The Gospel: Luke 12:13-21
Someone in the crowd said to Jesus,
“Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.”
He replied to him,
“Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?”
Then he said to the crowd,
“Take care to guard against all greed,
for though one may be rich,
one’s life does not consist of possessions.”
Then he told them a parable.
“There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest.
He asked himself, ‘What shall I do,
for I do not have space to store my harvest?’
And he said, ‘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!”’
But God said to him,
‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you;
and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’
Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves
but are not rich in what matters to God.”
After the Gospel:
This parable can make people squirm,
but Jesus isn’t knocking working hard for bumper crops,
or the acquisition of wealth,
or having an IRA to retire on.
Then what did the Rich Man do wrong, so we can learn from his mistakes?
The problem is, it’s all about him: my crops, my barns, my surplus grains.
gloating about how well he’s provided his own security and future,
patting himself on the back about all those goods stored up for years to come.
He’s isolated in his own world, a completely closed ecosystem where he’s in control.
He can do what he pleases with his life, doesn’t feel obligated to anyone.
He never mentions God, or offers a word of thanks for his bounty,
he has no thoughts for others – helping a neighbor, a family, who might need something for today’s meal, just to survive today.
He doesn’t need anything from anyone, doesn’t need help from anyone, including God.
One thought, for sure, never enters his mind: being rich in what matters to God.
Unfortunately, all of that is going to change.
This night, only what’s stored up with God will count,
only being able to call on God for help will be important.
A hundred years ago, America was in a mood to celebrate.
The Great War was over, Spanish Influenza was letting up,
and they wanted to break from a strict Victorian past to a liberated future.
The Roaring 20’s ushered in something for everyone:
new freedoms for women,
jazz music from the Harlem renaissance,
And prosperity. Everyone wanted to be rich, the rich wanted to get richer.
Chicago newspapers gave front-page coverage in 1923 to nine richly important men meeting at the Edgewater Beach Hotel:
Five presidents of major corporations,
and a member of President Harding’s cabinet,…..
Nine men in control, industrial giants, planning to get bigger and wealthier … men admired and envied.
Who wouldn’t want to be as rich as they were?
Tragically, within a few years, everything about them would come to nothing.
Charles Schwab, president of the largest steel company, died bankrupt.
Samuel Insull, president of the largest utility company, died penniless.
Howard Hobson, president of the largest gas company, had gone insane.
Richard Whitney, president of the New York Stock Exchange, was just released from prison.
Leon Fraser, president of the Bank of International Settlements, died a suicide.
Arthur Cutten, a Canadian who gained colossal wealth as a wheat dealer in the United States, died penniless.
Jesse Livermore, a Wall Street trader who amassed a $100 million fortune, died a suicide.
Ivar Kruegar, the “Match King,” whose companies monopolized 3/4 of world’s match production, died a suicide.
Albert Fall, Secretary of the Interior, convicted of taking outlandish bribes in leasing public lands, was given a pardon from prison so he could die at home.
With all the wealth and power in their hands, how many of these nine men, you wonder, ever thought about being “rich in what matters to God”? Or thought about a world on the other side of the grave?
Pope Francis got labeled a “communist” when he preached on this Gospel, when he suggested that the “haves” share with the “have-nots.” They forgot it was Christ’s teaching, it’s been the teaching of the Church all along, it certainly showed up when the Fathers of the Church preached on our parable:
St Augustine said:
“This poor man filled up with eating, drinking and merriment, as he quietly ignored all the empty bellies of the poor. He didn’t realize that the bellies of the poor were much safer storerooms than all his barns.”
St Cyprian warned:
“The property of the wealthy holds them in chains…which choke their faith, and throttle their souls. They think of themselves as owners, whereas it is they who are owned:
Enslaved as they are to their own property, they are not the masters of their money but its slaves.”
St Basil of Caesarea told his Church:
“The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry man;
the extra coat hanging in your closet belongs to the man who has none;
the shoes rotting on the floor belong to the man who has no shoes;
the money which you put into the bank belongs to the poor.
You therefore do wrong to everyone you could help but fail to help.”
Not even Monks get off the hook.
All monks are needy in some way, and the Rule of Benedict tells us how
we’re all brothers, called to be our brothers’ keepers, to help each other,
Monks also do wrong to those we could help but fail to help.
No matter who we are, the night will come when we’re called to leave it all behind,
and we’re asked to show what we’ve stored up in riches that matter to God.
Until that night, St John Chrysostom proposes a little self-examination:
“The next time you’re tempted to give up praying because you do not receive,
stop and consider how often you’ve heard a poor man calling, but have not listened to him.”