In spiritual stories, there are usually two kinds of rich people. Either they are kind and generous, looking after those less fortunate than themselves, spreading joy and happiness around them, or they are mean and self-centred, ignoring the needs of others and causing misery to those over whom they have power. The rich people in the first reading and the Gospel clearly fall into the second category and that is why they are condemned, not because they are rich – in Jewish thought, wealth is a sign of being blessed by God – but because they are refusing to accept the responsibility that comes with that blessing – the duty to help those that are in need.
In our society today the gap between the very rich and the very poor is as great as ever. There are rich benefactors who share their wealth, donating generously to what they see as good causes, but there are also those who believe that what they have earned or inherited is theirs alone, purely for their own pleasure, and who feel no compassion for those who are struggling to survive. This is very short-sighted, because the most unequal societies are also the most violent and the most dangerous for rich people to live in, but it is also against the teachings of all the great religions and of every enlightened society.
The Catholic Church has a great treasury of social teaching which, if it was put into practice, would lead to a much more just and harmonious society. There are people in all the main political parties (not all of them Catholics) who are trying to base their policies on Catholic Social Teaching, but they have an uphill struggle against those who believe only in the right of individuals to do the best they can for themselves.
We need to make clear our support for the common good as a basis for public policy, but we also need to put it into practice in our own lives, remembering that, from the perspective of the poorest people in the world, we are rich too.