Lessons from a Fool
by Rev. Robert J. Wagner
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Written to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.
Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, "Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me." He replied to him, "Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?" Then he said to the crowd, "Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one's life does not consist of possessions."
Then he told them a parable. "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!"' But 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?' Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God."
In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus offers the parable of the rich fool to teach His followers a lesson about wealth. In the parable, a landowner finds that his crops have yielded a bountiful harvest, too much for him to even store in his barns. Faced with an overabundance of good things, the man chooses to tear down his barns and build larger ones in which he can store his great harvest and live off of it for years to come. With such a harvest, he can put aside work so he can “rest, eat, drink and be merry” knowing he is taken care of for the foreseeable future.
Shockingly, the rich man dies that very night, and when he meets God, he is rebuked for his actions: “You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?”
So what can we learn from the rich fool, especially when at first glance his actions do not seem that foolish? He has an abundant harvest and sought to profit off of its bounty in the future. Most of us might think similarly in that situation. Yet there are a few details that catch our eye when we look at this parable more closely.
First, we note that the rich man is the only character apart from God who appears at the end. We hear nothing of a wife or children, of brothers or sisters. This solitude is symbolic of the foolish way this man sees the world. He is self-sufficient to the extreme, and in this way has isolated himself. This can be a danger of material wealth: it can separate us from a life of community. In pursuing the things of this world, we are in competition with everyone else, and we shut ourselves off from others as we learn to live according to what pleases us the most. The rich man thought he had a life of eating, drinking, resting and merriment, but it was going to be a lonely existence. He was rich in the things of the world, but he lacked the love of his neighbors.
The result of this self-centered life is his lack of charity. If this man has enough to take care of himself for years into the future, he no doubt has more than enough to help his neighbor in need. St. John Chrysostom offered the Christian perspective on wealth when he declared that our excess goods are not ours, but belong to the poor. Therefore, by hoarding them we are stealing from those to whom they rightly belong, for they need them, while we do not.
Finally, it is important to note when God comes into the parable: only at the very end. In his supposed self-sufficiency, this man lived not only isolated from his neighbor, but isolated from God. Yet everything he had came from the Lord, who blessed him with the ability and the means to obtain his wealth and his bountiful harvest. However, with God far from his mind, the man could not see how grateful he should have been, and how blessed he was. With God far from his mind, he mistook his wealth as something that came solely from him and his efforts, and not from the hand of God. With God far from his mind, the rich man could not understand that since God provided his wealth, the rich man was tasked to share that wealth with others, and not hoard it all for himself. God’s charity was the source of the rich man’s goods, and the rich man’s goods could be the means of his charity.
In the end, the rich man met God, just as we all do in this life. Through our gratitude to God and love of our neighbor, may we come to God with joy and peace, knowing that we recognized His love in all that we have received in this life.
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