Living the Dream
These may be the dog days of August, a time of rest and fulfilment, but Ecclesiastes reminds us of bleaker times. I recently spent a Sunday afternoon looking through a box of mementos, precious symbols of my life. I suddenly realized that in the hands of someone after me they will be worthless trinkets. ‘Life is but a walking shadow.’ wrote Shakespeare, ‘a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more.’ (Macbeth V. 5.25)
In moments of anxiety and dread, our first reaction may be to follow the example of the barn-builder in today’s parable. We might take out better health insurance, make investments that will ride out the next recession, or garner the kind of respect that will see us well into old age. But the Gospel warns us that that life is ‘not made secure by what we own’ (Lk 12:99); avarice of any kind leaves us like Dickens’ Scrooge: alone, fearful, and ‘hardened of heart.’ (Ps 94:8)
A key to the Gospel of Luke is the blessedness of the poor. The shepherds of the nativity story, the Prodigal Son and Lazarus all had in common a poverty that allowed God’s kingdom to be manifest in them. But we don’t have to make ourselves like Francis of Assisi, destitute for the sake of the kingdom, in order to know its blessings. We all get to taste poverty, at least in its spiritual sense, in times of ill-health, bereavement, or any profound loss. Such experiences call us to our senses. We learn that it is only in God’s loving embrace that the labors of our years find their meaning.
Some of us may hear today’s Gospel reading and think: ‘Well, what is so wrong with that?’ In a lot of ways, the actions of the man in the parable make sense. He has had a good harvest (presumably a result of his own hard work) and is making provisions for the future – building bigger barns to store his crops, ensuring he has enough to live on for the coming years, allowing himself to enjoy the fruits of his labor. He is living the dream! He is a good businessman, he has achieved security in life, so why shouldn’t he ‘eat, drink, have a good time’?
Yet God brands him a ‘fool.’ Why? As it turns out, the man is to die very soon. He certainly can’t take all his treasure with him. He has not thought beyond his own enjoyment. He is living only for this life, without any thought for the bigger picture. As Jesus warns: ‘a man’s life is not made secure by what he owns, even when he has more than he needs.’ Furthermore, there is no indication that the man considered sharing his wealth with anyone else. His focus is ‘me, me, me.’ He comes across as selfish and greedy. What does he have to show for his life? Yes, he had a good time, but has he helped anyone else, or left the world a better place?
We do not need to renounce all our worldly possessions or stop planning for the future, but we do need to keep things in their proper perspective.
‘If we read history, we will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.’ C.S. Lewis
“One’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions,’ says Jesus. What have we found to be more important in life than possessions? What brought this home to us?
“Be on your guard against all kinds of greed.” Perhaps we have seen how greed can lead to trouble in public life, in family life, and in the personal life of individuals. What has helped us to guard against greed? What benefits have we experienced when we were less greedy?
The message of the parable could be summed up as: ‘If you want to give God a laugh, tell him your plans.’ Life takes many unanticipated twists and turns. When have we found that we have had to change plans because of unexpected circumstances? What has helped us to be flexible and resourceful at such times?