The Foolish Rich Man
In today’s Gospel reading we hear about the rich man who thought to hoard all of his wealth and bask in his worldly luxuries and enjoyments. This man had been blessed with an over abundance of crops and his barns were bursting at the seams. He thought to himself that he would build new and bigger areas to store his great wealth. And he said to himself in his great self-satisfaction, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.’ But like a blind and foolish man, he gave no thought to eternity and God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’
This man, whom the world would call a success, God calls a fool – for he was wholly preoccupied with laying up treasures on earth for himself and neglected that ‘one thing needful’, the love of God and the destiny of his eternal soul.
There are several lessons to be gleaned from today’s Gospel… but perhaps two that stand out most prominently are: the context which death places upon our life, and the proper perspective and use of the blessings which God bestows upon us.
The foolish rich man of today’s Gospel was ready to take his ease and enjoy his wealth, but that very night his soul was required of him… in other words, he met his death and found himself before the judgment seat of Christ.
The presence of death in this world is a result of the fall of mankind. It is both a natural consequence of severing ourselves from the Source of Life and is also a kind of mercy… binding our earthly life and our sinfulness to a finite number of years. Death was not so much the punishment of Adam’s transgression. God did not say: ‘Eat of the fruit of the tree and I will kill you!’ Instead He forewarned His child Adam, saying: ‘Eat of the fruit of the tree and you shall die.’ Death was the consequence of Adam’s disobedience, of his choice to turn away from God.
And in addition to being a consequence of severing ourselves from the Source of Life, death is also a kind of mercy, in that it introduces a limited time for the evil a man may commit upon this earth, and it provides a ticking timetable reminding and calling mankind to repentance and reconciliation with God before he breathes his last.
Death is a difficult thing, but it truly does provide us with some context within which we live our lives. This earthly life we have been given is extremely brief – certainly so in the context of eternity. If we were to live our life in the knowledge of just how precious our time is, how much time would we waste on acquiring and fretting over perishable earthly treasures? How might we treat those around us if we lived each day as if it were our last? How differently would we pray if we knew our end was upon us? The remembrance of death is not a morbid thought… it is a blessed measure by which we can truly value and bring meaning to our life.
The rich man in today’s Gospel was not a fool because he had an abundant crop and many possessions. That is and can be a great blessing from God. The man was a fool because he selfishly believed that he was the sole source of his good fortune, that his worldly goods were all he needed, and because he allowed his preoccupations with the things of this world to overwhelm and obscure his perception of the true meaning of his life.
If God has blessed us with sufficiency, then we must give thanks and we must act as good stewards of such blessings.
St. Basil the Great has a famous quote for this foolish rich man and for us… He said: ‘The bread which you do not use is the bread of the hungry, the garment hanging in your wardrobe is the garment of him who is naked, the shoes that you do not wear are the shoes of the one who is barefoot, the money that you keep locked away is the money of the poor, the acts of charity that you do not perform are so many injustices that you commit.’
We must be grateful for, and generous with, whatever the Lord has given us. It is less about whether we’re rich or poor, than it is about our sense of gratitude and generosity. A poor man can be selfish and miserly, and a rich man can be selfless and generous. It is about being awake to the brevity of life and to the opportunities to do good.
The cares of this earthly life, into which we pour so much of our attention and anxieties and hopes, distort and eclipse the reality of just how short our time is here on this earth. Our souls may be required of us at any time. And how shall we be found?
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ… it is not the ‘what’ of the circumstances of our life that will make us or break us… it is ‘how we are being’ in those circumstances that will determine where we are placing our hope and our faith. We may be rich, we may be poor, we may be shouldering great burdens in our life – sickness, sorrow, and sighing… The issue is how are we being in those circumstances of our life. Do we enjoy our blessings with a glad heart full of gratitude to God? Do we bear our sufferings with an enduring love and determined trust in God?
Let us be good stewards in whatever situation we may find ourselves – humbly and responsibly taking care of whatever task is set before us, but not being seduced by the successes or the failures we may encounter in this world. Keeping the gaze of our mind, our heart, and our soul firmly fixed upon that heavenly treasure and the things of eternity – which break forth into our lives, surrounding us in God’s grace and mercy, even while still here on this earth.