The Journey series
Wealth and Autonomy
This week's Mustard Seed examines the idea that wealth affords autonomy. The Oxford English Dictionary defines wealth as an abundance of valuable possessions or money. Many people strive for wealth believing it will buy freedom to do as they choose.
We constantly produce and consume wealth. We are more certain to consume than to produce. Illness, injury, or misfortune may reduce, interrupt, or end our capacity to produce. A prudent person saves a portion of what they produce to tide them over any interruptions. Savings offer security. They allow a person to remain self sufficient rather than reliant on the good graces of others. Savings allow one to retire comfortably once work becomes onerous. At some point, however, savings switch from prudence to folly.
There was a man who became obsessed with saving. He didn't go out except to work, he didn't have friends, and he didn't take holidays. He ate meagre meals, dressed in second-hand clothes, and lived in a one-room apartment. His savings grew large as he grew old.
One day he realized that he had more savings than he could ever use. He prayed that he would be able to take his savings to heaven. After months of agonizing prayer he begged, "For the love of Jesus, have mercy on me!"
"Since you've begged for my mercy I'll let you into heaven," God replied, "and, since you're so set in your ways, I'll let you bring one suitcase with you – filled with whatever you want."
The man went out and bought the biggest suitcase he could find. He bought all the gold bars he could afford and filled the case half-full. He scrimped and saved all the harder, determined to fill his suitcase. He bought more ingots whenever he could and packed them tightly in the suitcase.
On the day he filled the last bit of space he died. The miserly hermit lugged his suitcase with him up to the Pearly Gates. St Peter found his name in the Good Book. "It says you're due for Purgatory, but you'll have to leave that outside."
"There must be some mistake," the man protested, "God said I would go to heaven and promised I could bring one suitcase filled with whatever I want."
"Well, you will go to heaven after purgation," St Peter said, "but nobody brings anything with them."
"But God promised," the man insisted. "Ask Him."
St Peter went off to ask God about the man's claim. He returned a short while later with a furrowed brow and rubbing his chin. "I'll be darned," he said. "This has never happened before. May I see what's in your suitcase?"
The man opened his suitcase and St Peter began laughing so hard he cried. "Now I understand," St Peter said, once regaining his composure. "You're slated for the road crew. God has let you bring some paving stones!"
Next post: Serious Wealth
Then he said, ‘This is what I will do: I will tear 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 many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’
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Peter T Elliott