There is some debate about the origin of the word affluenza, but regardless of its source, it has our attention. Webster defines it as “extreme materialism and consumerism associated with the pursuit of wealth and success and resulting in a life of chronic dissatisfaction, debt, overwork, stress, and impaired relationships”. This word may have been coined relatively recently, but the condition it describes has probably been around since people inhabited earth. Jesus taught about in in our reading this week:
Then he told them a story: “A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops. 17 He said to himself, ‘What should I do? I don’t have room for all my crops.’ 18 Then he said, ‘I know! I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll have room enough to store all my wheat and other goods. 19 And I’ll sit back and say to myself, “My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!”’ 20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?’ 21 “Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.”
Luke 12:16-21 (NLT)
It is fairly easy to point out the wealthy man’s selfishness and arrogance, but Jesus’ goal wasn’t to get us to castigate this man, or others like him. He uses this story to get us to see a problem, so we can then evaluate our own minds and hearts. There is a deadly disease that is constantly threatening our lives…it’s the attraction to wealth and material things, thinking they will be the answer to our happiness and fulfillment. People that are wealthy, run the risk of finding that their attention is always on protecting what they have, and finding ways to gain more. Those who are not wealthy, can fall into the trap of setting their hopes on gaining riches to become happy, or being consumed by jealousy and envy of those who have it. People who set their hearts on wealth like this, create spiritual illness.
Instead, Jesus challenges and warns us to guard our hearts from the deadly effects of affluenza. He calls us to pursue a deep love and dependence on God, who promises to meet all or our needs if we will faithfully trust and obey Him.