4th August 2013. 18th Sunday of Year C.
Eccl 1:2; 2:21-23. “Vanity of vanities!” You can’t take it with you when you die.
Col 3:1-5,9-11. Since Christ has returned to the Father, we must seek the things that are above.
Lk 12:13-21. The Rich Fool – a colourful warning against greed and selfishness.
The Rich Fool is a warning to those who are rich and comfortable. The economics imposed by our accumulative society play a large part in the hunger and poverty of the Third World.
First Reading: Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:21-23
Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
Even one who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave all to be enjoyed by another who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun? For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest. This also is vanity.
Second Reading: Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11
So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.
Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!
Gospel: Luke 12:13-21
Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”
Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
If I were a rich man
“What does it profit one to have gained the whole world, and to have lost or ruined his self?” (Lk 9:25). “For our life is not made secure by what we own, even when we have more than we need” (Lk 12:15). The gospel is emphatic that a truly meaningful life cannot be achieved merely by heaping up material goods. The rich man in today’s story thought that his future was secure, and that his existence was totally in his own hands. It must have come as quite a shock to him to be reminded that life on earth is God’s to give and God’s to take away. But maybe many of us feel a certain sneaking admiration and sympathy for this industrious man. Deep in our human nature there is in all of us some streak of greed and covetousness, wanting to own things at all costs.
Perhaps greed is linked to a lack of love, and many people try to fill that voice with all kinds of possessions and celebrity. There is ample evidence of this in today’s world which surrounds us on every side with the clamour of the rat-race, an obsessive scramble to get up in the world by fair means or foul, strident demands by some sections of society for greater remuneration for their services, backed by the threat of crippling strikes if these demands are not met. But the message of Jesus calls us to moderate such self-seeking. In his parable he suggests that, at some time or other, each of us must face the question put to the Rich Fool: What are my hopes for the life hereafter?
The rich fool put all his energies into piling riches upon riches. The other extreme is one that sees no value in working at all. “Why bother working when life is so short, and we can be fed at other people’s expense”? is the attitude which was found among some communities of the early Church, when people thought that the second coming of Christ was at hand. And on this matter Saint Paul, usually so preoccupied with spiritual matters, shows himself as a realist. “If anyone refuses to work,” he told them bluntly, “he should not eat.”
Virtue is often the golden mean, the middle path between two extremes. Our attitude to wealth and property must reflect this in some way. On the one hand we have Christ’s total giving of himself. He came into the world in a place used to house animals; he departed from the world possessing nothing, having been stripped even of his clothes before his crucifixion. But during our lives we stand in need of worldly goods, a place to live and money to live on. And there are many ways to use money responsibly. A rich person who uses his wealth to provide worthwhile employment for others, is doing better person in the eyes of God than one who claims to believe the gospel message but refuses to use our God-given talents for the welfare of those with whom we finds himself involved.
We lay up treasure for ourselves in heaven, not only through loving God in our inmost heart but also by love of neighbour.
In order to really play our part in life we must be determined, as the second reading urges, and “kill” the vices which are in us, especially greed which is like worshipping a false god. And nothing can better bring us to understand the relativity of money than that stark gospel question, “This pile of yours, when death comes knocking, whose shall it be?’
Has the parable of the rich fool anything to say to us in today’s world of economics? Can we afford to ignore the financial advisors and make no provision for the distant future? Indeed, one wonders whether any Christian community has ever put this parable into practice. Even the young Church in Jerusalem, for all its disinterestedness in the goods of this world, had such economic worries that it had to appoint certain people to deal with the distribution of alms, so that others could devote themselves to the ministry of the word.
It is important to understand the parable correctly. The rich man’s fault was not in planning ahead; he was perfectly right to provide for what we would call “the rainy day.” Where he went wrong was in thinking only of himself, of his personal comfort and well-being. He forgot the responsibility we all have to the community at large, – in dealing with property, work and our planning for the future. It is only when we live and work in a kind of social and family solidarity that our life and work fit in with God’s plan for us.
The last sentence of the parable conveys the mind of Jesus: one must not store up treasure for oneself, but seek to be rich in the sight of God. What does this mean? Later (Lk 12:31-34) it becomes clear: “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and all these things will be yours as well. Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.”
To seek the Kingdom of God means more than just taking part in worship. It includes the service of others. demanded by membership of the Church. By giving of oneself we make treasure in heaven and become rich in the sight of God. The fault in the man who came to Jesus with the grievance against his brother, and likewise in the rich fool, was that they were thinking of nobody hut themselves, whereas the Kingdom of God is reached by sharing one another’s burdens. Whatever we give to others is not lost, but becomes treasure for eternity, drawing us forward into the Kingdom.
Vanity Of Vanities
Poverty breeds its own virtues. “Necessity is the mother of invention.” For the generation who grew up after the great depression of the thirties and the rationing of the Second World War, the great virtue was “waste not, want not.” Life then seemed to be one great salvage operation. There was a Jacob’s biscuit tin on every mantlepiece, where all sorts of bits and pieces were stored, like buttons and safety-pins and pieces of string. It was a holdall wherein was stored the wherewithal to repair the wear and tear of daily life. Hoarding then was a virtuous necessity rather than a vice. Garbage disposal was no problem then. Most things had disintegrated long before they got that far. Even the ashes from the fire were used in the garden to kill slugs and worms in the rhubarb patch. Clothes were patched and woollen socks were darned out of recognition and when they could no longer be worn they began life anew as dusters and mops. Toilet paper had not been invented then; yesterday’s newspaper served the purpose moe than adequately. For those who came in the middle of families, most of their clothes were hand-me-downs. Sizes tended to be approximate rather than exact. Hems alternated between being “let down” or “turned up.”
Nowadays we are locked into a consumerist society and the era of the disposable. Cities and governments spend millions on the collection and disposal of waste. Garbage bags figure on every shopping list. Television shows us harrowing pictures of children and families, foraging for survival in the public dumps of Rio de Janeiro and Manila. Whole shanty-towns have grown up round them. It is a vivid illustration of the ever-widening gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots’, between our avarice and their desti tution.
Governments and businesses vie with each other in promoting avarice in their citizens and customers. It is promoted like one of the civic virtues. The good of the economy depends upon it. The Lotto is a national craze. And lest we might suffer from tweaks of conscience occasionally, we are reassured by the list of hospitals and other charitable institutions who benefit from our avariciousness. But avarice is one of the seven deadly sins, “deadly” because it spawns a host of other sins. No one who reads a newspaper can doubt that. The litany of political scandals make daily headlines. Government ministers in Italy, France and England have recently resigned or been sacked and even arrested for taking bribes. The Mafia and drug-barons are laughing all the way to the bank.
St Paul puts it bluntly in the epistle: “That is why you must kill everything in you that belongs to the earthly life, and especially greed, which is the same thing as worshipping a false god.” “You can’t take it with you” was a common expression one time in Ireland about money. Which proves, if it proves nothing else, that the Irish knew their gospel. “Fool, this night do I require your soul of thee.” For those who seek God, the church has always recommended poverty, chastity and obedience – and in that order. The hand that reaches out for God must be empty.
Rich, but not Wealthy?
Today Jesus speaks of the riches of heaven, as compared to earthly riches. “There’s no pocket in the shroud” is a good old Irish saying. As with the Beatitudes, he is speaking about the poor in spirit. In other words, I could have a lot of wealth, but it does not possess me, nor am I enslaved by it.
It took me many years to distinguish between being rich and being wealthy. I was confusing riches with money. I didn’t understand that riches and richness has nothing to do with money. As a family, I thought we were fairly poor, but it was many years later when I discovered just how rich we were. When I came to work with people who were wealthy, and I discovered just how poor they were, it was quite an eye-opener for me.
In his story Jesus tells us about something we all know too well. The first million will never satisfy! It may be the most difficult to make, but it can generate a compulsion to accumulate, and I can become driven with the needs to go one better. Once again, it is a failure to distinguish between wealth and riches. Some of the richest people I know have little of this world’s goods. There are no greater riches than a loving, kind heart. Money couldn’t buy the gifts that bring happiness.
It is such a simple lesson, but I will never learn it if I refuse to open my heart. When I die, I will have to let go of everything. I was at the bedside of a wealthy woman when she died. She had a well-merited reputation for minding the pennies; she had no family of her own; and there was no shortage of interest as to where her wealth was going to go. (“Where there’s a will, there are relatives!’). One of the staff whispered “I wonder how much did she leave?”, and with a touch of cynicism another replied, “She left everything.”