The three readings for this Sunday ask us to look at what we have. I do not mean to look inward at yourself and your talents/gifts. The three readings ask us to look at what we have as our material possessions and what real value we should put on them.
In the first reading, the author is questioning what good is all the hard work a human goes through as he gets to the end of a day. The author is not questioning the benefits of hard work as a way of life, but is questioning this model: hard work = success = material comforts. I could work hard and amass a comfortable way of life in terms of material possessions. Still, someone much lazier than me could use cunning, conning and manipulation, and take away my material comforts for which I have worked hard and worked ethically. If you are going to work hard, do not do it just for material possessions. Those can be taken away. May our hard work be done first to give witness to God’s Kingdom.
In the second reading, Paul is asking us to realize our new lives in Christ. We might acknowledge this in word, but fall short in our deeds. In verse 5, Paul warns the community not to be greedy. This is hard work, and we can easily be lead astray. There are those who preach and follow the Prosperity Gospel. A rudimentary explanation of this idea is this: God shows God’s favor to those with material possessions. Thus, the more you possess demonstrates God’s favor with you. This theory is a bizarre combination of Christianity mixed with 21st-century consumerism. It is just plain wrong. Again, this is hard work. We can be easily be lead astray even by those we trust. We must be vigilant to realize our new lives in Christ not just in word, but in our actions.
In today’s Gospel, I have to question why is the farmer in this parable a “fool?” What did this character do to provoke the Savior’s ire? In this parable, as in many others, we don’t know much of the back story. There’s no indication to suggest that the farmer was not a good and honorable man, doing what he thought was right.” The farmer in question is a fool for only two reasons. Firstly, he incessantly uses the word “I” in verses 18-19. The farmer negates God in building his strategy. The strategy was all about the farmer and him alone. Secondly, the farmer believes that his strategy will surely protect him from misfortune. This farmer may have acted in greed by definition (an intense desire to gain something, especially wealth, power, or food). What drove the farmer’s greed? Many times greed can be driven by hubris. For example, a person like this shows off to others by accumulating luxury items. Or this same person shows off by spinning a necessity item into a luxury item (a compact car turns into a luxury car). I do not believe the farmer was driven by arrogance. After all, he was simply protecting his food stocks by enlarging his barn. These are hardly luxury items. The farmer’s greed was driven not by arrogance, but by fear.
Haven’t we all made decisions and built strategies out of fear? Some consumerism might be driven by arrogance. Most people are not arrogant, but most of us have been driven by fear. We all face hard times (farmers especially know this). We must be vigilant and not fall into the trap of believing that material possessions (even the necessity items) can guarantee us safety through hard times. God and God alone can guarantee that. Think about it: whatever I own, owns me. It will own me in how I make my life’s decisions (“I can’t move out of Whiting and do XYZ—what will I do with all my things?”) My own possessions can be baggage, an albatross that will get in the way of following God’s will.
This Gospel and the two readings ask us to move past our fears, and look past material comforts that provide a false sense of security. Move past the need to surround ourselves with security blankets. As we receive Eucharist this Sunday, let’s ask God to walk with us past our fears. Look past the false solutions of material comforts outside of us. Instead, let’s ask God to help us look inside ourselves and find the soul and courage that God already gave us, which has been with us since day one.
Brother Brian Boyle, C.PP.S., is a hospital chaplain in Northwest Indiana. He is also the associate director of Companions (lay associates) of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood.