Character: our most precious possession



The Gospel story in Luke 12:13-21 is easy for us to imagine, writes Archbishop-designate, Julian Porteous.

Jesus has a crowd of people around him. I am sure many would want to ask him for advice on one thing or another. If we were there, it is what we would probably do!

Then one man says, 'Master, tell my brother to give me a share of our inheritance.'

Notice that he did not say, 'Master, could you advise me on what to do.' He demanded that Jesus take his side in an argument.

We can imagine that afterwards the man on seeing his brother would say something like – 'Jesus agrees with me! Give me my share.' It is like a child who says, 'Mummy says that you have to give me that toy.'

The man is trying to get Jesus to take sides – his side - in a family dispute.

So we can see why Jesus replies, 'My friend, who appointed me your judge, or the arbitrator of your claims.' Jesus does not intend to get caught up in this argument between brothers.

But then he adds, 'Watch and be on your guard against avarice of any kind.'

Jesus perhaps saw that the man was just being greedy. Maybe it was in his tone of voice, or in the way he sought to get Jesus to agree with him, that indicated this.

What is avarice? It is often called greed. It is one of the traditional Seven Deadly Sins. Greed is the excessive desire and pursuit of wealth, status or power.

The reason it is a sin is that it replaces the pursuit of God with the pursuit of material things. Avarice is often the cause for people to make immoral choices - like cheating or fraud - to obtain what they want. As a vice it corrupts the spiritual aspect of the soul.

Jesus warns us about avarice. He goes on to teach something very important – a person’s life is not made secure by what he has. In other words, it is the person we are rather than what we have that is most important.

This is a message that our society often does not accept. The cult of personalities – movie stars, singers, sports people – are all about what they have and do, rather than the quality of their personalities.

The superficiality of our society focuses on what possessions – like clothing, cars, houses and holiday destinations – as the things that are important. These are shallow and mean so little. We cannot but find ourselves influenced by the culture around us.

Our Pope, Francis, constantly relays this message to us. He is a shining example of one whose heart is set on higher things. His spirit is free from earthly attachments. He is a witness to us and a challenge to us.

In speaking to diplomats on 22 March 2013, Pope Francis spoke about the Church’s commitment to assist the poor but went on to speak about the fact that there is “another form of poverty”.

It is the spiritual poverty of our time, which afflicts the so-called richer countries particularly seriously. It is what my much-loved predecessor, Benedict XVI, called the 'tyranny of relativism,' which makes everyone his own criterion and endangers the coexistence of peoples.

Pope Francis reminds us, it is what is in the human heart that is most important. It is the sort of person we are. It is the quality of our character that is far more important.

When we die we can take no things with us. What we do take with us is the person we have become. This is our most precious possession.

Jesus explains this in the parable that follows: the parable of the man who just wants to build bigger barns to hold his goods. Today it would be the size of our bank accounts.

Jesus advises us today: 'Make yourself rich in the sight of God.' We can say, 'yes.' This is what is most important in life. I want to grow in sight of God by the way I lead my life.

What I become is what is most important. The character I develop is my most precious possession.

-  +Julian Porteous is the newly named Archbishop of Hobart

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