Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, `What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, `I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, `Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, `You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
A wise Israelite, dwelling some distance from Jerusalem, sent his son to the Holy City to complete his education. During his son’s absence the father was taken ill, and feeling that death was upon him he made a will, leaving all his property to one of his slaves, on condition that he should allow the son to select any one article which pleased him for an inheritance.
As soon as his master died, the slave, elated with his good fortune, hastened to Jerusalem, informed his late master’s son of what had taken place, and showed him the will.
The young man was surprised and grieved at the intelligence, and after the allotted time of mourning had expired, he began to seriously consider his situation. He went to his teacher, explained the circumstances to him, read him his father’s will, and expressed himself bitterly on account of the disappointment of his reasonable hopes and expectations. He could think of nothing that he had done to offend his father, and was loud in his complaints of in-justice.
“Stop,” said his teacher; “thy father was a man of wisdom and a loving relative. This will is a living monument to his good sense and far-sightedness. May his son prove as wise in his day.”
“What!” exclaimed the young man. “I see no wisdom in his bestowal of his property upon a slave; no affection in this slight upon his only son.”
“Listen,” returned the teacher. “By his action thy father hath but secured thy inheritance to thee, if thou art wise enough to avail thyself of his understanding. Thus thought he when he felt the hand of death approaching, ‘My son is away; when I am dead he will not be here to take charge of my affairs; my slaves will plunder my estate, and to gain time will even conceal my death from my son, and deprive me of the sweet savor of mourning.’ To prevent these things he bequeathed his property to his slave, well knowing that the slave, believing in his apparent right, would give thee speedy information and take care of the effects, even as he has done.”
“Well, well, and how does this benefit me?” impatiently interrupted the pupil.
“Ah!” replied the teacher, “wisdom I see rests not with the young. Dost thou not know that what a slave possesses belongs but to his master? Has not thy father left thee the right to select one article of all his property for thy on? Choose the slave as thy portion, and by possessing him thou wilt recover all that was thy father’s. Such was his wise and loving intention.”
The young man did as he was advised, and gave the slave his freedom afterwards. But ever after he was wont to exclaim:
“Wisdom resides with the aged, and understanding in length of days.”
(This illustration is from Sacred Books and Early Literature of the East: Ancient Hebrew, Vol. 3)
There are many morals to this story, but the one that struck me was that the young man was so focused on what he thought he had not received, that he completely missed the point that he had inherited everything. I think that we often are also so focused on the things that we don’t have that we miss out on the things that we do.
When we don’t have much and we want what others have it is often considered coveting. When we do have in abundance and we want more, it is greed. This doesn’t mean that we don’t have very specific needs and rights such as food, clothing, freedom, and so on; but there really is a limit to how much is enough. However, the mistake we make in all of this is the assumption that all we see have, here and now, whether it is considered by the world to be great or insignificant, is all that is important and all that there is.
Bede’s History of the English Church and People, tells the story of how St. Paulinus – a Roman missionary to the Anglo-Saxons and how he tried to convert the English to Christianity. Paulinus visits King Edwin in the year 627. Edwin and his followers worshipped pagan gods, and had no concept of a better afterlife to look forward to. Edwin was impressed with the ideas of Paulinus, but decided to hear the views of his advisors before deciding whether to convert to Christianity. One of them spoke in favour of Christianity, and put the case like this:
“Your Majesty, when we compare the present life of man on earth with that time of which we have no knowledge, it seems to me like the swift flight of a single sparrow through the banqueting-hall where you are sitting at dinner on a winter’s day with your thanes and counsellors. Inside, there is a comforting fire to warm the hall; outside, the storms of winter rain or snow are raging. This sparrow flies swiftly in through one door of the hall, and out through another. While he is inside, he is safe from the winter storms; but after a few moments of comfort, he vanishes from sight into the wintry world from which he came. So man appears on earth for a little while, but of what went before this life or of what follows, we know nothing. Therefore, if this new teaching has brought any more certain knowledge, it seems only right that we should follow it.”
What Edwin’s advisor has come to understand is that this life, although it is all that we can truly know, is not all that there is; therefore, it should not be of the greatest significance to us, nor should giving all that we have in order to make this world more comfortable for ourselves be our greatest goal.
I say this because this is part of what Jesus is talking to us about in our gospel reading today. Remember, the rich man wants Jesus to mediate between him and his brother over the family inheritance. Jesus’ response, “this is not my concern.” Then Jesus tells the parable of the man who one year had a bumper crop, then built for himself storage to keep it all, and finally said to himself, “I’ve got it all.” Jesus’ response, “Fool!” Jesus calls him a fool not because he was wealthy – there is no condemnation there and not because he was successful either – this isn’t the issue…
Jesus calls the man a fool, because he planned as though the life he was living was all that there was. To use the analogy of the sparrow that flew through the banquet hall, the man did not plan for what would happen after he flew out the other window. He had this life all worked out, but he didn’t plan for what would happen to him after he died. As Jesus says in Matthew’s gospel, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Again, understand, this is not a matter of treasures, success, fame, or any of that. Instead, it is a matter of the heart – “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” So I’m not asking you to go off and live the life of a desert monk.. because even a desert monk can be so filled with spiritual pride – “Oh, I’m so much better than the rest of the world” – that even though the world may perceive them to be all holy – the fact remains that their heart has not been transformed. So, like the young man who thought he had inherited nothing, but had in fact inherited it all, you and I must also recognize that our inheritance – that which makes us rich beyond compare – is not what we can see, feel, or count, but our inheritance, as St. Peter states, gives “us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.” That is where our hearts should be and no amount of earthly treasure should distract us from it.
Let us pray: Virgin Mary, most loving Mother, please give us hearts like yours, firm in their attachments and of unshakable loyalty. Affectionate hearts which radiate a discreet tenderness and which are open. Pure hearts which live in the flesh without being burdened by it. Generous hearts, quick in forgetting their hurts and always ready to forgive. Considerate hearts which hide a great deal of love in the smallest details, in the most humble service. Magnanimous hearts which rejoice in other’s triumphs and share in their sorrows. Hearts which condemn no one, and do not tire of being confided to. Hearts taken up by Christ, totally given to His infinite love. Amen.