Proper 13, Year C, 2019
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home
When I was a child, one of my favorite authors was Shel Silverstein. He wrote, amongst many works, children’s books that included short stories, poems, and anecdotes. After reading this week’s Gospel, one of Mr. Silverstein’s writings came to mind. The Prayer of the Selfish Child:
“Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
And if I die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my toys to break.
So none of the other kids can use ‘em. Amen.”
Today we hear of humanity’s common lean towards greed, and the way in which we are supposed to respond, as followers of Jesus. The big surprise is that you’re not, in fact, supposed to make sure all the other kids can’t play with your toys.
Last week we talked about prayer, the power of prayer, and how God wants us praying for the things we need. The second piece of that is that God is not a prayer vending machine. This encounter with Jesus further underpins that, when the brothers demand that Jesus settle their dispute over inheritance. Echoing stories of King Solomon’s wisdom, someone demands that Jesus command that person’s brother to divide the inheritance with him. Jesus makes it clear. He’s not here for petty matters of inheritance. He’s not here to arbitrate matters of this world. Jesus marks the advent of the Kingdom of God, and in that Kingdom, wealth means nothing. Inheritance means nothing. In order to really bring home the point, Jesus tells them a story.
What is nowadays called, “The Parable of the Rich Fool” is a lesson Jesus uses to exemplify the sin of greed. In telling this story, and even in thinking about how we apply it to our daily lives, it is important to note that money, possessions, wealth are not inherently evil things. Now, Jesus will always say give your money away and live amongst the poor, but the great sin the rich fool commits is that of greed. The rich fool is living a life where enough never feels like enough, and where the only person to be concerned about is oneself. The rich fool doesn’t make sure that the hungry are fed from the surplus grain, doesn’t offer any to his neighbors. He builds even bigger barns to hoard the grain for the future so that he can leave even more luxuriously than he already does.
Now wait, you may say, isn’t it good to be frugal, to save up, to plan ahead? Well, yes. Good stewardship of what God blesses us with is important. But so is the command to love one’s neighbor. The rich fool doesn’t even give thanks to God for the divine providence that brings him this bumper crop. He just hoards it away for himself. If you want to know how to live in a way that is opposite from a Christian, this is a good example.
The reading from Ecclesiastes underpins Jesus’ teaching. It cuts to the heart of the idolatry that humanity so often falls easily to. We worship money, we worship things, we worship tribes and nations. We ignore the cry that all is vanity. The toil that we, as humans set ourselves to building up these false idols is nothing but vanity. Faith in God, following the commands of Christ, ceasing our worship of the idols of this world: these are ways which we break out of that cycle of vanity.
The reason it is vanity is the same reason we look at ancient burials full of gold and precious gems and think, “what good is it to the dead?” We know that we can’t take those things with us when we die. Jesus ends the parable of the rich fool with God saying to the rich man, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you.” The rich fool will die and all his hoarding will be for nothing to him. Saint Paul pushes it further though, and shows us how much it is vanity even to the living. We are no longer Greek and Jew, slave and free, but one in Christ. Our unity comes through the Kingdom of God bursting into this world. Nothing matters more than that. We are all children of the Kingdom of God and any other designation is a human construct and vanity when we use it to separate ourselves from others to our benefit.
I wonder how the parable of the rich fool needs to be changed to make him come out alright in the end. Jesus doesn’t give us that answer, so we are left to wonder. Maybe the rich fool should have shared his surplus with those around him. Maybe he should still save it up, but with the intent that no one will go hungry in hard times. Maybe just a little humility and seeing that he isn’t the center of the world would go a long way in this parable.
Albert Pike, the founder of the Scottish Rite, a concordant body of Freemasonry, wrote, “What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal.” The Rich Fool fails, in Jesus’ words, to be, “rich towards God.” He leads a self-centered existence absorbed and concerned only with his own achievement and comfort. God grants us blessing and abundance and it is our responsibility to be stewards of that. It is not our place to hoard, to greedily feast while we watch our neighbor starve, to pat ourselves on the back for our cleverness. We are baptized into the Kingdom of God and we follow Christ. We are tasked with caring for all we have, caring for all we meet, living into the Kingdom of God that is showing forth right now and right here. This is our call to examine our lives and our values. God continually invites us into the Grace and eternal abundance of that Kingdom. All we must do is accept.