“The Parable of the Rich Hoarder”

Categories: M. W. Bassford, Meditations

One of the marks of the coronavirus crisis so far has been the sudden scarcity of a number of strange items.  The empty toilet-paper shelves at grocery stores will, I think, become one of the enduring images of 2020.  For myself, I decided a week or two ago that I needed some 00 buckshot in my life, but I discovered that there were no boxes of 00 buckshot to be had anywhere, either in town or online.

We’re in the middle of a coronavirus epidemic, not a dysentery epidemic, so there is no particular reason why people’s toilet-paper needs should have spiked.  Instead, the only thing that has spiked is anxiety.  Somebody, somewhere, decided that they needed to buy a year’s worth of toilet paper to prepare for the coronavirus, somebody else saw them doing it, got scared, and decided to do the same thing, and now just about anybody who goes to the grocery store will at least feel the temptation to buy an extra pack “just in case”.  As a result, some have houses full of toilet paper while others are reduced to plaintive appeals on Facebook.

As I considered this bizarre phenomenon, I could not help but be reminded of the parable of the rich fool in Luke 12:13-21.  Jesus relates this parable as a warning against every kind of greed, but the particular kind of greed we see on display is hoarding.  The rich fool has been blessed by God, but he is utterly uninterested in sharing his blessings with others.  In today’s parlance, he decides to tear down his toilet-paper barns and build bigger ones.  However, his death reveals the poverty of his selfishness.

Today, we can reveal our own selfishness not only in the way we heap up wealth and possessions but also in the way we accumulate further possessions at others’ expense.  In a time of abundance, there’s nothing wrong with putting aside something extra to prepare for an uncertain future.  The prepper who buys an extra bag of rice or beans every time he goes to the store has harmed no one, so long as the shelves still are filled with rice and beans.  He’s motivated not by selfishness and fear, but by wisdom.

 However, hoarding in a time of scarcity is another matter.  One of the sisters at church has a co-worker who recently was desperately searching for potatoes.  This co-worker’s means are modest, and she relies on potatoes and other inexpensive foodstuffs to feed her family. 

However, when she got to the grocery store, there wasn’t a potato in sight.  Panicked people had bought up all the rice, beans, and potatoes, leaving her with options she couldn’t afford.  Thankfully, generous people quickly stepped up to help her, but it’s not hard to imagine a scenario in which sacks of potatoes rot on a hoarder’s pantry floor while others go hungry.

The spiritual problems with this behavior are serious.  To begin with, it’s a clear violation of the second commandment.  You don’t love your neighbor if you’re hoarding the food they need to survive. 

Additionally, it shows a lack of faith.  Though the Bible encourages us to be prudent and wise, we are not to rely on our own prudence and wisdom.  We are to rely on God.  When we are so concerned about protecting ourselves that we harm others in the process, our behavior proclaims our lack of trust in Him.

This is a dark time.  As Christians, we are called to be lights in it.  We should strive to be known for our concern and generosity toward others.  By contrast, when our fear drives us to hoarding, our light becomes hidden beneath the heaps of goods we have amassed.  If this is where God finds us when He calls our souls to Him, the truth of our poverty will be eternally exposed.