One day long ago, someone interrupted Jesus with a question any of us might find ourselves asking. Parents had died and there is an estate to settle. Apparently, one of the brothers felt he was not getting a fair deal from a sibling. “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” In other words, “Tell my big brother to give me my fair share.” It sounds like a reasonable request, but Jesus saw through the question that suggests life is about what we get. Like He did so often, He told a story. One year the land of a rich man yielded an extraordinary crop. Most would see this as a blessing. The wealthy man soon began to obsess about managing the windfall.
We have to understand that the Jews of Jesus’ day believed that whatever the human contribution in the process of farming, it is the land, the earth that is the source of food. That abundant crop like the land itself is a gift of God. But note what the man in the story says, “What should I do for I have no place to store my crops?” The very phrasing of the question shows the consequences of forgetting that the land and crops are divine gifts. The man has also lost the sense of stewardship that flows from that perception. He has forgotten what is written in the Torah—that the goods of the earth are meant to meet the needs of all.
Not simply the desires of those who happen to own the land. He is always using the word ME or MINE. For him, the unexpected abundance is not a boom to the community but for his benefit alone. He goes on, “I will build larger barns. And there I will store my grain and my goods and I will say to myself ‘You have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, drink and be merry.’” No mention of anyone benefitting from all this abundance. It is a question of my grain, my goods, and the fact is this man is pursuing an interior monologue in a vacuum of selfishness.
It is almost humorous when we read, “I will say to myself-eat, drink and be merry,” because in the next sentence God says to him, “You fool, this very night your life will be required of you.” Surprise, surprise, a forgotten auditor is heard from. God, the Creator, telling him that this very night they will foreclose on this self of yours. He had forgotten that his life, his self, was also a temporary gift. This man had allowed his greed to destroy all his relationships—with the earth, with his community, with himself and with God. We might want to ask ourselves the question, “Do we see a little of ourselves in that man?” Every one of us has an appointment with death, an appointment that cannot be canceled.
One day all we have owned will belong to someone else. All we have created will pass to others. Someone will give your clothes away to charity, divide up your things and make other uses of your money. When your days are no more, what will others remember as your lasting and loving identity? Do you remember the story of the rich man and Lazarus?
Note one thing well; this story does not attack the rich man’s riches. He does have a problem, but it is not that he is rich; it is that he does not care. He is blind to the poor man sitting at his gate every day covered with ulcers who is too weak to keep the dogs from licking his sores. He begs for the crumbs from the rich man’s table. The first time he sees Lazarus is after they both die. And the rich man looks up from hell and sees Lazarus in heaven. One of the unrecognized perils of wealth is that it can blind you.
You do not see what you ought to see, whom you ought to see. You may be thinking, “This homily does not apply to me, I am not rich and never will be. In fact, I am just about making it.” We are all rich in some way: talent, time, compassion, or rich in education. We all have some gift to give away. Are there any beggars at your doorstep? It is so easy to spread my table for the beautiful people, for the educated and sophisticated, for the smart, and for our kind; but what of the others? The disadvantaged emotionally, spiritually, and physically, the unattractive; those I simply cannot stand. Those covered with sores whether moral or physical; they may be members of my own family.
They beg not for crumbs or even my visa card. They ask for a gift less expensive and yet more costly—what only a person can give, not a bank. They ask for my precious time; for compassion even more than competence; for understanding and ears to listen; eyes to meet, hands to touch, a smile, even a tear. Today’s gospel is not a condemnation of wealth, position or power—but it does tell us how we should live.
Love people, use things. Do not hug anything that cannot hug you back. Make sure that no one has to beg for crumbs from your table or a kind word from your lips. You may never be rich, but it is still so easy to be greedy. And what will count when we die is what kind of person we became during life. Never love possessions, use them; never use people, love them. And always remember, there is only one God and you are not it.