Fr. Charles Irvin
Ecclesiastes: 1:2; 2:21-23; Colossians 3:1-5,9-11; Luke 12:13-2
“You can’t take it with you.” That familiar bit of homey wisdom isn’t confined to Christian thinking; it’s wisdom 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 knew it needed repeating, and so He gives that thought to us again in today’s Gospel 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, money, power, fame, and prestige. Jesus knows our rapacious hearts and that given the chance we will seek to acquire more and more things. So in today’s Gospel, in yet another parable, we find Jesus telling us about ourselves. He begins by informing us: “There was a rich man whose land had produced a good harvest…”
To begin with, we need to remember that the earth and its resources, the lakes, rivers, and seas that surround us, and the very air we breathe are all God’s gifts to us. Our legal system may give us title to a piece of the earth but we did not put our plot of land there in the first place. The land we live on is not really ours – it is God’s. We hold it only as God’s stewards. The crops that God gives us are, strictly speaking, not really ours. No, they are given to 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. Whatever we produce in any work in which we are engaged is not just for our own benefit, it is for the benefit of others.
The Jewish law forbidding work on the Sabbath was to remind us not only that the Sabbath belongs to God, but also the land, and along with it whatever 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 bountifully. 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. The Sabbath is for contemplation and reflection. It reminds us that God has His time in the days of our lives. Time is also His gift to us. Sabbath time is our gift to God.
“What shall I do?” the rich man asked himself. “I have no place to store my harvest.” Those words reveal that the rich man is out of touch not only with the land, and why he is producing crops, but on a deeper level he is 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 this rich man that he didn’t need to build bigger barns. God had already provided him with plenty. The barns that he needed to fill were the empty barns that were the stomachs of those neighbors of his who had experienced drought or other crop-destroying tragedies. What he need to fill were the empty stomachs of the poor and the hungry, all of those less fortunate than he.
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 using parables to teach us, Jesus is giving us lessons about you and me. Jesus is never talks about abstract people; He’s always frighteningly concrete and specific. He’s always speaking about what He sees in our hearts, in your heart and in my heart.
The rich man in today’s parable 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.” There’s 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 God has given us what we have, or the purpose we have in living. 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:
“I 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 our lives 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 fracture 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? What am I supposed to do with them? What is my life all about?”
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 when tomorrow comes, why are we going to do whatever we will do?