[Wednesday in the Second Week of Lent] Acquisition, Consumption, and the Poor: A Vicious Spiritual Triangle
Read: Luke 12:15-21
And he [Jesus] said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
Today’s rapid rate of consumption undermines environmental resources. In the liturgy for Ash Wednesday in The Book of Common Prayer, we are invited “in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.” In what ways might our lives be changed if we were to engage in new ways of fulfilling these disciplines?
For example, what would happen in our lives if we took an inventory of our real needs rather than of our insatiable desires? What if we were to make it part and parcel of our Lenten practice to reflect on how the things we want, buy, and own are potentially forms of addiction to a lifestyle that undermines genuine economic and environmental health? What if we were to come to terms with the motivations or compulsions that drive our purchasing decisions? Might not a deeper understanding of these forces lead us to more redemptive choices in our daily lives? And in so doing, might this lead us, as the Ash Wednesday invitation puts it, “to make a right beginning of repentance”?
Excessive consumption exacerbates inequalities between the rich and poor. And if trends continue, today’s problems of consumption and inequality will worsen. We must look at redistributing from high-income to low-income consumers, moving from polluting to cleaner goods and production technologies, promoting goods that empower poor producers, and shifting priority from consumption for conspicuous display to meeting basic needs.
This Lenten season calls us to pause periodically to reflect on what our real needs are and how our relationships to others in our community—and in the world around us—might become sources of lifegiving power.
Almighty and eternal God, so draw our hearts to you, so guide our minds, so fill our imaginations, so control our wills, that we may be wholly yours, utterly dedicated to you; and then use us, we pray, as you will, and always to your glory and the welfare of your people; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
(The Book of Common Prayer, p. 833)
Joe Burnett served as bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Nebraska and as an assistant bishop in the Diocese of Maryland.