One of the weirdest and scariest pieces of belonging I have seen in someone’s home is a gorgeous coffin. When I asked why he has a coffin in that part of his house that leads to his bedroom, he says to me, “Father, that coffin is for my funeral. It reminds me daily that it would be the only property in this house that would go with me to the grave. I see it when I go out and when I come back to my bedroom, and it also reminds me that nothing matters on earth!”
Unlike the man in the opening of our reflection, we often think less of the end of earthly life as we allow many things to overwhelm us in our struggle for material success. In the First Reading today (Eccles. 1:2; 2:21-23), the Preacher tells us that all things (physical struggles) are reducible to vanity as people labor till death only to leave their wealth for others who did not work for them.
The Gospel Reading (Luke 12:13-21) would form the base of our reflection. The narrative tells us that an unnamed man in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.” It would be helpful for us to look back at what our Lord Jesus Christ was saying to the crowd before this startling question.
At the beginning of the twelfth chapter of the Gospel of Luke when the crowd gathered by their thousands, our Lord speaks first to his disciples and warns them to beware of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. He further points out that everything hidden would come to light. The next teaching talks about being fearless in the face of persecutions and being able to defend one’s faith against all the odds. He ends by encouraging boldness and reliance on the help of the Holy Spirit.
Looking at the topics preceding the question from the man in the crowd, one would wonder what was going on in his mind. It could be that his brother was a disciple of Jesus or someone in that crowd. The man may have thought that he has the best opportunity to confront his elder brother leveraging the presence of our Lord at that location. In another way, the man was telling Jesus to abuse his power as a spiritual teacher to arbitrate over family property. His request has nothing to do with our Lord’s teaching, so, he brings up an unconnected topic which turns out to be an opportunity for our Lord to confront his inner struggles and to instruct everyone else.
Answering the man, our Lord starts by telling him that he is neither the judge nor the arbitrator of their property; in order words, his question has no eternal or salvific value. Going further, he says to the crowd, which includes the man, “take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.” Our Lord’s answer shows us that the man in the crowd was struggling with an obsession with material wealth, and the parable that follows confirms this assertion.
In the parable, our Lord talks about a farmer who had a bountiful harvest which outran his storage facility and he asked himself, “What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?”. Here we have a simple question but let us examine the answer he gives. “This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones.” There I shall store all my grain and other goods, and I shall say to myself. Now, as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry”.
From the monologue of the prosperous farmer, we see the wisdom of his question as well as the foolishness of his answer, which became his final decision. Often in life, we ask this question, “what shall I do” however, like this rich man we become foolish by our choice of answer and what we do afterward. We shall examine the three defaults of the rich man that made him a fool in the estimation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
His Greedy Attitude
The word greed also means covetousness, and it refers to an excessive and unsatisfying desire for material wealth or gain. The powerhouse of greed is selfishness or self-centredness. It is often easy to dictate selfish people when they speak because of their constant reference to self. In the short monologue, we could see the rich fool making references to self about fifteen times. Notice that he did not think about his family, neighbors, friends, and those who are not as successful him. It was all about what he wants, feels, and what would give him happiness.
Selfishness, which is the same as self-seeking is contrary to the word of God. St. Paul tells the Corinthians in his First Letter that no one should seek their good, but the good of others (1 Cor. 10:24). St. John makes it more practical in his First Letter when he asks how the love of God could subsist in anyone who has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them. Finally, St. Paul’s letter to the Romans says that there will be anger and wrath against the selfish (Romans 2:8).
The attitude of Ingratitude to God
There is a clear-cut attitude of thanklessness in the life of the rich fool in the Gospel today. The rich man could have been wise enough to ask, like David, “How can I repay the Lord for His goodness to me” (Psalm 116:12). Instead of focusing on the Lord God who provides the seed for sowing (2 Cor.9:10) and the rain (Matt. 5:45), he turns to himself believing that it is all about his efforts; the size of his barn and not the size of God’s providence.
In the story of the rich fool, we cannot identify any instance of gratitude to God; rather, he has fantasies about himself being at ease and having lifetime merriment. How could he be at ease without the endorsement of his creator? Often, we think we own ourselves, and we forget that someone knows our end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10).
The rich fool could not remember or did not know that thanksgiving should follow every experience of divine multiplication. The attitude of gratitude is what God demands from us. Psalm (50:14) says, “Offer God a sacrifice of thanksgiving and pay your vows to the Most High. In the Gospel of Luke (17:13-18), our Lord Jesus Christ praises the Samaritan among the Ten Lepers for the simple fact of coming back to say, “thank you.” St. Paul tells the Ephesians (5:20) to give thanks to God in all things.
Moving Forward: Going Beyond Riches and Reaching Out
The rich man was foolish because he could not reach out beyond himself. Nothing matters so much in this world that should make us lose our eternal gains. In one of his outstanding teachings, our Lord asked, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”
Life is not all about how much we are making or how much we have saved. The question should be how grateful we are for what we have and how do we reach out to God and humanity. We are living in a wealthy world where 1 in 9 people, that is about 795 million people, go to bed daily without food, yet tons of food items go into the garbage. The rich man in the Gospel didn’t need to pull down his barns because he already had enough, and the excess would have been for others. St. Paul says when we have more than enough, we should abound in good works (2 Cor. 9:8). The book of Proverbs (11:25) says that a generous person would be enriched, whoever waters others would be watered.
As we march into the new week, let us keep in mind that the coffin could be the only property of ours that would accompany us to the grave and that all we have would no longer be ours when we die. May we then strive to store up eternal treasure not earthly barns by reaching out to others and God in gratitude for His unfathomable blessings. God bless you and have a wonderful week ahead.