SFX Bulletin, 4 August 2013: Many of us fear poverty but in today’s gospel, Jesus tells a parable that suggests we should also be very fearful of having great wealth because it can rob us of our greatest treasure.
Luke tells us in today’s gospel that in the midst of a crowd of “many thousands” (v.1) that had gathered to see Jesus as the powerful preacher and miracle worker was a man who was seeking Jesus only because he needed a powerful voice for his greedy plan. While rabbis were often sought to mediate on domestic issues such as the one presented by the man, the circumstances under which the man had sought out Jesus to side him in his inheritance dispute showed up his greedy obsession. Jesus’ response also revealed that the man’s issue was not one of injustice on the part of his brother but “avarice” or greed on the part of the man. Jesus used the occasion to tell the parable of the rich fool – a story about a rich man so saturated with his wealth that he even thinks his soul can be saved by it. Jesus’ parable on the man’s disordered desire came with a warning that “a man’s life is not made secure by what he owns, even when he has more than he needs” (v.15). It is a parable that prompts us to examine what we are doing with the “good harvest” (v.16) or the “extras” that God has given us – have we “hoard” (v.20) it up for ourselves or are we redistributing it to those in need so that by choosing to live simply, others may simply live?
In the parable that Jesus told, the rich man was unable to see his good harvest as a blessing from God. He already had barns full of grain but still wanted to increase his hoard, “I will pull down my barns and build bigger ones, and store all my grain and my goods in them and I will say to my soul: My soul, you have plenty of good things laid by for many years to come…” (v.18-19).
The man was so satisfied by his possessions that he could not even see that no human being ever really knows if he or she has “many years to come” or not. That very same night, God called him. Jesus concluded the parable by telling the crowd, “…this hoard…whose will it be then? So it is when a man stores up treasure for himself in place of making himself rich in the sight of God’” (v.21)
At the end of his life, King Solomon, too, realized the futility of living life centred on earthly ambitions. Solomon’s wealth, political power, 700 wives, 300 concubines and their false gods “led him astray” (1 Kgs. 11:3). Despite his legendary wisdom, King Solomon’s life ended sadly. The prophet Nehemiah said, “Among the many nations there was no king like him. He was loved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel, but even he was led into sin…” (Neh. 13:26).
St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians tells us how one who has been called by God and blessed with “true life in Christ” through baptism can avoid being led astray and back into sin, “Let your thoughts be on heavenly things, not on the things that are on the earth, you have died, and now the life you have is hidden with Christ in God”. (v.2). The bible is our manual for understanding “heavenly things”. In this Year of Faith we are all encouraged to study and meditate on our Scripture-based Creed and Catechism to deepen our knowledge and understanding of the mysteries of our faith. Through the Catechism, St. Paul’s words, “…you have died…” become clearer, “If water springing up from the earth symbolizes life, the water or the sea is a symbol of death and so can represent the mystery of the cross. By this symbolism Baptism signifies communion with Christ’s death” (CCC1220).
Jesus’ death – the giving of his life – so that all of us can be redeemed from sin and death, is the most perfect expression of generosity and love. He has loved us first so that in experiencing his love, we may desire to “progress towards true knowledge” of our “new self” and welcome Jesus as “everything” in life (Col.3:10-11).
Let us make the psalmist’s humble prayer our own today, “Make us know the shortness of our life that we may gain wisdom of heart” (Ps. 89). None of us know how “many years to come” we still have, but God has given us this hour of Holy Mass to approach Jesus – may we not have excessive materialism on our prayer list but a grateful heart that seeks to understand deeper and share with others the wealth of “heavenly things” already pouring out on us unceasingly.