8th Sunday after Pentecost
Updated: Aug 9
Money. Most of us have a love hate relationship with it. We can’t live without it and yet it can get us into a heap of trouble. It can do great good. It can do great harm. It can buy us a house but not a home. It can buy us a Rolex but not time. It can buy us a computer but not knowledge. It can buy us the best medical care but not health. It can buy someone an election but not respect. It can buy someone a Porsche but not love.
Money isn’t everything. In fact it often causes pain and suffering. I tell you this because as your priest I want to take away your pain and suffering. So, send me all your money…and I will suffer for you. Cash or checks only! Hey, what are friends for?
Actually, the lesson Jesus presents in the Gospel is no joking matter. The issue of what is of lasting value in life is a profound and sobering one. The reading begins with a man who asks Jesus to arbitrate a dispute over a family inheritance. This was a matter that fell under the jurisdiction of Torah, written Jewish Law, so it was common practice not to seek a lawyer but rather a Rabbi to act as judge in such matters.
What is suspect about his request is that he abruptly interrupts Jesus who is teaching the large crowd that has gathered. Jesus had a nose for idolatry and self-centeredness so he seizes the opportunity to launch into a difficult lesson about money and possessions and tells a story to make his point. This rich man was a fool, not because he had wealth, but because he failed to realize his dependence on others. His monologue contains about sixty words, yet “I” and “my” occur twenty times. “What should I do? I have no place to store my crops. I will do this. I will build. I will store. My barns. My grain. My goods.”
There is no suggestion that the man is wicked or that he would delight in the fate of those who have less than he does. Yet there is no consideration here of others or recognition that the land itself is a gift from God. He just keeps building bigger and better and hording more and more forgetting that he is not going to live forever.
Death finally makes us generous because everything we have passes to someone else, including the government. God calls the rich man a fool not with mockery but with immense sadness for missing out on what it really means to be a human being.
This story is not about owning things but rather about how we regard what we own and the balance between enjoying those things and sharing some portion of our financial resources for the good of others. The warning in this Gospel is not against wealth but against greed. When life is considered only in terms of material possessions, we live in fear of losing them and we cut ourselves off from others and from a richer, deeper relationship with God.
I wonder how the wealthy CEO’s of huge corporations understand this Gospel and how they reconcile the millions and billions they amass—their big barns—while the middle class struggles to pay for gas and for food and so many people live I abject poverty.
The Good News is that Jesus sees our futile quest to find security in our possessions and also sees beyond them to a more enduring reality: God wants to liberate us to use what we have to help build up the reign of God in this world. Several people won millions of dollars in the lottery this weekend. What good they can do to ease the suffering of others if they so choose. Our lives have significance, not in what we accumulate, but in the light of God’s love for us and how we bring that love to a broken world.
There is simply no evading it. This Gospel begs a genuine, honest, even painful, self-examination. Our possessions, far from being our great treasure, can also be the source of great delusions. How does this speak to us? Where does our life weigh in when we hear this Gospel? What are our “bigger barns” —those we have built or are tempted to build because our culture tells us that personal peace and security stem from acquisition and prosperity?
There’s no doubt about it. God’s view of earthly living is a radical one. In the end, it’s not how much we have that matters; it’s what we do with what we have. The rich man in this story had a sad and lonely ending to his life not because he had a lot of money and possessions but because he didn’t bring any happiness to others by what he had done for them. Perhaps this is the deepest form of poverty.
I offer two short pieces that resonate with Jesus’ radical view of earthly living. The first, the wisdom of a Sufi master who said: “If you put the world between you and God, the world becomes a spiritual obstacle; if you use the world to remember God, the world becomes your spiritual friend.”
And the second, the story of an American tourist who paid a visit on a trip to Poland to a renowned Polish rabbi. He was astonished to see that the rabbi’s house was very simple and filled with books, a table, a few chairs, and a bed.
“Rabbi,” asked the tourist, “where is your furniture?”
“Where is yours?” asked the rabbi in return.
“Mine?” questioned the puzzled American. “But I am only passing through.”
“So,” said the rabbi, “am I.”
As are you and I. So are we all.