In the Gospel appointed for this Sunday we hear Our Saviour speak this parable:
The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God. (Lk. 12:16-21)
To understand this Gospel parable correctly we have to first establish that, it is not a sin to work hard. It is not a sin to be a success (if it is achieved honestly). It is not a sin to plan for your old age and retirement. It is not a sin to build a bigger barn. Our Saviour doesn’t isn’t criticizing these activities. But as the parable progresses we begin to see something wrong, something seriously wrong. This rich man seems to fundamentally have no gratitude to God for all that he has been given. He really believes that it all comes from himself. He is totally self-sufficient.
“If the Lord does not build the house then in vain does the builder labor“.
It is not a sin to be rich but the problem is that so often the rich believe that everything they have is not a gift from God but brought about entirely by their own labors. How contrary to the Gospel is this, and how strongly does Our Saviour condemn this.
“Not a hair can fall from your head without your Father’s permission”.
Everything is from God, everything. Even the air your breathe even the fact that your heart is beating now is His grace. He holds all things in the palm of His hand and If He wills that your life should be over right now then your heart would stop. We are totally and completely dependent upon the grace of God. His grace sustains all creation.
We begin The Prayer Before Work by saying: “Thou hast said with Thy most pure lips: without Me, ye can do nothing.”
And this is one of the foundations of the Christian faith, everything is from our loving God and nothing can happen without His willing it or allowing it. And everything He does is good and for our salvation.
That’s why the rich man in this parable is finally condemned by Christ, because he didn’t acknowledge this. He was living a lie. He was living in an artificial world that he thought would go on and on. Christ actually refers to him as a fool, very strong language for Our Saviour to use but that’s how important this is.
In the funeral service for an Orthodox Christian, the last words that The Church speaks over the remains of the departed as the earth is shoveled over his coffin is:“The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” This is the last word that The Church has to say to the departed. One last final time the Church proclaims this truth: the earth is the Lord’s!
Everything belongs to God and everything is from God. We possess nothing of our own. We came into this world with nothing and we leave this world with nothing. Rich or poor, you can take nothing with you when you leave this life.
You can take nothing with you when you leave this life … that is nothing material. The things of this world rot and decay. All the beautiful cars, all the smartphones, all the big screen TVs, all the houses, all the fine clothes, the big bank accounts, everything that this world has to offer is only a temporary. It doesn’t last. But the gratitude and love you have towards God, the awareness that He is the creator and sustainer of all things, this truth can bring you into everlasting life.
And our response to this great truth is essential. That is, our generosity, or desire to be as generous as God is to us. Our desire to share all of our gifts, just as wholeheartedly as Christ shared all of His gifts, with the poor, the needy and everyone that came to Him.
When we recognize that everything we have and all the gifts and talents we possess were given to us by our loving God then our response can be nothing other than to lovingly sharing with others what has been shared with us.
And our gifts don’t necessarily have to be material gifts. They can be intelligence, creativity, a beautiful voice, an ability to play beautiful music or make beautiful paintings, it can be strength in our arms and the ability to do heavy work. Whatever our gifts, we must first of all acknowledge that they come from God, and then we must share them with others. Otherwise there is the terrible possibility that the last words we will hear from Christ are: “you fool, this very night your soul will be taken from you.”
The second fatal mistake this rich man made was that he thought that now he had finally gathered all the material goods he needed, he was safe and secure and he could at last relax, eat drink and make merry. He had finally arrived at his ultimate goal, he could relax and enjoy all his wealth, he could party. This particular temptation is very much apart of our contemporary society.
How insidious this is in our society. We might find it easy to condemn the rich man in this parable because of his ingratitude and foolishness to believe that material goods are all that matters. The delusions that materialism is the answer we can smugly see and condemn. But this delusion, this temptation is far more appealing and dangerous for us.
So much of our contemporary society is built around this theme, you deserve to relax and have a good time. Don’t worry about tomorrow, relax, get comfortable and enjoy yourself.
Under this deception, we waste hours in front of our televisions or computer screens, we waste our money on expensive vacations, overpriced athletic events and amusement parks. We teach our children that this is what life is all about. Then wonder why they are so unhappy.
My dear brothers and sisters, this Gospel parable is for us just as much as it was for those who heard it so many centuries ago. We cannot hear this Gospel and think it was meant for someone else. It was meant for you and me.
Fr. Seraphim Rose, a prophet of our own time recognized this and said: “The message of this universal temptation that attacks men today–quite openly in its secular forms, but usually more hidden in its religious forms–is: Live for the present, enjoy yourself, relax, be comfortable.”
Through the prayers of Our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on us.