When Jesus tells you to “watch-out” or “take care” that’s an alarm bell that we should probably listen and respond to. Jesus warns his disciples to protect themselves against all kinds of greed. He then adds a reason for this: life does not consist of having more than what we need. But what exactly is the issue here?
Greed refers not merely to the desire to have more than one has, but the relentless yearning for more and more, often at the expense of others. The parable of the foolish rich person that follows immediately after this verse (12:16-21) illustrates and unpacks this warning. Six times within the space of three verses the rich man focusses solely on himself, with not a hint of concern or awareness for anyone else. In fact, his whole security and identity seems bound to his riches and possessions. We should remember, as biblical scholar Klyne Snodgrass points out: “The fault is not in the possessions themselves, but in how tightly we cling to them or the use we make of them (or refuse to make of them). The issue is the focus of our lives and the way that focus determines the use of our possessions.”1 Because of his preoccupation with himself, his possessions and his wealth, God calls him foolish, i.e., someone who lacks wisdom. And this connects to a concept used by ancient and contemporary theologians described as: Incurvatus in se, or “a life turned in on itself.”