Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out

Luke 12: 33 (NRSV)

The text from today’s Gospel invites us to make the best use of life and to seek our own interest, but within the context of love for the neighbour.

“Make purses for yourself that do not wear out,” requires us to seek out our own interest. Self interest requires one to do what is in the best interest of one’s self. There is a school of thought which says that human beings always act out of self interest- people are motivated by self interest. This theory is not accepted by all and is the cause of great debate.

We have been taught to believe that acting out of self-interest is bad. Is it wrong to seek out your own interest? For some persons the thought of looking after one’s interest seems to go against the concept that Christians should practice self-sacrifice rather than advance their own goals. Our human nature tells us that we should take care of ourselves. We are accountable to God for the life he has given to each one of us. Part of that accountability is to make the best use of life and live it to its fullest in accordance with God’s laws. This can only be achieved if we seek and pursue those things that would allow us to be faithful stewards of the gifts given to us by God.

The teaching of Jesus in the Gospels does not rule out looking after one’s interest. All Jesus requires of us is that we love our neighbour as we love ourselves. If we do not love ourselves, how can we love our neighbours? If we do not provide for our personal needs how can we provide for the needs of others? In today’s Gospel material success in the form of wealth is not condemned; we are challenged to use our wealth for the common good. The Gospel advises us to make provision for our needs by being wise, cautious and responsible, if we are to gain treasure, especially our treasure in heaven: “Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out.”

To act in our own interest which makes it possible for us to provide and achieve our needs, which are essential for living, is not immoral. On the contrary we act immorally when we pretend that our interests are not important and squander our lives.

Self- interest as I understand it from the teaching of Jesus is wrong when it prevents us from acting neighbourly; this is implicit in today’s Gospel and it is the main point in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. In this parable the Priest and Levite were not denounced because they were bad persons but because they allowed narrow self-interest to stand in the way of being a neighbour to the victim. When self- interest prevents us from loving the neighbour it is evil. Self- interest is immoral when it is engaged in to satisfy our selfish wants and not our genuine needs. Self- interest which seeks to fulfill one’s genuine needs is different from self interest which seeks to fulfill one’s wants. The latter is covetousness.

Christians must not fall for the thinking that implies it is always wrong to pursue one’s personal interests. We must pursue our own interest but it must not be a naked self-interest pursuit that is based on selfishness and self love. The principles of Jesus’ teachings would suggest that people have a legitimate right to pursue their own self-interest but it cannot be motivated by greed, envy, jealously, hatred, malice, covetousness and the many other wrongs that stop us from acting neighbourly.

The requirement in today’s Gospel ‘Sell your possessions, and give alms” reminds us that whatever our achievements and whatever successes might come our way as a result of pursuing our self-interests, are not for selfish gain. Our prosperity must be used in the service of others lest it becomes a snare and a danger. Our prosperity must serve the common good and be always in the service of humanity. “Sell your possessions, and give alms” is not meant to be taken literally; rather it is a request for disciples to be persons who have an obligation to live their lives in the service of others, especially the poor and down trodden. Today’s Gospel asks us to be philanthropists- persons who are caring, compassionate, charitable, kind, generous and humanitarian.

Since we are members of the human family and are meant to live in community, there are times when we will have to fore-go some of our self-interests, desires and rights, for the benefit of the community and the common good. In the Corinthian church there was a debate centred around the eating of meat offered to idols. Can Christians go to the market and buy meat that was offered in pagan worship? Paul advised them that no idols existed and that they were at liberty to eat meat offered to idols. But at the same time he warned them that although they were at liberty to exercise their right and eat meat, it might be necessary for them to curtail their freedom. “Only take care lest this liberty of yours somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.” As we seek to fulfil our self-interests we must always be conscious of St. Paul’s admonition: “Therefore, if food is a cause of my brother's falling, I will never eat meat, lest I cause my brother to fall.”

As we go after our self-interests we must listen to Jesus’ teaching:”For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” It is a warning to be careful and ensure that our self-interests do not become the centre of our lives. Do not make gods out of our desires and interests; do not allow them to control our lives; do not worship them; do not be led away by their false hope. See them for what they are worth.

At times it is necessary for us to give priority to our own interests above those of the neighbour. It is not always possible to ”Sell your possessions, and give alms.”

From time to time, in order to preserve our self-esteem, sanity, peace of mind and further our personal growth and development we might have to promote our self-interests and think about ‘self’, but not at any cost.

At times if we do not look after ourselves, who will? But as we go about meeting our personal interests we must ensure that the means justify the ends. We must always act morally as we go after our self-interests; we must always act neighbourly.

Is it wrong for a person to pursue his or her self-interests? Sometimes, but not always. 

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