I regret to inform you that you are going to die. Perhaps not today, but someday, and it could be very soon. We should ask ourselves, “Am I ready? How can I prepare?”
The Gospel relates the story of a man who was not ready, a man God calls a “fool.” Jesus offers Him as an anti-role model; a person whose example we should learn from, but not imitate. Yes, he is a fool for hoarding his possessions. The old saying is true, “You can’t take it with you.” But there are more subtle lessons we can learn from his bad example. This morning I would like to present three things this rich man has to teach us:
The first lesson comes from what he does when his land produces a bountiful harvest. He asks himself, “What shall I do?” There is nothing wrong with this question in itself, but he is a fool in the way he asks it. The rich man asks himself, and only himself, “What shall I do?” He does not consult with God, in either his conscience or in prayer, to learn what His will is.
What is the lesson here for us? Let us remember to listen to the Lord as He speaks in our conscience, through prayer, the Scriptures, and the people He has placed in our lives. We should listen for God’s direction every day, and throughout each day.
A second cautionary lesson is found in the rich man’s plan for solving his storage problem. He says, “This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones.” What was wrong with the older barns? They were not large enough to hold everything, but why tear them down? The rich man has plenty of land. Why did he want to replace his perfectly good barns?
Vanity of vanities, he wanted his storehouses to be the newest, the biggest, and the best. Though the rich man was not very concerned about other people, he was very concerned about their high opinion of him. Even in those days, people were tempted to consumerism.
Consumerism seems to consist in two phantom promises: that having just a little more will truly give me lasting happiness, and that others will regard, accept, and love me when they notice the things that I have. These are phantom promises, for as soon as one reaches to grasp them they prove empty, illusory, receding further out of reach.
The fact is that the people who are happiest in life are not the wealthiest. (By that measure, pretty much every American should be among the happiest people in the world.) The happiest people tend to be those who share the most or give the most away. The person who recognizes they have enough, that life does not consist in possessions, is content and secure enough to share. Some people try to get the most out of life as possible, but what we appreciate most in our lives is the ways in which we have given of ourselves for others.
Our third cautionary lesson is heard in God’s rebuke of the man: “You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?” When we think of the things the rich man has prepared, we think of his harvest and goods. One of the things he has ill-prepared… is his soul, which this night will be demanded of him. And now, to whom will it belong?
The lesson here for us? As focused as we are upon our possessions, we must be more attentive to our souls. Someday, we are going to die. In the meantime, then, let us put to death, the parts of you that are earthly, as St. Paul said: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry.
What lessons does the rich man teach us? Reject the false promises of the consumer cult, for life does not consist in possessions. (Self-gift is the meaning of life) Turn your heart to your spiritual well-being, for your life and this world shall pass away. And to frequently ask Jesus, everyday, “What shall I do?” Let us begin today, before it is too late for us to begin living wisely.