The rich fool

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[18th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C, 31 July 2016 / Eccl 1:2, 2:21-23    Ps 90:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 14+17 / Col 3:1-5, 9-11 / Luke 12:13-21]

THREE men were discussing how they shared their wealth between themselves and others. The first said that what he did was draw a circle in the earth and throw his coins to the ground—whatever lay inside the circle remained his and what fell outside was for the Lord. The second said that he simply drew a line on the ground and what fell on the left went to him and on the right to those in need. The last, the richest of them, said, “What I do is throw my money up in the air. Whatever the Lord wants to keep is his and whatever falls back to the ground is mine.”

Always the question of how to live with worldly wealth has intrigued Christians. Some tithe, giving 10 percent of their earnings, others are happy giving something for the collection on Sunday and others will give generously to charity. The question of how to use worldly wealth needs to be taken seriously, especially when we live in a world of great contrasts. In many countries children still die of hunger and in others the greatest health problem is obesity. The global video game market is worth over $10 billion. Just think what that money could be spent on instead? What is happening? The psalmist warns us all: “If today you hear the voice of the Lord, harden not your hearts” (Psalm 90).

St Paul gives quite frank advice in his letter to the Colossians: “Put greed to death.” The only antidote to greed is generosity. We have the tendency to accumulate so we need to exercise the virtue of giving to others. How many people have extra shoes gathering dust in the cupboard? Sometimes our giving would not even be generous but a matter of justice! Pope emeritus Benedict wrote in his encyclical Caritas in Veritate, no. 15, “Without the perspective of eternal life, human progress in this world is denied breathing-space. Enclosed within history, it runs the risk of being reduced to the mere accumulation of wealth; humanity thus loses the courage to be at the service of higher goods, at the service of the great and disinterested initiatives called forth by universal charity.”


In the gospel two brothers are fighting over an inheritance, a situation not uncommon today. Jesus tells them a parable about a man who accumulates wealth. “There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest. He asked himself, ‘What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?’ And he said, ‘This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones. There I shall store all my grain and other goods and I shall say to myself, ‘Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!’ ” (Luke 12:13-21). Seems like the man has done well for himself and in our world of today he would be commended for being successful, people would look up to that person and probably show him (or her) much respect. But what does Jesus tell us that God said to that man? God said to him, “You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?”

It is interesting that Jesus calls him a fool and for this reason it is often known as the parable of the rich fool. The rich man is foolish as he forgets that his time on earth is limited, that it is only the prologue of a story that should run for eternity. Perhaps the man was foolish because he forgot about God. In his locution he repeats “I” many times—“what shall I do” then “I shall say to myself.” It is a sign that he has cut himself off from God and in the same fell swoop from his neighbor, too. We have to ask ourselves, “Am I living like the rich fool?” Perhaps in the eyes of others I am very successful but we cannot make a fool of God.

Sometimes people are lulled into thinking that later on, when they have more money, they will do good and help others. Like the person asking help from a friend—“If you won the lottery and received 2 million, would you give me 1 million?” Of course, his friend affirmed. “If you had 2 sports cars, would you give me one?” His friend nodded his head in agreement. “If you had two cell phones, would you…” “No,” his friend replied, cutting him off mid-sentence. The man asked his friend how come he would be generous if he won 2 million, or got two sports cars but not two cell phones. The friend replied, “Because I actually have two cell phones.” Let us not fool ourselves. If you won the lottery you would not give more than you give now.

Let us ask for the grace to be generous. Let us rid ourselves of greed, not only financial but it can also be intellectual. Learning so many things but not sharing with others. If we have learned a lot we can dedicate to teaching and, in this way, “share freely what we have received freely” as Jesus asks of us. Don’t be foolish in this short earthly life. Let us not forget our poor brothers and sisters, and in doing so we will be storing up treasures for ourselves in heaven. Amen.

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