Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“He who gives to no one is truly poor!” (Clement of Rome).
“The rich man is not one who possesses much, but one who gives much” (John Chrysostom).
“Wealth . . . is like a snake; it will twist around the hand and bite unless one knows how to use it properly” (Clement of Alexandria).
“If you begin to guard wealth, it will not be yours. But if you begin to distribute it, you will not lose it” (Basil the Great).
“He who is master of possessions, is the slave of passions” (Isaac the Syrian).
“What God wants is not golden chalices, but golden souls” (John Chrysostom).
“Put not your trust in princes, in sons of men, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs, he returns to his earth; on that very day his plans perish” (2nd Antiphon).
These pithy words of our Fathers serve as commentary upon the words of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ heard this morning in the parable. Ponder them. Mull them over. Permit them to inform and guide you in this world of material goods because everything is set within the context of the world to come. It is for the world to come that we are instructed to lay up treasure for. We should note here that, contrary to some who teach otherwise, our Lord nor Sacred Scripture is not anti-possessions. In fact, contrary to that teaching, Sacred Scripture is quite clear that our God is a God of rich and fertile blessing, a God Who pours out His lavish gifts, especially to some for the express purpose of blessing others. The Scriptures have quite a bit to say to us about how we relate to things, about our relationship with possessions in this world.
Indeed, the occasion for this parable is that of a brotherly dispute regarding an inheritance. A disgruntled brother beseechs Jesus to arbitrate his dispute with his brother – not an uncommon request made of rabbis and teachers in those days. Inheritances are notorious for family strife, then and now. Jesus clearly sees the underlying cause of such familial strife as covetousness or greed which is bolstered by jealousy and envy. St. Paul links such covetousness to idolatry (Co. 3:5) which we all know is the first commandment, “’I am the Lord thy God, . . . Thou shalt have no other gods before Me,’” but also includes the second commandment, “’Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, . . . Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them,’” not to mention the tenth commandment expressly prohibiting covetousness (Ex. 20:1-17; Dt. 5:6-21).
Our Lord refuses the request, reminding the disgruntled heir – and us – that “’one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses’” (Lk. 12:13-15). Let me ask you: of what does your life consist? If an independent third party audited your life, reviewed your life, what would they find and what would they conclude? Better to find out now on this side of eternity than to find out standing before the dread judgment seat of Christ when we have passed the point of no return or of repentance.
And so, our Lord tells the parable to reinforce His teaching that “’a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.’” How quickly and easily we can become “masters of possessions, and slaves of passions” if we are not vigilant in our lives. Before you know it, they can become that snake that twists around and bites us because we failed to hold these blessings loosely in our hands rather than with our clenched fists, holding on for dear life.
Our Lord speaks of a “’certain man’” who was truly blessed, though all indications are he didn’t think of it in such terms. Presumably, he is a man of the house of Israel, a believer in the true and living God, and not some Gentile pagan. Sadly, however, the God of Israel has not been able to penetrate his heart and lay claim to his soul, sort of what happens in second generation believers when the faith of the parents fails to take root in the souls of their children. Somehow, somewhere along the line, this man has come to fancy himself as “independent” from God, at least when it comes down to his possessions. In his line of thinking, God may take credit for everything else, but he is a self-made man when it comes down to his possessions (Sr. 5:1-8; 11:14-26). Hear what he says. He speaks in terms of possessiveness – “’my crops, my barns, my goods, my soul.’” There is no room for nor consideration of God. God doesn’t even enter into his thoughts. He does not say that the God of his fathers – the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – has blessed him unworthy though he might be. He does not ask what God might have him to do with his blessings. He does not stop to prayerfully ponder with the psalmist,
What shall I render to the Lord for all that He has rendered unto me? I will receive the cup of salvation, and call on the Name of the Lord. I will pay my vows unto the Lord, in the sight of all His people. Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints. O Lord, I am Thy servant; I am Thy servant, and the son of Thy handmaid . . . To Thee will I offer a sacrifice of praise, and I will call on the Name of the Lord. I will pay my vows unto the Lord, in the sight of all His people, in the courts of the house of the Lord, in the midst of thee, O Jerusalem (Ps. 115 :1-10).
There is nothing like this whatsoever revealed in his thoughts as he prays within himself a self-congratulatory prayer, very much akin to the self-aggrandizing Pharisee we will re-visit as we draw nigh unto the Fast of Great and Holy Lent who “’prayed thus with himself’” (Lk. 18:9-14). The man in the parable has already determined what he will do with all that belongs to him instead of praying, “’Our Father, Who art in Heaven, . . . Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread . . . .’” (Our Father). God’s will might have a say in other matters or areas, but not when it comes down to his possessions, to our possessions. Is that true? Do we look upon our stuff as a blessing from God to be disposed of according to the will of God or do we view these things as off-limits to the God of all our blessings? Are we excited when we get a pay raise because then we can give more to God in our tithe? (I know of one soul that that thought crosses their mind.) Or, are we excited because it means more for me, for my personal disposal, without thought of or consideration for God?
Herein is the problem: we see our lives as consisting of what this world gives instead of consisting of God the Creator of this world. And what brings this all into perspective is the great equalizer of all mortal beings: death. Man proposes, but God disposes, it has been said. “’I will do this,’” says the man in the parable. “’I will pull down my barns and build greater, . . . I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.”’” His life is lived without reference to God.
But, what does God say? “’But God said to him, “Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?”’” One ancient textual variant says, “’Fool! This night they shall require thy soul of thee.’” The they, according to some of the Fathers, are the demons who have been carefully monitoring this man’s self-willed, self-inflated life over the years and who now come to lay claim to his soul at the hour of his death. It has been made clear in the parable that this man has been serving the false god of this world all along who has blinded him to the Truth of the true and living God (Jn. 12:31; 2 Cr. 4:4). The false god of this world now comes to take possession of the man’s soul.
But, it seems to me that the they in this ancient textual variant could also mean his possessions. His possessions own him so thoroughly that they have exhausted him. They have drained him of life itself! Their demand upon our souls is terrible and great because we have failed to put them in their proper place. Possessions are a blessing that support our lives, but they are not life itself! They do not give meaning to our lives. Our lives do not consist in the abundance of our possessions – be they property, bank accounts, retirement funds, degrees earned, or what have you.
If this is true, then of what does our life consist? The answer is found in the words of our Lord, “’I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly’” (Jn. 10:10). And, again, at the conclusion of this parable, Jesus says to His Disciples, ‘’[D]o not worry about your life, what you will eat; nor about the body, what you will put on. Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing. . . . For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things. But seek the Kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you’” (Lk. 12:22-31).
Of what does life consist, then? For the baptized believer, for the disciple of Jesus Christ, for the Church and her sons and daughters, life consists of God, in the abundance of God, in the Kingdom of God which we are to pursue above all other things, and not in the abundance of our possessions. Jesus concludes, “’Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.’” So often fear drives us, perhaps as it did this man in the parable.
But, then, Jesus goes on to reinforce His teaching. If you believe your life really is found in your material goods, then, you need to remedy that. “’Sell what you have and give alms,’” Jesus says, “’provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’” (Lk. 12:32-34). Our possessions say a lot about us. In fact, touch our possessions and our character is revealed, that is, where our heart truly is. Does our life consist of stuff, of material goods and the alleged status and security they bring, or does our life consist in God, in the abundance of His Kingdom, in the God of all blessing?
Beloved, where is your treasure? Are you rich toward God or are you rich toward yourself? God desires golden souls. And, how do we attain that? By releasing our tight grip upon our possessions and placing them at the feet of the Almighty to do with them as He pleases and not as we will. The richness of the soul is found, not in the abundance of our possessions, but in giving much. A truly poor soul is one who does not give. Just what are we willing to give in exchange for our soul and what will we answer our Judge on the day our soul is required of us (Mt. 16:26; Mk. 8:37)?
Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!