St Ambrose reminds us that we should be seeking an inheritance of immortality, not one of money; nor should one tempt the Lord by asking Him to arbitrate in such matters. Augustine reminds us that Christ has come to gather, and not to divide; greed and avarice divide, charity and love unite. St Cyril tells us that here Jesus shows that covetousness is pitfall of the devil’s; it is a form of idolatry, no better than the worship of sticks and stones; it is a snare which drags our souls down to hell.
St Cyril points out that, surrounded by great riches with which he might do much good, he looks neither to the future nor to God, but to himself and his own greed; he does not think about the poor and the needy, nor does he sympathise with them and their suffering and attempt, as he could, to help them. He hoards these good things to himself, in the same way the proud Pharisees hoarded the teaching of God. St Augustine makes a similar point, that, instead of helping the poor, he helped himself; so where will he be when the Lords says “I was hungry and you did not give me to eat”? [Matthew 25:42].
St Leo the Great [Sermon 90] says:
But because the snares of the devil are not at rest even in such a state of things, most rightly at certain seasons of the year the renewal of our vigour is provided for: and now in particular, when one who is greedy of present good might boast himself over the clemency of the weather and the fertility of the land, and having stored his crops in great barns, might say to his soul,
you have much goods, eat and drink, let him take heed to the rebuke of the Divine voice, and hear it saying,
You fool, this night they require your soul of you, and the things which you have prepared, whose shall they beLuke 12:19-20? This should be the wise man’s most anxious consideration, in order that, as the days of this life are short and its span uncertain, death may never come upon him unawares, and that knowing himself mortal he may meet his end fully prepared.
Ambrose reminds us that only virtue and charity follow us after our death. St Cyril adds that the man who is rich toward God, and thus blessed, is not one who values money, but one who loves virtue; such a man’s hand is open and generous to the poor, and by his charity, such a man gathers up treasure in Heaven. It is God who gives all good things, and we should imitate him if we are fortunate enough to be endowed with riches. But riches wrongly used are a snare.
The Church Fathers are unanimous in seeing this passage in two ways: a warning to the rich; and a call to charity and generosity on their part. They did not live in a world where anyone could expect the State to pick up the bill, or where one could out-source charity; every man who had more than he needed for his daily bread was adjured to share of his substance with those less fortunate. The links to the Matthean passages where Jesus casts himself in the place of the poor, are strong with the Fathers. Building up wealth for oneself is literally pointless; indeed, in as far as it hardens one’s heart to the poor, it is harmful to one’s soul.