Homily for Trinity 10, Luke 12: 13-21
‘When a person stores up treasures for themselves instead of making themselves rich in God’s sight’ Jesus
So I was at this training day and the question we were asked was,
‘what does a person need to be happy?’
And we said all the stuff you’d expect clergy to say – Netflix, superfast broadband, Game of Thrones….
-We said things like faith, hope and love.
The person leading the seminar said,
‘well, that’s all very nice,
your lists are all missing something very important.
None of you has said money,
because you’re all so middle class’.
(Ooo, that hurt. I’m working class to the core…
….of my radio 4 and Sunday Observer).
‘No poor person’ he said, ‘would leave out money from that list’. Try being happy if your children are hungry and your purse is empty’.
He was right. You need at least a bit of money to be happy. You don’t need loads, but you do need some.
But what’s also true is that for thousands of years, philosophers, prophets, teachers, have said, when it comes to money, be careful. Wealth can give you a weak heart. It can poison your soul.
Jesus is always talking about money. In our gospel this morning, Jesus tells the story of a man who builds a bigger barn to horde even more of his stuff. His life ends suddenly, and God says, ‘you fool! You’ve got all these possessions, but where is your wealth –- your compassion, your concern for others, your kindness? What was the point of your life, without these things?’
What’s the point of anything, if it’s not about love or justice?
Wealth can be bad for your soul. And what prophets and Saints have always noticed, scientists are noticing too. In the University of Berkley in California, the psychologists Paul Piff and Dacher Keltner have been running research programmes to explain something that comes up again and again in studies – poorer people score more highly on tests for empathy and compassion than wealthier people do. One study showed poorer people having a stronger heartbeat response to images of human suffering. Another showed that poorer people give more of their income away to charity than rich people. Another even showed that wealthier people find it harder to recognise emotions in people’s faces than poorer people.
Of course this doesn’t mean every rich person and every poor person, but group averages. The article in ‘Scientific American’ where I read this was called, ‘how wealth reduces compassion’.
Wealth impacts on compassion. How? What psychologists like Piff and Keltner think is that wealth gives you a freedom from others that poorer people can never have. The wealthier you are, the less likely you are to need others; the poorer you are, the more likely you are to need and depend on others.
If you’re poor, you cannot do without friendship, and cooperation and the help and solidarity of others. If you’re poor, you have to constantly attune yourself to the moods, and needs, and feelings of those around you.
You can be rich and a good person. Of course you can. But your wealth makes it harder. Your gaze doesn’t have to constantly look towards another. You can be poor and a very materialistic person. But your lack of money, the fact that you can’t get through a week or a day even without kindness, help, solidarity from others, makes empathy that much easier.
‘Heaven forbid’ says this world, ‘that I should ever need the hand, or the heart, or the help of others’.
‘Heaven rejoice’, says Jesus, ‘because you need these things, because you know your need for God and other people’.
In Jesus’ world, the poor, the children, the least, the last, the littlest are our teachers, teaching us how beautifully human we become when we learn to say, ‘I can’t do this myself, can you help me?’.
That makes me happy.
Long live the revolution