Cadillac luxury vehicles are known, if not throughout the world, certainly across North America. They represent the finest automobiles the US has to offer, and for may people, they represent the epitome of refinement and quality. Of course, being luxury vehicles, they have been created specifically for those who can afford to pay for them. The cars are not simply utilitarian appliances designed for ordinary folk like you and me. If you’re in the market for a brand new Cadillac, you are one of a select few people in North America; you are definitely in the “have more than enough” category rather than the “barely scraping by” range.
A recent ad for the companies flagship vehicle sums up my problem with the emphasis such brands, whether it’s cars or carpeting, place on wealth and ownership. The promotion talks about the many features of their top-line vehicle then asks why anyone would need them. Answering their own question the announcer states that it’s not about needing; its about wanting. The desire for the opulence afforded by a Cadillac is justification enough to buy one.
There are a lot of things people want, but putting the emphasis on desire rather than need summarizes our unhealthy society. Whether its top-of-the-line motorcars or the basic needs of life, we’re trained to think more in terms of wanting than needing. Our wants, however, are endless. There is no end to desire, so when we emphasize wanting a thing rather than needing a thing, we can never be satisfied. The more we have, the more we want.
When a rich young man asked Jesus how to gain eternal life, Jesus quizzed him about what he understood to be important. Was he aware of God’s commandments? The seeker answered that he was, and that he followed them faithfully. Clearly, he knew what was necessary to receive eternal life. When Jesus then challenged him to go one step further and give up his wealth and possessions in order to follow him, the young rich man balked. Even though he knew what was needed by God and Jesus, what he wanted mattered more than what he needed.
In North America we are blessed with all that we need and more. Because we are so blessed, it’s hard for us to appreciate what we have. When we are constantly bombarded by satisfying our wants rather than our needs our vision is further blurred. With our vision blurred, what we want becomes hard to distinguish from what we need and, like the rich ruler, we lose track of what really matters.
By telling the rich ruler to give up all of his wealth and possessions, Jesus challenged the man to depend solely on him. What the rich ruler needed was Jesus. What he wanted, unfortunately, was what he already had.
What we really need in life is Jesus. Is that what we really want, however?
Published previously, March 7, as part of my weekly “Thoughts” for my congregation, St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Coldwater.