Eighteenth Sunday of the Year August 1, 2010

Ecclesiastes 1:2, 2:21-23; Colossians 3:1-5.9-11; Luke 12:13-21

The readings of today tell us to have proper priorities in our live and to place our trust in God.  The person who places his trust in his own self will be missing something important in life.  The Gospel of today taken from Luke teaches us a lesson about greed that life does not consist in the abundance of possessions. The rich man-s possessions give him security and a way to define himself and enjoy life. Yet fear and insecurity plague his soul. Here we have the story of the so called rich fool who places his trust in himself without realizing what awaits him in his immediate future. First of all, he pictured a long and bright future before him. Secondly, he regarded the material wealth he had garnered for himself as the sign and the reward of a “successful” life. He also believed that all he possessed belonged exclusively to him. All the wealth he had earned if taken away it will be considered futile as he is not able to put it into any use.  The wisdom writer in the first reading uses the strong and powerful words to say that vanity of vanities and all is vanity.  The life itself is futile or vanity is like the vapour. A human person should have a purpose in life.  The second reading invites us to identify what is essential in life and separate it from what is not. We are called upon to seek what is above, namely, the values of God.  Here we are called upon to judge ourselves by our interior self and not by the external material goods. We are measured by not what we own but by what we share and by the opportunity we have to grow in the lasting wealth of love.

Today’s First Reading from the Book of Ecclesiastes teaches us how to find meaning in life and gives us the understanding that all things in this life, the pleasures as well as the sufferings are empty and purposeless. They have no real explanation.  The author questions what we as mortals get from all the toil and strain that we endure under the sun, when at death, we must leave everything behind for someone else to enjoy it.  These people, they did not work for all that wealth that they inherit. That is “vanity” in the sense of “worthlessness.” Vanity denotes emptiness or illusion. To prove how useless and vain the things of this life are, he cites the example of a man who worked intelligently and skillfully and produced wealth and things of value.  He has to die and leave them to somebody who did nothing to produce them. This is certainly foolishness on the part of man.  After all the toil and worry he has to leave them behind and go empty handed.  Therefore the wisdom write says that life on earth is a succession of trials and troubles, labour and lamentations folly and frustrations.  But if the world is seen in the light of God’s revelation, it is a gift of God to man, the most useful and necessary gift.  It is a bridge between our earthly and eternal life.  It is different for those who toil for spiritual labour. Their recompense is being accumulated in Heaven, their rewards awaiting them on judgment day. Their spiritual treasures will never depart from them.

In the Second Reading, taken from the Letter to the Colossians St Paul says that we must look for the things that are in heaven, where Christ is.  He wants all thoughts to be centered on heavenly things, not on the things that are on the earth.  He reminds the Colossian community that in Baptism they have become new persons as they have been raised with Christ.  There we find the perfect image of God in Jesus who is the perfect pattern of life for us. He is our reason for continuously seeking an interior renovation in His image as the new man. Christ is the head of a new humanity, the Christian community. Through Him, all the social barriers no longer stand between the people. Races, cultures, or state of life no longer divide the people. There is no barrier in gender, male or female; in age, being young or old; in status, one being rich or poor; in medical conditions, one being healthy or sick, or even one being free or in prison. Christ breaks down such distinctions. He is all and in all. Christ is all that matters. Christ wants us to identify our understanding of life, our values, with those of God, which have been communicated to us by the life and words of Jesus. Now, since life does not consist in the abundance of possessions, we need to look for the spiritual life namely by accumulating spiritual treasures in Heaven. This can be done by our acts of love towards others, by our acts of charity, through the goodness that we manifest towards our neighbours in the love of Jesus. What we do to others, we do to Christ.

The Gospel of today begins by introducing a man who wants Jesus to act as a mediator in a property dispute with his brother. It was quite common to bring such disputes to a rabbi to be solved. But Jesus has no interest whatever in dealing with such problems because they would represents a point of view that is totally at variance with his own. Jesus refuses to get involved into such problems seemingly because he detects in the person making the request a motive of greed rather than justice.  If the man was looking for salvation he might even have told the person to go sell everything and then follow him. Instead, Jesus uses this occasion to warn his hearers about the seductive power of greed and the false sense of security. He gives a gentle warning: “Be on your guard against avarice of any kind, for a person’s life is not made secure by what he owns, even when he has more than he needs.” He does not show opposition to wealth rather he calls on them to have a prudent use of wealth. It is possible that the man making the request was actually one of Jesus’ followers. In which case, he needs to learn very quickly that such problems have nothing whatever to do with the following of Jesus and becoming his disciple.

Jesus exemplifies his point tells them the story of the rich fool who was totally involved with material things.  The rich man in the story is a fool not because he is wealthy but because he thinks that he can guarantee his own personal security through the hoarding of his harvest. This man had wrong priorities. The first was that he never saw beyond himself. His plan of life was a constant repetition of me and me.  He never went beyond himself to look towards the well being of his neighbours and share with those less fortunate. The man’s second wrong priority was that he never saw beyond this world. His whole basis of security was his wealth. For him his money and possessions was everything and set to prepare well for his own future needs. Hence the gospel tells us that man planned to store his grains in bigger barn and provide for himself with larger and secure storage pace. He indeed had become the slave of the property and property was not his slave. The final priority was to look for happiness based on material goods. He tells himself that he will be indeed happy for the many more years to come.  God now steps in to upset all his earthly plans. He calls him a “fool”, a term that is reserved to those who deny that there is a God. (Psalm 13, 1).  God now tells him that he will die during the very night. All his plans for his future for himself never got materialized. In fact he has assumed the position of a god by believing that he can save himself.

Jesus himself makes an application of the parable. He says that this will be the fate of all those who only think of amassing temporal wealth, to the total neglect of their spiritual welfare.  End of earthly life always comes far too soon for people whose whole heart is centered in this world. Far sooner than they think, they will have to leave riches they have been piling up and face their future life empty handed. They have spent their life in earthly pursuits and have not stored anything spiritual for themselves. It is like a man who went before God and said that he had not harmed any one and has not done any wrong and his hands are clean. But God looked at them and said but dear friend, they are empty. Thus the emphasis moves from anxiety to watchfulness. The parables go further to show the inter action between the masters and servants. The good servant is always watchful is prepared for the unexpected events. The master then will reverse the roles and serve him. On the contrary a servant who thinks that his master’s return is delayed acts irresponsibly and naturally is punished. 

Today’s readings ask us to consider another approach altogether. It is important to emphasise that Jesus is not saying, “You must give up all these things and lead a life of bleak misery for my sake.” On the contrary, Jesus is offering a much more secure way to happiness and a life of real enjoyment than the way that most people insist on believing in even though it is seen to fail again and again. Against the greed that obsesses many people Jesus offers an opposite alternative to security and happiness – sharing. In this context we look at the rich man.  In his own eyes, the rich man had been really a successful person. He had just made a good effort with his farm and had produced a particularly good harvest. It was so good that he did not have enough place to store them all.  He tells himself that he has more than needed and he can indeed be satisfied and happy.  Yet one thing noticeable is that in this story no other people are mentioned. The rich person is the absolute centre of everything and nothing else mattered, not even God. The foolish aspect of all this is revealed when God declares that Rich Fool’s life is demanded that very night. None of his efforts have the power to save his life.  Only God has this power and the rich man has made this mistake of trusting in himself.

Jesus now places the invitation before his audience to give up treasures of this world in order to build treasures in heaven.  The lesson from the Gospel is obvious. To be in this world and not of it, to collect the necessary goods of this world by honest labour and yet remain detached from them, to possess and not to be possessed by worldly riches, is an ideal to which our weak human nature responds very reluctantly. We see in life many who sacrifice their life for others and for humanity. Yet there are many others who are just buried in their riches and forget all else. Jesus gives us a lesson that greed and selfishness are always powerfully tempting to humankind. They are also very deceptive in that they promise far more than they can deliver. Real wealth and salvation rest in God and in the teaching of Jesus, who is fully a revelation of God. Ultimately it is all a matter of Grace and not a matter of storing up wealth and possession for the future.

A certain king was to visit a village under his rule and the villagers decided to contribute, each man a jar of wine, for the royal feast. All the wine was to be poured into a big barrel from which it would be served. One man thought to himself: With all the men in the village each pouring a jar of wine into the barrel, what difference would it make if I poured in a jar of water and save my wine. A jar of water among so much wine would hardly make any difference. Unfortunately, he was not the only man in the village who thought that way. When the king arrived and the barrel of wine was ready to be served, it was discovered to be full of water and very little wine. Many other men in the village too had contributed water instead of wine, thinking that it did not matter, since other people’s contributions would make up for their not contributing. It did matter. It does matter.

Fr. Eugene Lobo SJ, Rome

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