To be rich in the sight of God

Today, we are introduced to the Parable of the Rich fool – a parable unique to Luke.

Jul 29, 2022

Reflecting on our Sunday Readings with Fr Dominic Tan

18th Sunday of Ordinary Time (C)
Readings: Ecclesiastes 1:2, 2:21-23 ;
Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11;
Gospel: Luke 12:13-21

Today, we are introduced to the Parable of the Rich fool – a parable unique to Luke.

There was an abundance of harvest and his barns were not big enough to store all that was harvested. So, he plans to tear down his existing barns and build bigger ones.

For what? Early retirement! He would have enough to retire early and enjoy life: take things easy, eat, drink, have a good time.

What’s wrong with that you may ask?

Nothing. BUT ... The Gospel today is not so much about whether wealth itself or the accumulation of wealth is good or bad. It is about something else.

Before the parable: Jesus issues a warning: Watch, be on your guard against avarice of any kind, for a man’s life is not made secure by what he owns, even when he has more than he needs.

And at the end of the parable, we have a nimshal (the point of the parable – moral of the story) which is:

So, it is when a man stores up treasure for himself in place of making himself rich in the sight of God.

Two questions emerge:

1. What does it mean to be rich in the sight of God?

2. What is avarice?

For that we turn to the first reading – Vanity of vanities! All is vanity!

Vanity – is not about something narcissistic. The word in Hebrew is hebel (vapour, mist, breath – all is passing, temporary, futile) So, whether it is food, drink, wealth, health, all things earthly are passing.

That’s why our responsorial psalm tells us: You sweep men away like a dream, like grass which springs up in the morning. In the morning it springs up and flowers: by evening it withers and fades.

So, the Gospel parable may be about the barn and all it can hold. Even though a bursting barn suggests of accumulated stock or plentiful supply, what it really signifies is “nothingness” and the painful truth that we actually own nothing.

Avarice (Gk: pleonexia) is greed, desire for more than you need. In truth, greed exists because it reflects a culture that refuses to accept that life is passing/not permanent.

Are the readings telling us that life is a kind of nihilism (rejection of all religious and moral principles, in the belief that life is meaningless)?

No. Quite the opposite. Impermanence is an invitation to gaze beyond what we have to the treasures that really await us. It forces us to look beyond our temporal goods to that which is permanent and lasting. And that is what it means to be rich in the sight of God.

This is echoed by St Paul in the Second reading: Let your thoughts be on heavenly things, not on things that are on earth, because you have died, and now the life you have is hidden with Christ in God.

And the responsorial psalm also tells us what our disposition should be: Make us know the shortness of our life that we may gain wisdom of heart.

What is this wisdom of heart? Wisdom of heart is to realise that life is short and passing and because of that, we are called to entrust our work, possessions, etc into the hands of the Lord. It doesn’t mean that we do not work. But work is only a means to an end; for all things are ordered towards God (St Thomas Aquinas).

The psalmist goes on to say that: Let the favour of the Lord be upon us: give success to the work of our hands. AND
O Lord, you have been our refuge (our security, hope) from one generation to the next.

All the work of my life, I hand it over to you. I order it to you, God. I offer it to you and thereby show that my work is not an idol, my work is not my God, my labour is not my God, the wealth that I acquire from my labour is not what I was made for; I am made for you.

Paradoxically, to be rich in the sight of God is to hand over our possessions to Him.

This is not an act of generosity – because everything we have comes from God anyway.

Neither is it an act of renunciation where we renounce all that God has given to us
BUT ... It is an act of putting all that we have into the hands of God, making available to God all that I have because God knows how to use them better than me.

St Ignatius of Loyola has got the essence of the message of today’s readings correctly. I would like to end today’s reflection with his prayer the ‘suscipe’.

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess. Thou hast given all to me. To Thee, O Lord, I return it. All is Thine, dispose of it wholly according to Thy will. Give me Thy love and Thy grace, for this is sufficient for me.

Fr Dominic Tan is from the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur. He is currently the parish priest of the Church of the Holy Rosary, Brickfields.

(Fr Dominic Tan is from the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur. He is currently the parish priest of the Church of the Holy Rosary, Brickfields)

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