In today’s Gospel Jesus is very straightforward in what He wants to communicate to us. We have a rich man who filled with joy at his great harvest started to ponder on, dream about and plan for the happy days of his retirement. He will pull down his existing barns and build huge ones to store his riches. He tells himself, “My soul, you have plenty of good things laid by for many years to come; take things easy, eat, drink, have a good time.”
On the surface, actually there is nothing really wrong with this rich man’s dreams and plans. On the surface, God is not against us enjoying a good relaxing and well provided retirement. This is clearly expressed in the Book of Genesis when God created and worked in His creation and “rested” on the seventh day, so to speak. God loves us infinitely and unconditionally, but He was never a workaholic so to speak. So, God is never against us having a good and well deserved vacation and retirement.
If this is so, then why did God call the rich man, “you fool!?” God Himself, through Jesus gave the reason and said, “This very night the demand will be made for your soul; and this hoard of yours, whose will it be then?”
In short, God reminded the rich man that while he may have great and grandiose plans for his retirement, he forgot about the reality of death. That as finite human beings, we can die any time.
However, while such a reminder is important; Jesus is not trying to instil fear in our hearts. God is more importantly reminding us about the quality of our living while we are on earth. At the beginning of today’s Gospel, it says, “A man in the crowd said to Jesus, ‘Master, tell my brother to give me a share of our inheritance.’ ” This implies that this rich man had the problem of greed. He was not willing to share his wealth with his brothers and was keeping his riches to himself . . . and that is why Jesus also said, “Watch, and be on your guard against avarice of any kind, for a man’s life is not made secure by what he owns, even when he has more than he needs.”
My brothers and sisters, the Gospel of Jesus proclaims a Truth that we all know in our heads; we understand perfectly that we can die any time and we also see the importance of living the virtue of justice and generosity. However, perhaps, most problems are not because that we don’t want to be good, generous and just. But perhaps we have lost our focus in life, and this is also partly because the pace and expectations of today’s secular world is very demanding and hectic; . . . keeping us busy and on our toes . . . and as a result, developing a form of materialism that pushes God into the background of our lives . . . and putting ourselves at the foreground of our lives. This type of living is the “avarice” that precisely what Jesus is cautioning in today’s Gospel.
In one of Tolstoy’s story, he tells of how a peasant called Pakhom who was always dreaming of owning land and getting rich. One day, the opportunity came; he scrapped every penny he had to buy the land. He was overjoyed. The land he owned so proudly bore fruits in plenty and the flowers that grew bloomed with great beauty. So, Pakhom was filled with joy. Five years later, he heard that in another region beyond the mountains there were bigger and better lands. Upon further reflection on what he had, he began to tell himself, “Yes, while my land is rich and fertile, it a bit small and cramp.” So, he sold all his land and ventured to look for this region beyond the mountains.
On the way, Pakhom met a stranger who directed him to the tribe of people who had limitless amount of land. With great excitement he set off to look for the tribe. After several weeks of walking, he was overjoyed when he finally found them. The chief welcomed him warmly. And when Pakhom expressed his wish to buy land, the chief told him that he could buy as much land as he wished. However, the chief said, “There is only one condition. We only sell by the day; as much as you can walk round in one day, that much is yours for only one thousand roubles. You must however return on the same day, to the spot form where you started, before sun set. Otherwise, your money will be forfeited.”
Pakhom accepted what he thought was an excellent bargain. That night, he couldn’t sleep; he was over-excited at the prospects of being the owner of this huge land of his dreams. Even before the sun rose, Pakhom, not taking any breakfast, as he had no time to loose, got ready. As soon as the sun peeped above the horizon, a marker was pegged on the ground. He set-off; men followed him on horseback and drove stakes into the ground to mark the path that he had walked.
Pakhom continued to make great progress during the day; the farther he went, the better the land became. When it was dinner time, he became weaker. However, he grabbed a bite and continued walking. In his eagerness to cover as much as he could, he lost the track of time. Then, to his horror he saw the sun beginning to set . . . moreover, the point from where he started was very far away. So, he headed for it as fast as he could. However, he was rightly feeling worn out from his hunger and a whole day’s of walking. He thought to himself, “If only the sun could wait for me;” but it wouldn’t. So, he continued to push himself as hard as he could just so that he could reach the starting point before the sun set. Finally, as soon as the top of the sun vanished, Pakhom collapsed face down on the ground. The chief arrived and said, “I congratulate you. You have earned much land; more than any man I can remember.” But, Pakhom did not reply. They turned him over and found him dead. The tribes buried him at the very spot of where he fell.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, does the story of Pakhom’s drive and passion in life in some ways describe the hectic and anxiety filled life that we are living daily? Does Pakhom’s dream of acquiring more and more land and his lack of satisfaction of what he possessed materially describe the temptations we have in life? Does the rich man in today’s Gospel who planned for his retirement, but and he forgot that he could die any time, also ring a bell in us?
There is story of a conversation between a young ambitious man and his Spiritual Director. The young man said, “I want to be an expert and a great professional in my field.” “And then?” said the Spiritual Director. “I will then set up my own business.” “And then?” said his Spiritual Director. “I will then have a great fortune.” “And then?” said his Spiritual Director. “Well, I suppose that someday I will retire.” “And then?” The young man was silent . . . “And then, I suppose one day I have to die.” “And then?”
My brothers and sisters in Christ, before I conclude, let me sum up by saying that this young man, Pakhom in our story and the rich man in today’s Gospel are different versions of what Jesus is trying to say to you and to me. Whether we are a young profession or a rich retiree, whether we are a married person or a priest, whether we are a minister or a maid, Jesus is challenging each of us to face the basic truth of our lives and our faith before it is too late:
First, Jesus is reminding us, through His Gospel that we are each called to face the truth that we are all going to die one day. This is because we are created out of God’s Divine Love and our true destiny in life is to return to live with Him for all eternity . . .
Second, what we have and possess in life are gifts from God. By all means use them and live life to the full, but never forget the Giver of these gifts . . . when God blesses us abundantly, we are not meant to take His Blessings for granted. If we are still alive tomorrow, then tomorrow is a gift from God; it is a bonus that must not be squandered on superficial living.
Thus, if we are to take Jesus’ challenge in today’s Gospel seriously, and thus do not wish to be guilty of avarice and materialism that Jesus condemns, then we must be Christ-like in all our thoughts, words and deeds . . . like Jesus, we are called to love unconditionally, forgive willingly, share generously, serve the needs of others wholeheartedly . . . and in all of these ways of living, do them out of love for God and His Will for us.
And, when we are able to live in this way, not only will our retirement days be filled with peace and joy; . . . our daily living too will be filled with challenges from God that can only bring true fulfilment and happiness that continues beyond this world . . . and lasts for all eternity. . .
Do we want this gift of eternal life from God? God has already given us this divine gift, but it is up to us to accept His gift or not . . . If we do, then we have to say our “yes” to God to be more like Jesus daily.
(cf. story of Tolstoy adapted from, “Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies, Year C, by Flor McCarthy,SDB, Dominican Pub: 1985: pp197-180).
Fr Philip Heng,S.J.
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