“Awake, Though That Sleepest”: On the Foolish Rich Man

And He spoke a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do, I will pull down my barns, and build greater, and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years, take thy ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich towards God” (Luke 12:16-21).
“Awake, Though That Sleepest”: On the Foolish Rich Man
The Parable of the Rich Fool by Rembrandt, 1627.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit!

The Gospel parable of the foolish rich man seems to us strange and incomprehensible at first: it would seem that there was nothing bad in someone who had a rich harvest building himself another barn where he could store his grain. He could not cast it outside, where the grain would rot in the rain and would be good for no one. It was probably not the rich man’s mistake that he built a barn and there put all the collected bags of harvest, but rather that he felt himself confident in the future, because he had extra. After all, he told himself: “Well, eat, drink, and be merry; everything will be well now.” But the Lord said to him: “Fool! This very night your soul will be taken from you.” The man thought one thing, but something else was inscribed for him.

But this is still not the meaning of the parable. Anyone can die suddenly, but that does not mean that he should throw away all his concerns. When one plants a tree, can one be certain that one will live to see how it grows and gives forth fruit? But nonetheless we plant it; nonetheless we labor. This means that this man’s primary mistake, his sin, was that he settled down, grew confident, and told himself: “Eat, drink, and be merry.” He did not think that human labor is that which needs to be done for others; it is above all laboring for others. On the day that he finished his building, he did not even think about doing anything else for other people. He thought that his riches were given to him so that he could eat, drink, and be merry.

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There is a lesson in this for all of us. We should understand that we will only have a normal life, a normal condition of soul, and a normal approach to our entire earthly path when we will strive to give our labor to others. After all, thus did the Lord arrange things, so that the world was connected by ties of mutual labor. You are all wearing clothes: someone made them for you, you came by some means; someone brought you, and you, going about your business, give someone your labor, time, and abilities. It is the same thing here in church: someone once labored to erect this building, bringing logs here during the difficult years of the twenties and building this church. Someone painted it, someone cleans it, the choir sings, you bring your contributions – we all together always labor both for the church, and for our homes, and for the people around us.

In this way, human life and labor is a give-back; and if we forget about this, then we forget about man’s primary vocation in life. And if we forget about this, that means that we are asleep, and we can spend all whole lives like this, even if they are long. This unfortunate man died the day after he finished his building. But another person might live for a long time, but still be asleep, spiritually asleep, not thinking about life, not thinking about what he owes, not remembering the Lord, not living before His face, but simply eating, drinking, and making merry. One can spend a whole day, or a whole week, or even half a life that thoughtlessly. One looks back, and there is nothing there.

Today the Church, through the mouths of the Apostles, calls out to us: “Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.” That means that we are all called to awaken in faith, to awaken in hope in the Lord, and in labor for His sake in life. “Awake, thou that sleepest,” says the Lord, and I would like these words to be heard by each one of you, to reach each one of you, and to knock at the door of your soul, at the door of your heart. Awake, sleeper, if you are asleep! And we ask: “O Lord, how can we awaken? How can we arise from the sleep of death?” And the Apostle answers: “Christ shall give thee light.” We rely not on our own powers, but on His: “Christ shall give thee light.” These are dear words, precious words, addressed to each one of us: stop living the way we have been: mindlessly, sluggishly, dully, sleepily; we need to end our spiritual slumber. “Awake,” the Apostle tells us, and the Lord tells us: “Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.” Amen.      

Translated from the Russian.

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