Hong Kong, 2015
The time is 6pm.
The sun’s golden reflection upon the busy waters of Victoria Harbour is fading, replaced by the glittering lights emanating from a forest of towers. An endless chorus of machinery hums on as Hong Kong’s evening rush hour peaks.
Down at Statue Square, this metropolis rushes at a frantic pace. A rich banker is ushered into his limousine at the entrance of the HSBC tower. Commuters flood the streets, streaming to and from the nearby MTR station. A lady pauses to look at the handbags on display at the Chanel store. At the bus stop, several men animatedly discuss the latest Forex news. A queue snakes its way from a roadside noodle store, as a beaming hawker works his magic on a wok. High above, on the 20th floor of the iconic Bank of China building, a tired young man slogs on way past working hours.
In the midst of this seemingly chaotic humdrum an unusual crowd is gathering at the square. A Man stands encircled by this dynamic but growing mass of humanity. This controversial figure, frequently mentioned on the news of late, is telling stories again. As He spoke, the diverse crowd of students, supporters, critics and busybodies listened and reacted emotively.
His name is Je-Sou (Jesus).
A man from the crowd raised his hands and said, “Ye-Sou, please instruct my brother to give me a fair share of the family inheritance.”
He answered, “Mister, what makes you think it’s any of my business to be a judge or mediator in your family feud?”
Addressing the crowd, Ye-Sou said, “Listen! Stay clear of any form of greed. Life is not defined by the amount of money or the value of the assets you possess.”
Then, in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the central business district, Ye-Sou told them this story, “The stocks of a skilful investor were performing exceptionally well with phenomenal capital gains while yielding substantial yearly dividends. He said to himself: ‘What should I do? Where should I keep all these excess funds?’
Then he said, ‘I know what I will do! I’ll open a Swiss bank account and transfer several million dollars across for safekeeping. After that, I will just keep doing the same and I’ll say to myself, lucky one, FATT-TATT LAH! (you’ve struck rich in Cantonese!) What good fortune! With this endless prosperity, I can take it easy and enjoy all the luxuries that money can buy!’
Just then, God showed up and said, ‘Fool, tonight you die. And all your money and assets, who will enjoy?’
“That’s what happens when you get your priorities wrong, banking on what’s temporary rather than eternal.”
This timeless parable is as relevant today, as when Jesus first told it 2000 years ago.
No parable speaks right into the heart like the parable of the rich fool. Likewise, I cannot think of a more appropriate backdrop for it than the swanky skyscrapers that pack Hong Kong’s financial district.
Money is hot topic in China from the subtle salutations exchanged on a daily basis, down to superstitions and unwritten philosophies within the culture. For example, “Hey friend! How’s business?” is a common greeting phrase. During the Lunar New Year, one wishes a family or a friend “Gong Hei Fatt Choi” -congratulations and be prosperous!
Red is seen as an auspicious colour and many Chinese subscribe to the philosophy of Feng Shui when purchasing a property.
In many ways, Hong Kong embodies the working existential philosophy of China. Three things are viewed as markers of success. Wealth, health and relational harmony.
Unfortunately wealth too often becomes the overriding pursuit. Materialism, competitiveness, and lofty ambitions are celebrated virtues. Consequently, life becomes riddled with family feuds, anxiety, spiritual emptiness and health problems.
In reaction to this propensity Buddhism has developed a substantial following in China over the centuries. Buddhism teaches that suffering comes from lust for material wealth and the way to escape this is to deny oneself of all physical pleasures.
Jesus spoke more about money than heaven and hell combined! 11 out of 30 parables were about this subject. And within this parable, Jesus offers a liberating message to all who would hear and obey his Word.
- We can live life free from the chains of worry: The Heavenly Father, our Creator, cares for us and knows what we need! (Luke 12: 22-32)
- We can enjoy our honest wealth without guilt: The love of money rather than money itself is the root of evil (1Timothy 6:10). Though the temptation to love money can be greater with increased affluence, we do not need to live in self imposed poverty to achieve happiness. Having a God-focus and giving generously help us to get our priorities realigned.
- We can have a simple focus in life: ‘But seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well’. (Matthew 6: 33 NIV) In contrast to Buddhism that encourages its followers to empty themselves, Jesus comes to give us life abundantly by restoring our relational harmony with God.
- The best investments are those that will last for eternity: ‘ The place where your treasure is , is the place you will most want to be and end up being,’ (Luke 12: 34 MSG) Jesus finishes this parable by pointing out the best place to invest!
Jesus invites us all to return to the true meaning of the word happiness/blessing, sealed within the Chinese pictogram:
Credits: The paraphrased version of Luke 12:13-21 was partially adapted from The Message)