18th Sunday Of Ordinary Time
4th August 2013
Luke 12:12-21. Ecclesiastes: 1:1-23
Rev Tony van Vuuren
The readings this Sunday are about the age-old issue, the true meaning of life.
The reading from Ecclesiastes is part of a very pessimistic guide to living; but for the practical person it may be a wake-up call to examine one’s life and priorities.
In the Gospel account from Luke, Jesus tells us “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of our possessions.” Of what, then, does life consist? What actually matters to God?
The lesson of this parable should be obvious to all, but it is perhaps as difficult to put into practice as it is obvious.
To be in this world and not of it, to collect the necessary goods of this world by honest labor and yet remain detached from them, to possess but not be possessed by worldly riches, and maintain an honest relationship with all we come into contact with is an ideal to which our weak human nature responds very reluctantly.
A large percentage of Christians, however, do respond to the challenge manfully and loyally. They earn and use the goods of this world, whilst at the same time keeping God’s laws and earning wealth for heaven. There are some who renounce even the right, which is theirs, to possess the necessary things of this world, by taking on themselves the vows of religion. Thus they set themselves free to devote their whole time and energy to the service of God and neighbor. Others and they are of necessity the more numerous, have to own the world’s goods in order to provide for themselves and their dependents, but, while so doing, never let their earthly possessions come between them and God. To do this is not easy, but God’s helping grace is always available to the willing heart.
There is still a third group—those who resemble the foolish man described in the parable. What wrong did this man actually do? He was a rich successful farmer; but he was greedy, everything was about me and I; he had no place for God in his life; and just like him one can be so enmeshed and ensnared in one’s desire to collect good things for this earthly life that one forgets that at any moment we may have to leave this earth and all we possess in it. We may not have large barns or bank vaults bursting at the seams with the fruits of our fields or our market dealings, but we have allowed our possessions, large or small, to become the prison-cell of our hearts and thoughts. In our mad rush for earthly riches we give ourselves no time to stop and think of the really important thing in life, namely, that we must all ultimately leave this world and all it holds dear to us.
No one will be excluded from heaven because we have lawfully possessed some of this world’s wealth; but we will exclude ourselves from eternal happiness if we let this world’s wealth possess us to the exclusion of God.
Just when everything seemed so perfect for the man in the parable, a verdict is passed on his whole life by God: “Fool! This night your soul is required of you.” In the midst of contentment and self congratulation comes complete collapse. Everything falls apart. This isn’t just a story made up by Jesus a long time ago. We know situations in modern life that sound a lot like this parable.
This isn’t a parable just for the very rich and comfortable, for who among us hasn’t had a sudden change happen in our lives that throws us completely off balance?
Something happens in our lives that reminds us we are not in total control. Something happens that totally disrupts our lives and our plans and turns everything upside down. We don’t always recognize that and spend much of our time living under the illusion that we are in control; that our security is in our hands.
Whatever it is that shatters that illusion is a reminder that our security is in God’s hands, not in any of the things of this world. If we can remember that God is all we need, we can live with whatever disruptions we have to face. There is only one thing we need and that is God; the only thing we have that we cannot lose. The only thing we have that we can bring with us always. When the sudden and unexpected happens, we are tested and challenged: where were our riches then? On whom or what did we place our security? Life can take a fickle and cruel turn and toss our world upside down and leave us in turmoil and insecurity.
Jesus is being realistic. He is a wise teacher reminding us how life can be and he wants us well grounded in what really counts. He says that real life “does not consist of possessions.” Our true treasure is to be rich “in what matters to God.” Here’s where the parable gets us thinking: “What matters to God?” It’s a question that can guide our choices today. We are not talking here about the everyday choices we make: whole wheat or white bread? Fabric softener or none in the laundry? (Guess who is doing the laundry!) Jesus’ question concerns the more significant choices we make and the things we do.
“What matters to God?” We might consider that question by reflecting on the riches God has given us; like the people in our lives and the love they have for us and we for them. The question might help guide us make the sacrifices we want to make for another. We might decide to deal with a hurt we have had and find a way to seek healing. We might ask ourselves, how much do I really need in my life and what can I give away to those who lack the basics? Well that’s just a start. Each of us much consider, “What matters to God?” and in prayer ask God’s Spirit to guide us in our response.
When all is said and done, at the end of life, what will be said about each of us and our life? I think that will depend on our attention to our relationships. Life is about relationships, first with God and our family, and then with those with whom we have contact in our everyday life, be it with friend or stranger.
As we reflect on the readings this Sunday, let us ask God to be more present to us as we go through each day. Ask for help to focus on the unique caring that each one of our relationships require. Help us to attend to each person as if they were the most important one at that very moment, just as God does for each one of us.