Eccl 1:2; 2:21-23; Col 3:1-5, 9-11; Lk 12:13-21
Three contractors were touring the White House on the same day. One was from New York, another from Missouri, and the third from Florida. At the end of the tour, the guard asked them what they did for a living. when they each replied that they were contractors, the guard said, “Hey we need one of the rear fences redone. Why don’t you guys take a look at it and give me your bids.” First, the Florida contractor took out his tape measure and pencil, did some measuring and said, “I figure the job will run about $900 — $400 for materials, $400 for my crew, and $100 profit for me.”
Next was the Missouri contractor. He also took out his tape measure and pencil, did some quick calculations and said, “Looks like I can do this job for $700 — $300 for materials, $300 for my crew, and $100 profit for me.” Finally, the guard asks the New York contractor for his bid. Without batting an eye, the contractor says, “$2,700.”
The guard, incredulous, looks at him and says, “You didn’t even measure like the other guys! How did you come up with such a high figure?” “Easy,” says the contractor from New York, “$1,000 for me, $1,000 for you, and we hire the guy from Missouri.”
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 the 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.
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, telling the parable of the foolish rich man, warns the disputing brothers, and us, against all types of greed, because greed takes our life’s focus away from God and away from serving and loving Him in other people.
Today’s parable relates riches and death. In the parable, a rich man is busy making plans to store his wealth for the future. He decides to build bigger barns to hold what he owns. But all of his industrious planning is cut short by his sudden death. The parable does not deny the need to plan for the future, but it asks us to look at wealth from the ultimate perspective. The man in the parable is called a fool, not because he is stupid, but because he does not appreciate the true purpose of his wealth. All his crops, all that he has is a gift from God. That gift, of course, is meant to be used for his benefit, but not in an unlimited way. Once his own needs are met, his excess wealth should not be hoarded away for the future, but used. According to the gospel, it is to be used for the benefit of others.
This truth is not new to you. I think all of us are aware that God entrusts things to us to be used for the benefit of others. Yet many of us, like the man in the parable, go about from day to day without reflecting on what the purpose is for the gifts we have received. When God places money, or time, or ability into our hand, we are delighted. We begin planning how we can use these things for our own benefit. But how often do we think of the responsibility we have to use our gifts for the sake of others?
Clearly today’s parable might not be intended for everyone. There could be people here this morning who have no excess wealth, no excess time, no excess talent. But the people with no excess of gifts are few. Most of us need to listen to this parable as it reminds us that the excess gifts that we keep for ourselves are not an advantage, but a liability. The scriptures even use the image of a storehouse in heaven, a storehouse in which we can invest. We can place things in our heavenly storehouse each time we give away some of our resources here on earth. The image of the heavenly storehouse should be taken seriously, because at any time, just like in the parable, God could choose to call us home.
And how sad would it be, at the time of our death, if our bank account and coffers here on earth were bulging full and our storehouse in heaven was empty and bare?