Posts Tagged ‘gift from God.’

Wealth’s capacity to destroy relationships

August 3, 2019

Pentecost 8 – 2019
Luke 12:13-21
Marian Free

In the name of God, who pours out love and mercy in abundance and who, in the end is the final arbiter. Amen.

Some of you may know the author and illustrator Pamela Allen. She has authored a number of children’s books including Who sank the boat?One of my favourites is Herbert and Harry[1]. Herbert and Harry are two brothers who get along famously until one day, when they are fishing together, they haul up a treasure chest. In the ensuing battle over the chest, Harry is pushed into the sea and Herbert rows the boat and the treasure to a lonely stretch. Fortunately, Harry is a strong swimmer and manages to swim home. Herbert, having wrested the chest from his brother, feels desperately anxious that Harry might find him and steal the treasure.  He hauls the chest into the forest, but still does not feel safe. He hides the treasure among some tree roots, but still he cannot rest. He takes the treasure further and further from Harry, the land gets emptier and emptier and the hills higher and higher.

At last he reaches the highest mountain in the land, but still he cannot sleep for fear that someone has followed him. So Herbert digs a tunnel deep into the mountain, pushes the chest in and covers the entry with a huge boulder, but even that is not enough. He decides that he needs guns, lots of them. Guns are not enough; Herbert builds a fort.

In the end, Herbert has gained no pleasure at all from the treasure. His life has been consumed by keeping it to himself and protecting it from anyone who might wish to steal it. In the process, he has cut himself off – not only from Harry, but from all possible human contact and perhaps from his own humanity. The final illustration shows him completely isolated atop his mountain holding a gun, surrounded by walls from which protrude multiple cannons. Harry, on the other hand is pictured surrounded by grandchildren. Allen concludes: “Today, Herbert and Harry are very old men. Herbert still guards the treasure in his fort on top of the highest mountain in the land. But still, he cannot sleep. While Harry, who had no treasure, has always been able to sleep soundly.

In today’s gospel, someone from the crowd approaches Jesus and says: “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” In response Jesus warns that: “life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” and he tells the parable about the rich man, who, instead of sharing his good fortune, plans to store it all up for himself. On a superficial level the meaning of the parable is quite clear: “it doesn’t matter how much you have; you can’t take it with you”. At a deeper level much more is going on here.

As Dennis Hamm (SJ) points out today’s brief parable is “a brilliant cartoon illustrating how greed destroys all the covenant relationships”[2]“with the earth, with the community, with one’s self and with God.

In order to see how Hamm comes to this conclusion, we have to examine the parable bit by bit. The parable begins: “The landof a rich man produced abundantly.” It is the land, not the rich man that has produced the abundance. This is consistent with the Jewish perspective that the earthis the source of food and that a successful harvest, like the land itself, is a gift from God. The rich man has lost touch with his relationship with the land and with his dependence on the Creator.

We read on: “And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?” I have no place to store my crops. Not only has our farmer lost sight of the fact that the land and the harvest are gifts from God, but he has forgotten the wisdom that flows from this understanding – that divine gifts are not intended for one individual but that the produce of the land is intended to meet the needs of all. He has forgotten, or is choosing to ignore, his responsibility to the wider community. From his perspective the abundance is for him alone.

The farmer’s self-centredness is even more obvious in his interior monologue: “Then he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul [psyche], ‘Soul [psyche], you have ample goods laid up for many years: relax, eat, drink, be merry.’” There is no mention of ‘we’ or ‘our’ here. It is all about me “my grain and my goods.” The comedic element of this section is heightened when we understand that “psyche” or “soul” is just as easily translated as “self”. In which case we read: “I will say to myself, ‘Self, you have ample goods – etc”.

Then God interrupts the selfish man’s thoughts. “But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life [psyche- self] is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”In the final analysis, the farmer is not the arbiter of his destiny, God is. Life itself is a gift from the Creator.

Like Hebert, the rich man gains no benefit from his wealth. In holding his harvest to himself, he cuts himself off from the land, the community, his own humanity and eventually from God.

Jesus’ point is that while wealth in itself may not be the problem, what we do with our wealth, or perhaps more importantly, what we let our wealth do to us can be problematic. In the worst-case scenario, Jesus’ implies, if we allow our possessions to control us they will separate us from the earth, from our family and our community, from our sense of self and even from God.

[1]Allen, Pamela. Herbert and Harry. Australia: Puffin Books, 1986.

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