Eccl 1:2; 2:21-23; Col 3:1-5, 9-11; Lk 12:13-21
A rich penny-pinching elderly man is on his deathbed. He turns to his long-suffering wife and says, “I want to take my money with me when I die. Promise me you’ll put it in the coffin with me.” His wife promises. At the funeral, the new widow goes to the coffin and slips a box inside. Her friend looks at her in horror. “Are you nuts?” she exclaims “He’s dead! Take the money for yourself.” “I promised him I would and so I did. But, don’t worry.” the widow reassures her “I placed all the money in a new account I opened under my own name. Then I wrote him a check which I just placed in the coffin. He needs to deposit it to get the money. If he can cash it he can spend it!”
Dear Friends! The common theme of today’s readings is the futility of the greedy acquisition of wealth and power because everything and everyone is “here today and gone tomorrow.” Therefore, the meaning of life cannot be found in possessions but in the sharing of time, treasure and talents with the needy. The first reading, taken from Ecclesiastes, reminds us that the greedy acquisition and selfish hoarding of goods are useless because when the hoarder dies he goes to eternity empty-handed, and his heir gains, and perhaps squanders, his riches.
According to an old legend, Alexander the Great (356-323 BC), commanded that when he died and was carried forth to his grave, his hands should not be wrapped in the burial clothes, as was the custom, but should be left outside so that all might see them, and might see also, that they were empty. In the brief span of his thirty-three years, Alexander had conquered and possessed the riches of an empire that extended from Greece to India. Yet, in death, his hands were empty; none of his wealth could survive the passage through death.
In the second reading, Paul directs our attention to lasting heavenly treasures and warns that greed for wealth and influence is idolatry. He advises the Colossians, “Put to death, your parts that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry” (Colossians 3: 5).
In today’s gospel, Jesus refused to be an arbitrator in this property dispute between two brothers because he had come to bring people to God by preaching the good news of God’s forgiving and sharing love. But he used the occasion as a “teachable moment,” instructing the audience on the folly of greed and selfishness, while contradicting the Epicurean motto: “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”
Why did Jesus say God called the rich man a fool? Traditional Jewish good works included prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Blessed with an excellent harvest, the rich landowner in Jesus’ parable did the opposite of giving alms. Instead of thanking God and sharing with the hungry, he planned to give himself over to a pagan orgy – “eat, drink and be merry.” Jesus called him a fool because:
“He never saw beyond himself.” He was focused on himself and was selfish to the core. He was possessed by his possessions, instead of possessing them. Consequently, he evicted God from his heart and never thought to thank God for having blessed him with a rich harvest.
The foolish rich man “never saw beyond this world.” He was punished, not for anything wrong he did, but for the good he failed to do. It was his acts of omission rather than of commission that prompted God to cut short his life. He failed to become “rich in what matters to God.” He left God out of his gratitude. He was not thankful to God for His blessings; instead, he considered them as solely the fruit of his own labor. He also failed in his stewardship duties – the returning to God of His portion in paying his tithe. He was taken up with worries or anxieties about his wealth. He was starving to death spiritually in the midst of God’s abundance.
The parable of the rich fool gives us a warning as well as an invitation. It reminds us that our possessions are merely loaned to us by God, and that we are accountable for their use. We must be generous in sharing our time, our treasure, and our talents, the three elements of Christian stewardship. Every one of us is rich in one thing or another. The parable instructs us to share these gifts. Even if we are poor financially, we may be blessed with intelligence, good will, a sense of humor or the ability to encourage, inspire and support others.