18th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Ecclesiastes 1, 2 & 2, 21-23 + Psalm 90 + Colossians 3, 1-5, 9-11 + Luke 12, 13-21
July 31, 2016 at Saint Peter the Apostle Church in Naples, FL
There is a little detail in the first verse of the parable Jesus uses in response to the quarreling brothers. It slips by easily either because we know the story, or because we too often want to get to the end and see what it’s all about. However, this little detail is the key to opening up what is to come in the parable. It says: There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest. The point is: he did not produce that bountiful harvest. The land produced it. However, this man who talks to himself, perhaps because he has no friends, thinks he produced the harvest. It’s all about him. Six times in only three verses he uses the first person pronoun, “I”; but let’s be fair about this so that we get to the real point. There is nothing here to suggest that he cheated anyone or stole anything. There is no hint that he mistreated the workers or committed any criminal act.
What makes him wealthy is sun, soil, and rain. He is conservative and careful. Yet in spite of this he is a fool! He has a lot of stuff crammed into his barn, but he has no friends. He is alone, and the sad implication in this parable is that he dies alone with no one at his bed side, and no one to mourn his passing. The question asked at the end carries that idea. Asking to whom all his riches will go suggests that there are no heirs. There is no one around to receive the inheritance much less argue about it like the situation that starts this whole episode.
What makes him a fool is revealed in that first sentence. He has not believed or perhaps ignored what everyone in that crowd would have known from singing at the great harvest feast or at synagogue Psalm 24 which says: “The earth is the Lord’s and all it holds, the world and those who live there.” What makes him a fool is his thinking that there is no God. Then he is finally confronted by the God who owns not only the land and the produce he is trying to hoard, but also the very life of the man himself. It all belongs to God, and the fool is the person who thinks that what is God’s is theirs to keep. Instead of imitating the generosity of God, he acts as though there is no God.
And so we are left this weekend with a stark reminder about what Jesus has said before. Having had everything in this life leaves nothing for a future life. He’s had it all now. It’s over. There will be no more. We are left this weekend with a reminder that amassing great wealth often leads to family bitterness and squabbles as we have heard again and again in the story of the prodigal. We are left this weekend with the clear reminder that we are nothing but stewards of this earth and all that it can produce, and that what comes from God’s earth is not ours to keep or to save. In the end, such saving reveals a lack of trust in God and the fear that things will run out. How could it be that a God who has provided so much would suddenly cease being generous unless those God has entrusted with his gifts suddenly start to hang on to what has been given and stop the generosity that is always from God.
The behavior of this man wold have provided a shock to the people of his time for in those days, one’s self-identity was imbedded in one’s family, clan, village, and religious group. Every important decision was made in community, in endless dialogue with others. Every angle was examined, every possibility weighed, every scenario painted before arriving at a conclusion. Our modern day notion of individuality was completely foreign to this time, and his self-determining behavior was shocking. There is no thought given about how his decision might affect others, and what it might mean to the community. We are left this weekend with a look at what our growing culture’s hedonistic, individualistic, and ego centric attitudes and behavior really looks like, foolishness! Lost on this man and the culture seen in him is any sense of gift and duty leaving us a little sad but inspired to look upon what we have, where it came from, and ask what we must do with it. When we rest in the arms of the divine Provider we will be able to embrace every person as a brother and a sister all who are equal heirs to the same promise. Competition and hoarding will give way to cooperation and generosity with what the earth produces. Entering into this world will be an experience of the Kingdom of God. It seems to me that having the love of family and many friends is a richness and a kind of wealth that far surpasses what can be stored in warehouses and the climate controlled storage facilities of our time. This is wisdom and it is a long way from foolishness.