Eccl 1:2, 2:21-23; Col 3:1-5, 9-11; Lk 12:13-21
An elderly man on the beach found a magic lamp. He picked it up, and a genie appeared. “Because you have freed me,” the genie said, “I will grant you a wish.”
The man thought for a moment and then responded. “My brother and I had a fight thirty years ago, and he hasn’t spoken to me since. I wish that he’ll finally forgive me.”
There was a thunderclap, and the genie declared, “Your wish has been granted. You know,” the genie continued, “most men would have asked for wealth or fame. But you only wanted the love of your brother. Is it because you are old and dying?”
“No way!” the man cried. “But my brother is, and he’s worth about $60 million.
(The story is from A World of Stories for Preachers and Teachers by William J. Bausch)
In the gospel, a man asks Jesus to interfere and help settle a problem in the family concerning the division of ancestral property. He says, “Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me”. In Jewish culture, as well as in many cultures, to be chosen as mediator is something honorable. Normally, people would ask someone to mediate because of the person’s good standing in the community.
Jesus appears to decline the invitation and gives the reason for his refusal when he says: “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist in possessions.” The Lord suspects that this conflict about inheritance is driven by greed and he does not want to take part in it.
Until now, a lot of family feuds are caused by selfish interests for inheritance. Because of a piece of land or property, siblings would give silent treatment to one another, would file civil lawsuits against each other and, in some situations, would harm or kill one another.
To show his disgust against greediness, the Lord tells the parable of the man with the bumper crop. The man who built bigger barns to store up his harvest and secure his comfortable future is called “fool” by God. Why? What did this farmer do to displease God? There is no sign that the man is dishonest or that he cheats others in order to gain more. However, if we read between the lines of the parable, we can tell that the farmer is wrong in at least two counts. First, he celebrates bountiful harvests without being grateful. He believes that he is successful in farming because of his own efforts. Thus, he does not feel beholden to anybody, not even to God. And second, he depends solely on material possessions for his security and happiness. He believes that by becoming wealthy his future is already guaranteed.
The farmer in the parable is a fool because he forgets that all of creation is caused by God. There is nothing that we can claim as our own in this world. Even personal achievements cannot come without God’s grace. We should remain grateful to God because he is the reason of all our being and becoming. The person who thinks he succeeds by his own effort only would tend to become proud and selfish; while he who recognizes that every blessing is from God would tend to become humble and generous.
Moreover, the farmer is foolish to think that his wealth alone would make him happy. The experience of so many lonely rich people is a proof that possessions do not guarantee life and happiness. In fact, there is more to life than money and material things. Love, friendship, intimacy and other Christian values are essential for joyful and meaningful living. What does it matter if you have all the riches in the world and have no real friends? What does it profit if you succeed to get a bigger share of inheritance but lost a brother or a sister in the process? Would not love and intimacy in the family be more important than a piece of property?
In the first reading, the Book of Ecclesiastes tells us that “all things are vanity”. When death comes, all our human achievements – including material possessions and honorific titles – will all be left behind. Saint Paul, in the second reading, wisely admonishes that we better set our hearts on what pertains to higher realms and not on things of earth. What are these higher things that Saint Paul is talking about? What else but the virtues that Christ our Lord would like us to have such as love, compassion, generosity, mercy and forgiveness. These virtues will accompany us to heaven, not our earthly honors and possessions.
In the days of King Solomon there lived two brothers who reaped wheat in the fields of Zion. One night, in the dark of the moon, the elder brother gathered several sheaves of his harvest and left it in his brother’s field, saying to himself: “My brother has seven children. With so many mouths to feed, he could use some of my bounty.” And he went home.
A short time later, the younger brother slipped out of his house, gathered several sheaves of his wheat, and carried it into his brother’s field, saying to himself: “My brother is all alone, with no one to help him harvest. So I’ll share some of my wheat with him.”
When the sun rose, each brother was amazed to find he had just as much wheat as before!
The next night they paid each other the same kindness, and still woke to find their stores undiminished.
But on the third night, they met each other as they carried their gifts into each other’s field. Each threw his arms around the other and shed tears of joy for his goodness.
And when Solomon heard of their love, he built the Temple of Israel there on the place of brotherhood.
(The story is from Moral Compass by William Bennett)