by Br Julian McDonald cfc

“You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?” Luke 12, 13-21

While it was common practice in the time of Jesus for people to consult scribes on legal matters, Jesus made it clear to his questioner in today’s gospel-reading that he had no interest in solving any questioner’s domestic legal problems in the way in which the questioner clearly wanted. In fact, Jesus consistently addressed legal issues in ways that resonated with and fitted into the message of God’s love that he had come to proclaim. So instead of getting involved in a domestic dispute and supporting one man against his brother, Jesus hinted that they really did not need a lawyer. Rather, their attention would be better directed if they were to take the time to stop and examine what exactly they were arguing about. It was clear that each one wanted a bigger share of the disputed inheritance than the other. They were really caught up in competition and one-upmanship.

To clarify his message, Jesus told the parable of a man who believed that the only real source of security was in possessions. What distinguishes the man at the centre of the parable is that the only person to whom he talks is himself. His focus is completely on himself and on his efforts to get more and more for himself. He is so wrapped up in himself that he cannot spare as much as a thought for God and for other people. In fact, the only concern he had was trying to figure out how he was going to safely store the bumper crop he had harvested.

There is nothing especially complicated about the message of today’s gospel-reading. In fact, St Augustine summed it up in one sentence: “God is always trying to give us good things, but our hands are too full to receive them.” A corollary to this gospel message is captured in a Haitian proverb: “God gives, but doesn’t share.” The God who loved us into life is the source of every blessing that comes to us, but gives us the responsibility and the privilege of sharing those blessings with others, especially with our most needy sisters and brothers.

This message will be proclaimed and illustrated for a few minutes this coming weekend in churches all over the globe. Yet the people in the pews who hear that message will be bombarded with advertisements about the good life packaged in hours and hours of digestible sound bites. Those ads attract us to pursue sure-fire ways buying or building a luxury home, achieving financial security, purchasing the kind of holiday that will soothe all our worries and concerns. Somehow, those of us who have grown up in any one of umpteen western cultures have been deluded into buying all kinds of electronic gadgets and cluttering our lives with more and more stuff. As a result, we see those who are financially secure set out to buy or build bigger and better houses in which to store all their accumulated stuff and protect their top-of-the range motor vehicles. What’s more is that the accumulation of all the stuff that belongs to the good life, has to be insured, gated and protected. This life-style has spawned a legion of security businesses that thrive on the income generated by the wealth of those who have become financially secure. Meanwhile, 25,000 children die every day of the year from starvation and diseases spread by polluted water and absence of healthy sanitation systems.

We know that we grow and manufacture enough food to feel the world’s entire population, but lack the will to distribute our excess or are reluctant to erode our financial security to pay the cost of transporting and distributing it.

Listening deeply to today’s gospel-reading forces us to ask ourselves if our silence contributes to building bigger and better barns and houses in which to store accumulated stuff, stuff that might well save the lives of people about whom we rarely think or on whom we seldom spend a dollar.

Today’s gospel-reading contains more than an indictment of mindless consumerism. It’s a challenge to each of us to give some thought to how we use things, to the power resources we squander as we use our home appliances, to how we operate the vehicles we drive and the lawnmowers we push, to the value we attach to the stuff we have accumulated. Side by side with those challenges is an invitation from Jesus to audit our lives and examine the things with which we clutter them. It is also a call from Jesus to readjust our focus and direct it to the things of God – compassion, hospitality, gracious giving, forgiveness, reconciliation and peace. None of those needs to be fenced in or insured.