18th Sun [C] 2004

Fr. Charles Irvin


Ecclesiastes: 1:2; 2:21-23; Colossians 3:1-5,9-11; Luke 12:13-2

It’s hard to miss the point put in front of us in today’s Gospel parable, namely “You can’t take it with you” That bit of homey wisdom isn’t confined to Christian revelation; it’s a human truth that’s repeated in all religions. The ancient Jews had it in their scripture, as reported in today’s first reading from the Hebrew book of Ecclesiastes:

“Here is a man who has labored with wisdom and knowledge and skill, and to another who has not labored over it he must leave his property. Vain effort and great misfortune! For what profit comes to a man from all the toil and anxiety of heart with which he has labored under the sun?” And yet few people take this wisdom seriously.

Jesus thinks it bears repeating. And so He gives it to us again in today’s parable. He knows quite well what’s deep within the human heart; He knows that in spite of the pieties we utter with our lips, our hearts are captivated by our lusting after human flesh, after money, after power and prestige, and after the acquisition of more and more things. So in today’s Gospel we find Jesus telling us about ourselves in yet another parable. He begins by informing us: “There was a rich man whose land had produced a good harvest…”

First of all we must remember that land is a gift from God. We may take title to it under our legal system, but we did not put that land there in the first place. The land we live on is not really ours – it is God’s — we hold it only as His stewards. The crops that God gives us are not strictly speaking ours. No, they are given us by God to care for and feed His people. Whatever human contribution we make to the enterprise of farming, it is to produce a yield for God’s purposes, a purpose greater than our own.

The Jewish law forbidding work on the Sabbath was to remind us not only that the Sabbath belongs to God, but so does the land, along with what that land produces. God doesn’t need our labor in order for His earth to be productive. But God has given us the dignity to co-labor, to collaborate, with Him in causing His creation to be fruitful and to grow. Losing touch with why we don’t work on the Sabbath causes us to lose touch with our Creator and His purposes in using our labor for the benefit others, not just ourselves.

“What shall 1 do?” the man asked himself. “I have no place to store my harvest.” Here we find the man out of touch not only with the land, and why he is producing crops, but on a deeper level out of touch with his reason for being — out of touch with his purpose in life. He is no longer aware of the meaning of his life. It never occurred to the farmer that he didn’t need to build bigger barns. God had already provided him with plenty of space in the empty barns and stomachs of his neighbors who had experienced drought or other crop-destroying tragedies.

The goods of the earth are given us so that we might meet the needs of all, not just to satisfy the desires of our own hearts, not just to meet the demands of our own self-interests. Our self-concerns are revealed in the farmer’s thoughts, thoughts filled with “I”, “me”, and “my”, with no thought of anyone else. Not only were his barns filled with grain, his heart was filled with self. Consequently he was facing a crisis in what financial advisors phase ”personal assets management.”

Remember, now, we’re not speaking of some mythical man. In teaching by using parables Jesus is speaking about you and me. Jesus is never talking about abstract people; He’s always frighteningly concrete and specific; He’s always speaking about what He sees in our hearts.

The man plunges ahead declaring, “I know! I will pull down my grain bins and build larger ones. All my grain and my goods will go there. Then I will say to myself: You have blessings in reserve for years to come. Relax! Eat heartily, drink well. Enjoy yourself”

You and I know there are a lot of people who live as if they really believed that the purpose in human living is to “eat, drink and be merry, for soon we will die.” No thought of others in that philosophy of life! No thought of why we are given land, why we are given talents and abilities, why we’re given what we have, or the purpose we have in living. No. The offices of psychiatrists are filled with people who are sick of themselves because they are so filled up with nothing but themselves that they want to throw up. This farmer’s interior monologue is not a dialogue with others or with God. No, not at all. It is self-talk — talking in lonely isolation, with no one else listening, with no one there to hear the words. Listen to all of that self talk once again:

“1 will say to myself: You have blessings in reserve for years to come. Relax! Eat heartily, drink well. Enjoy yourself.”

But in reality, who’s listening? Who cares?

Then God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life shall be required of you. To whom will all this piled-up wealth of yours go?”

Surprise, surprise!! A long forgotten voice breaks into his monologue, namely the voice of the Creator who created the world for a purpose and who created each one of us here for a purpose, giving each one of us life as a gift. Have we forgotten that what we do with the life He has given us is our gift back to Him?

Today’s parable causes us to stand revealed as people who have allowed greed and the lust for more and more things to break our relationship with God. The result of our broken relationship with God is that we live in broken relationships with each other, “That’s the way it works,” Jesus tells us, “with the man who grows rich for himself instead of growing rich in the sight of God,”

Once again questions are raised: “Why was I born? What is the purpose of my life? Why has God given me the things that I have and what am I supposed to do with them? What is the meaning and purpose of my life’?

It just may be . . . it just may be just possible. . . that this long neglected and overlooked parable has something to say to us, something beyond being simply an interesting parable, an enlightening instruction to which other people should pay attention because we have other things to do tomorrow.

But why are we going to do whatever we do tomorrow?

About Charles Irvin

Fr. Charlie was ordained a priest June 3, 1967 and has served as pastor of St. Mary Student Chapel in Ann Arbor, founded Holy Spirit parish in Hamburg, MI, served as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish in Ann Arbor and was pastor of St. Mary parish in Manchester, MI when he entered Senior Priest status in 2001. In 1999 he was appointed Founding Editor of FAITH Magazine which has grown into Faith Catholic Publishing located in Lansing, MI. He is now very active in his “retirement.”