,” someone once said. “We are climbers, at our best when the way is steep.” My former colleague never won the lottery. Neither did he ever cease as far as I know from being a scoundrel. But there is one thing I always admired about him, that despite his many character flaws, he realized that he would never find satisfaction by reaching the summit, only by staying engaged in the climb. By his own admission, had he won the lottery he would likely have become an even worse scoundrel than he already was. Deep down I don’t think he ever had a serious desire to win the lottery anyway. He was a climber, after all, who was much happier working and staying in the game, which he did most of the remainder of his life.
Jesus’ parable reminds us that the good life has nothing to do with being wealthy, which of course is the exact opposite from the message we hear from a society in which advertisers spend billions of dollars to try to entice us to believe that if we have more and buy more we will be happier and more fulfilled. Don’t fall for it, was Jesus’ message, for “a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”