A man wants Jesus to settle a family squabble but finds his problem is much bigger than getting his share of an inheritance.
By Gayle Somers
Gospel (Read Lk 12:13-21)
It’s always a little surprising to see someone in a Gospel story tell Jesus what to do (see also Lk 10:40). Here, a man calls out, “Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.” Jesus’ response is cordial: “Friend, who appointed Me as your judge and arbitrator?” There is a touch of irony here. The man is thinking of Jesus as a wise rabbi, capable of intervening in his disagreement with his brother. We don’t know why the brothers were at odds, but we can sense something of the problem from Jesus’ reluctance to address it. Jesus is, indeed, the One Who will someday “come in glory to judge the living and the dead,” as we say in the Creed. It is in that role, as Judge of men’s souls, that Jesus tells the man a parable.
“There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest.” So far, so good. All of us have a desire to prosper in the work to which we set our hands. Those who must provide for a family are especially pleased to succeed in earning what their families need. However, this man’s success led to a superabundant harvest. It was so large that he had no place to store it. What might he have done with such excess? Certainly there were poor people in his family or community. Could he have shared his good fortune with them? Instead, he decided to destroy perfectly good barns and “build larger ones.” What prompted this decision? He wanted an easy, secure life: “I shall say to myself, ‘You have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!’” What’s wrong with that?
Jesus tells us right away: “But God said to him, ‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’” The man is a “fool” because he has set his whole vision on his possessions. He sees his secure future in them, but the reality is he has forgotten death, over which he has no control and which his “things” cannot prevent. When death comes, in the twinkling of an eye, all that meant “life” to this rich, successful man will evaporate. What will be left to him in death? In the end, all that is left is God. Jesus, using the example of the parable, tells the man bothered about his inheritance: “Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.” The foolish man in the parable planned to spend his excess on himself. Had he remembered the simple summary of the Law God gave His people, known to every Jew, to love God with all that we are and our neighbors as ourselves, he could have wanted to make himself rich in the right way. Jesus seeks to remind the man who addressed him that only a fool allows his possessions to so captivate him that he is willing to feud with his own brother over them. If death arrived for him that night, would he be “rich in what matters to God”?
Possible response: Lord Jesus, help me in my daily battle to be rich in what matters to God. The treasures of this life always beckon.
First Reading (Read Eccl 1:2; 2:21-23)
Ecclesiastes is one of the books of wisdom literature in the Old Testament. It is written in a didactic first person voice as it reflects on the uselessness of trying to figure out the meaning of life by looking only at life’s various activities. True human happiness cannot be reached solely through human efforts; to seek happiness that way leads eventually to vanity (self-love or self-regard). All human activity is ultimately a puzzle without the revelation of God’s meaning and purpose in His Creation. Because this is true, the author of Ecclesiastes concludes his book with a simple admonition: “Fear God, and keep His commandments; for that is the whole duty of a man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil” (see Eccl 12:13-14).
In today’s passage, the author addresses the futility of looking for ultimate meaning in work and prosperity. Even in success, the rich man must leave his property to another who didn’t lift a finger to earn it. To be consumed with work and success leads to “sorrow and grief.” There is no rest for that weary soul, “even at night.”
When Jesus told the man in our Gospel to “take care to guard against all greed …one’s life does not consist of possessions,” He was drawing on this ancient Jewish wisdom. Jesus came to be the revelation of the truth that true happiness is found only in seeking first the kingdom of God (see Mt 6:33). All else is empty vanity.
Possible response: Heavenly Father, help me remember that I can’t find life’s meaning by looking only at life itself. Help me keep my eyes fixed on You.
Psalm (Read Ps 90:3-6, 12-14, 17)
This psalm takes up the Gospel theme of the transitory nature of our lives on earth: “You turn man back to dust, saying, ‘Return, O children of men.’” Thus, the psalmist asks God to “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of heart.” A person who understands the fragility of life will want to make the most of each day. He will join the psalmist in singing, “If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.”
We wonder if the man in the Gospel story heard God’s voice when Jesus taught him that parable. Was he able to put all his financial issues in God’s care and say, “May the gracious care of the Lord our God be ours; prosper the work of our hands for us”?
Possible response: This psalm is, itself, a response to our other readings. Read it again prayerfully to make it your own.
Second Reading (Read Col 3:1-5, 9-11)
St. Paul now interprets for us what Jesus meant in the Gospel when He told us to be rich in what matters to God. When we were baptized, we were “raised with Christ,” so we should now “seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.” Why should we do this? St. Paul tells us that we “have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”
If we believe this, as mysterious as it is, we will realize how foolish and unfruitful it is for us to live as if we were earthbound. That is why St. Paul says to “put to death … the parts of you that are earthly.” What are those “parts”? He lists some for us: “immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry.” We all have these “parts” in us, because of our fallen human nature. True happiness requires us to “take off the old self with its practices.” They will definitely keep us earthbound and will eventually short-circuit our peace and happiness. That is why Jesus warned the man in our Gospel story. Knowing men’s hearts, He could read deeply the meaning of the man’s request to settle the inheritance dispute. He saw the danger of greed this man faced. He wanted something better for him and for us, too. That is why St. Paul encourages us to “think of what is above, not of what is on earth.” The outcome of this way of life is sure: “When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with Him in glory.”
Isn’t this much better than building bigger barns?
Possible response: Lord Jesus, I know I am only passing through this earthly life. Please strengthen me to avoid becoming earthbound.