(On the picture “Gold” dy Andrey Shishkin)
Today in the Gospel reading, we heard the, perhaps to some of you, familiar parable of a rich man whose land one year yielded a plentiful crop, perhaps better than ever before. This year, he found himself unable to decide how best to deal with this situation. He had no facilities large enough to store the crop, so he decided to pull down his existing barns and to build larger ones. He would then retire and live the rest of his life in comfort. He would “eat, drink, and be merry”.
However, God saw beyond this man’s selfish short-sightedness. On the very night that he was making these decisions he would die. Then whose property would all this plenty be? This could be the situation of anyone who takes selfish foresight for his life.
Let’s remind ourselves of today’s Gospel which continues with the theme of giving, or rather of not giving. It tells of a rich man whose land yielded crops abundantly. When harvest came, there was such abundance that he was quite unable to store it all in the barns which had served him up until this point, so he decides to demolish his existing barns and build new, larger, ones so that he can store his entire harvest. This he does with a deep sense of satisfaction. Now he can sit back and enjoy the fruits of his labour – or rather those of his servants. As a rich man it is unlikely that he spent much time in the fields himself. Here we have an example of a man who, in the concluding words of the Gospel, ”lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich towards God.”
Elsewhere, Jesus warns us that we should not lay up treasure for ourselves on earth, where moth and rust corrupt, but lay up treasure in heaven. In another place we are told to take no thought for the morrow. Yet this is exactly what we spend so much time worrying about. When we are young we worry, or not, about a good education, and gaining qualifications. When we have a job we worry about moving up the ladder of promotion which, in itself, brings financial reward. At the height of our powers we worry about when these must fail, and younger men and women will overtake us. And when we retire we worry about whether, or how long, we shall have sufficient income to maintain the lifestyle that we have become accustomed to.
Always, always, always looking towards the future without realising that the present is passing us by. The last hour, the last day, the last week, month, or year, can never be recovered. Time passes us by and, as we get older, at what seems to be an accelerating rate.
When are we going to get around to those things that really matter? To the things that are eternal. There is a strange optimism – I was going to say that it is a British characteristic, but I think that it is probably more than that. It is an optimism that says “All will be well in the end.” It was the English mystic, Dame Julian of Norwich who wrote “and all shall be well, all manner of things shall be well”. When she wrote that it was from the perspective of one who had surrendered her possessions, her whole life and her being to God.
I remember someone saying to me once, in a very self-satisfied way, “I think that I have lived a very useful life”. Within weeks, she was dead and we prayed for her, and offered masses for her, and I hope that she is on her way to Paradise. But the fact that we live useful lives is not really what we are called to do in the Gospel. A lot of people lead useful lives. We, as Christians, are called to set out on a path which will, ultimately, and certainly not in this life, lead us to union with God. That will be by coming, increasingly, to know him through his Son, Jesus Christ, by setting out on the ascetic way to the extent that we are able in the situation into which God has placed us. This does not exclude the possibility of living, in the words of that old lady “a useful life”, but it will be a life transformed by God himself, in which there will be no element of pride and self-satisfaction because of what we may have done.
Human recognition or gratitude for assistance given may be very nice, but that is treasure on earth, and it will pass. Also, if we have been very active we need to beware of the dangers of self-satisfaction and pride. As Christians, we need to be able to say sincerely, “Lord, I am an unprofitable servant. Have mercy on me, a sinner.” The prophet Isaiah once proclaimed, “All our righteousness is as filthy rags.” Of course we come to the assistance of people in need, but that is not what puts us right with God. Of course we avoid, if at all possible, the obvious sins and wrongdoing, but Jesus tells us, first of all to “seek the Kingdom of God, and all these things will be added to you”.
The avoidance of wrongdoing will become second nature to us and through our prayer, through confession of our sins, through regular receiving of the Body and Blood of Christ at the Liturgy we shall grow into Christ, becoming citizens of his Kingdom, a place prepared for us from the beginning of the world.