When I was preparing my homily, I came across a Roman proverb that says “Money is like sea water; the more you drinks the thirstier you become.” Somehow, the proverb speaks to the danger of getting caught up in the pursuit of wealth.
Dr. Carl Menninger, was a very well-known American psychiatrist who died in 1990. On one occasion he told the story of how he had treated an unhappy but very wealthy patient. He asked the patient what he was going to do with so much money. The patient replied, “Just worry about it, I suppose.” Menninger then asked, “Well, do you get much pleasure from worrying about it?” “No,” responded the patient, “but I get terrified when I think of giving some of it to somebody else.”
Dr. Menninger went on to say something that is very insightful. He said, “Generous people are rarely mentally ill.” That is quite profound. “Generous people are rarely mentally ill.” There is a great truth in what he says. Think about it. People who cannot share with others, live very stressful lives. They are constantly fearful of losing their possessions, and the power and status that their wealth gives them, so much so, that they miss out on the joy that simple sharing brings to one’s life.
In the parable that Jesus tells in today’s Gospel (Luke 12:13-21), God calls such people “fools.” The parable follows on directly from last Sundays’ gospel, where Jesus has been teaching his disciples how to pray, and is prompted by the question of someone in the crowd who asks Jesus a question about inheritance. Rather than get drawn into the role of arbitrator, Jesus uses the question to teach the people about the danger of greed and how the accumulation of wealth can distract a person for what is truly important in life.
In the story, we meet a man whom, it seems, is not very interested in God, or anyone else for that matter. The rich man hasn’t committed any crime or done anything wrong in acquiring his wealth, he simply fails to realise that ‘life’ and ‘wealth’ are not the same thing, and while wealth may make life a little easier, it does not guarantee life. The parable condemns him for his self-centred indulgence, which is illustrate in the way that he even talks to himself! He asked himself, ‘What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?’” And then he says to himself “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 my soul, “My soul, you have so many good things stored up for many years, take it easy, eat, drink, be merry!”
It seems that the rich man’s wealth has given him a false sense of security. He not only thinks that his wealth has made him invincible, and that somehow it will allow him to determine his own future, but he also fails to realise that his wealth is a blessing – a gift from God – that is not meant to be hoarded, but like all gifts is meant to be shared. The man’s miscalculation is highlighted when, on one of those rare occasions that we hear God speak in a parable, the man’s thinking is scorned. God says “fool, this night your soul will be demanded from you.” And so it was!
The reality is that we do not know the day or the hour when our life will end. While the parable sounds a warning about the frailty of life, its purpose is not to scare us, but to invite us to set our priorities, and to encourage us to reflect deeply on life’s true meaning.
How many marriages fall apart, because one or both spouses are securing the future? How many children grow up alone / lonely, because their parents want to give them every ‘thing’, while failing to give them what they really need – time and love? Accumulation of wealth can give a temporary sense of security and purpose, but our true purpose has to do with our relationship with God and those we encounter in our daily lives.
Throughout my life, it has become apparent to me that it is gratitude, and a generosity of spirit that leads to happiness. There is nothing wrong with having money or wealth. It is, however, the risk that our wealth promotes a selfishness in us that is the real danger.
Gratitude is the remedy to selfishness. It helps us to not only use our gifts and talents to help others, but also to understand that the blessings in our lives are gifts from God who loves us. Gratitude deepens life. It enriches life, because it places all that we have in the context of God’s love, a love that will not abandon us no matter what comes our way.
So today, as we gather here, we take a moment again to reflect on our lives, perhaps to ask ourselves ‘what is it that preoccupies my life?’ Is it the stuff that I have accumulated? Is it protecting all that I have? Or am I blessed to realise the importance of my relationship with God, my family and those I meet every day?