Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The theme initiated last Sunday at the very beginning of the Nativity Fast, continues today. That which was alluded to last Sunday, is today boldly stated in no uncertain terms: “’But God said unto [a certain rich man], “Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee.’”
We are definitely reflecting on “the last things” today. A certain rich man finally makes it to retirement after spending a lifetime preparing for it, amassing the necessary wealth and material goods to support a lifestyle he had become accustomed to, and then the end! Death, suddenly, prematurely, comes for him. Our Lord reinforces for us that life is an uncertainty at best with death guaranteed. The question is, how is life lived? How did this certain rich man live the time allotted to him? How do we? His motto for life – his personal mission statement, as it were – is summed up succinctly: “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die!” It has been said by some that he lived not with the end in mind at all. But that’s not exactly true. He lived with his end in mind, but it led him to live solely for the present moment. Because, in his thinking, that’s all we have – now. In his thinking, once you’re dead, you’re dead. There is no afterword, no epilogue, nothing beyond the last breath and the closing of the eyes. And, if that’s the case, then we can well understand his Epicurean mindset: suck the marrow out of life now – today – because that’s all you have and nothing else matters!
Of course, from the parable we get God’s perspective on this. Death comes to the rich man, but it doesn’t come to him as a judgment or punishment for his rather hedonistic mindset. Death comes because it’s the reality we all face – good and bad alike, men and women, rich and poor, the old and the child. Death is the ever-present reminder of God’s forewarning to the couple in Paradise that in the day they eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they would surely die (Gn. 2:15-17; 3:1-24; WS 2:23-24). Their “no” to God, their disregard for God and His Word, opened the door to death and decay; the “yes” of the Theotokos to God’s invitation to bear the Saviour of the world, however, reverses the inherited curse and re-opens the door to the Tree of Life through Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Blessed Virgin (Gn. 3:15; Annunciation; Nicene Creed).
In the parable, God also calls the rich man a “’fool.’” He does so after the man’s nighttime musings, imagining the kind of life he was now going to have having acquired more than sufficient goods to support his lifestyle and his mindset. We find the man in conversation with himself (since there’s no God who else do you talk to and render an accounting?), much like the Pharisee in another parable later in St. Luke’s Gospel. There we find him in prayer, but his prayers were with himself (Lk. 18:9-14). The soul that has no fear of God has only himself as god. And so, Jesus thinking of the words of the Psalmist, “The fool says in his heart: There is no God, (Ps. 13 :1)” identifies this certain rich man as a fool – as one who believes and lives as though there is no God. And, because there is no God there is little, if any reason, for the rich man to live outside of himself. There is no greater good because there is no greater God than the man himself.
“’But God said unto him, “Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee.”’” We already have a clue as to where this is headed, much like it did another certain rich man at whose gate the pauper Lazarus use to be laid each day (Lk. 16:19-31). Although we are not told here the destiny of this man as clearly as that of the other, the fact that God sees him as a fool speaks loudly. And, in another version of this Gospel, God tells the man that “’they shall require thy soul of thee,’” which the Fathers understand to be the fallen angels. “Tonight, you who does not believe in God and who lives your unbelief, tonight the demons will require your soul.” And, we all know where the demons come from and are eternally destined for (Mt. 25:41). “’So is he that layeth up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.’”
St. Paul, in his great chapter on the Resurrection in 1 Corinthians, puts a question to those who do not believe the dead are raised to stand before the dread Judgment Seat of Christ. He asks, “If the dead are not raised up, then why do we stand in jeopardy every hour, put our lives on the line, expose ourselves to death every day? For what purpose? To what end? Indeed, if the dead do not rise, then by all means, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!’” “Do not be deceived,” says the Apostle to us all. “Awake to righteousness, and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame” (1 Cr. 15:29-34). A “fool says in his heart: There is no God.” A fool does not have the knowledge of God because he does not believe. And so, a fool is not awake to righteousness, lives for himself, and falls quite easily into the darkness of sin.
We can understand better perhaps how it is that a certain rich man in our Lord’s parable does what he does and says what he says. There is no greater legacy than himself, so what does he do if God is prospering him? What do we do? We do what he does. We tear down our barns in order to build bigger ones in order to surround ourselves with evidence of our successes. We remember Joseph in the Old Testament who, as second in command to Pharaoh, stockpiles grain just like this certain rich man, but Joseph does so in order to provide food and sustenance in the dark years of drought. He does so in order to have compassion and mercy on those in need. God’s abundance becomes the source of sainthood, if you will, for the blessed Joseph (Gn. 41:1-57). Not so this anonymous rich man in the parable. On the contrary, without God, he sees only himself and no other. The great good he could’ve done, he was blessed to do, he fails to do. Nowhere is he remembered as a good and gracious benefactor, not even before God. “’So is he that layeth up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.’”
If God is our destiny – and moreso as the baptized – then our lives are to exude God and His richness toward us (2 Cr. 8:7, 9, 12-15; 9:6-15). For He is full of mercy, full of compassion, full of grace, full of love for us sinners. None of us are exempt from the parable simply because we are not classified by the IRS as wealthy. We are rich precisely because we are the possession of God and the sheep of His pasture (Ps. 94 :7; 99 :3). And, because we are, we dare to commend ourselves and each other, and all our life unto Christ our God, not merely in word but in deed, as well (Litanies). We live our lives here with eternity in view at all times, ever aware that what we have gained will be lost to us, that is, unless we are rich towards God. As Israel was making her way into the Land of Promise, the Prophet Moses counseled them as to beware of comfort and prosperity, of the acquisition and accumulation of material goods. God’s blessings can be mishandled by us, if we are not savvy about things spiritual. He warned ancient Israel – and us – that
‘when thou hast eaten and art full, and hast built goodly houses and dwelt therein, and when thy herds and flocks multiply, and thy silver and thy gold is multiplied, and all that thou hast is multiplied, then thy heart be lifted up and thou forget the Lord thy God, Who brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage, . . .; and thou say in thine heart, “My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth.” But thou shalt remember the Lord thy God; for it is He that giveth thee power to get wealth, . . . And it shall be, if thou at all forget the Lord thy God and walk after other gods, and serve them and worship them, . . . that ye shall surely perish. . . . .’ (Dt. 8:11-20).
We would do well to go home and to read what our Lord says in the rest of this chapter from St. Luke’s Holy Gospel. To remedy our vision, Jesus says to us, “’But seek the Kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you.’” And, in the meantime,
‘Sell what you have and give alms; 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. 12:22-34).
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!