The Poor Rich Fool – Vids Gornez, SJ

Luke 12:13-21, 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Parable of the rich man, by Rembrandt

In our Gospel reading, we are presented with a parable and in it the picture of a man consumed not by heavenly treasures but worldly ones. This man busies himself gathering treasures and harvests in his barn more than enough to meet his present needs and he is still gathering. He is perhaps our rich neighbour preoccupied with accumulating possessions: speculating a lot in the stock market, investing here and there motivated only by profit, merging with other business partners to gain strategic positions in the industry he belongs, upgrading technology to upstage competition, even getting sensitive information on their nearest competitor’s next strategic move, buying the latest car or computer model, etc. This man is stuck to the world and its values and rules.

But just as we thought the Gospel parable is only meant for the rich, we realize that we also have people or neighbors that we know, certainly not economically rich but just as viciously acquisitive or envious, having the same attitude of the materially rich in the parable. These are people who are also hooked on acquiring things, and consumed by pride and greed, whose acquisitiveness is a poor cover-up to their true condition that they detested. They frantically busy themselves to keep up with their rich and affluent acquaintances. And then suddenly, the voice of conscience is able to break through and tells him: “You fool, tonight you die and where will all your wealth go?” At the flick of a finger, what he laboured for in his whole lifetime is gone. All his efforts come to nothing because these things he cannot take with him as provisions beyond this material life.

The Gospel reading compels us to ask ourselves: what are the things that really matter to us? What do we hold dear and what can we part with? To that which we hold on to, do they give genuine joy to us? Are we able to distinguish transitory things from those that really form us as persons and become permanent part of us? Are our choices and decisions determined by what the world values or are they formed by the values taught to us by the Gospel of Christ? These are some questions we must face at this time of gathering.

All of us will be asked by the Lord to gather provisions in this life in order to live. We have to eat and drink. We have to send our children to school. We have to provide for our health. Some of us even have to work on Sundays to acquire these provisions. Some of us even have to be separated from our families to provide for our families’ needs. But aside from provisions for material living, do we also set aside some space in our barns for things that can outlast the material demands of this world? Things like friendship and self-sacrifice, things like simplicity and honesty, things like holiness and love, things like faith and hope and dependence on God. When these things are also stored, they really do not occupy so much space.

Ultimately, when we, the gatherers, seriously consider these things, we will be amazed to find ourselves re-designing the size of our barns. Ultimately, we will discover that we really do not need a lot of things. We really do not need to build large barns and storage places. Because God does provide. And God provides in measures beyond our imaginings.

Greed should have no place in God’s plan because God provides. But greed today occupies a lot of space in the world and in men’s hearts. And what do we see? Material things accumulated through exploitation of chaos and inequality, dizzying competition, and a lot of deception and dishonesty. We see people fighting for the same amount of space which do not even belong to them! When material things are gathered into barns and are built on these foundations of greed, the barns ultimately crumble and only a few can really make use of the things gathered. Even the greedy gatherer cannot make full use of his own selfish labor.

What the Gospel is challenging us to do today is simple. We are asked to seek and gather the things that really matter, things that we gather and build today, things that we can bring as provisions for the soul that will outlive this material life. These things ultimately are not material things. But they do help provide the conditions for us to earn our daily bread, provide us with good health, give us shelter. These things, which are the true treasure, are values; interestingly, human values, powered by God’s grace, that feed our dependence on God’s providence which is the Christian’s response to worldly greed. Indeed, the true treasure can only be found in God’s kingdom, and it is a grand illusion if we make ourselves believe that we can find it in places like barns stocked with silver and gold.

*”Parable of the Rich Fool” by Rembrandt

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