Given to us today is the lesson of the rich fool. Like so many other things in the Gospel, this one seems to slip beneath our notice until the Church calls us to read it, and it smacks us right in the face. No one among us should be comfortable hearing the words of our Lord this day because if we truly understand the parable set before us, it isn’t simply about having too much money, or too much stuff. It is about our adultery; our idolatry in our love of self and our lack of love for Christ our Bridegroom.
Before we begin protesting, and making excuses, declaring within ourselves our devotion to Christ, let us carefully consider the reality of how each one of us every moment of the day stands naked and exposed before our Creator. Every desire, thought, unconscious notion, act, or secret word, is fully apparent in the radiant light of Ruler of All. There is nothing in us that can be hidden from the Source of being. And so, having no recourse or excuse, we can hear this parable today and examine our hearts, and call out to Christ for His mercy and forgiveness.
This rich fool today exemplifies what we have all grown up with in our culture. We plan our jobs. If we are students, we plan our courses of study. We plan our families, retirements, home purchases, vacations and so on. Many of us implement these plans, and become so dedicated to them that other things fall by the wayside. The thing that tends to fall by the wayside first and most often is, in fact, the Pearl of Great Price; a treasure hidden in the field. In Matthew’s Gospel we hear of a man who happened to find a great treasure in a field, and then went and sold all he had so that he could buy that field. If we’re honest, we more often than not pass the field by, and if we do happen on a bit of this glorious treasure, do not consider it worth altering our current plan. In other words, not only do we not go and sell everything we have to purchase this field with the great treasure, we go and buy other fields that require less sacrifice, less work, and attempt to construct a duplicate treasure and become idolaters and worshippers, and lovers of the false treasure. We consider the Pearl of Great Price little more than a trinket, and that a trinket among many other trinkets; other trinkets that we polish, and venerate far more.
We are greedy children. No, we may not be greedy with our money. We may not have multiple cars, and many closets with hundreds of pairs of shoes. But we must confess that we are all greedy with our time, our experiences, and our hearts. We idolize our time and experiences, and we want to protect our hearts even from Christ so that He won’t change us while we’re not looking. It might be that we are utterly terrified of becoming holy because we look at the world of goodies, and know that becoming holy means that someday we will not care for these things. Someday, if we give control of our hearts to Christ, we may in fact become selfless. But this will go against our plans. This will go against our hard work. This will change us into someone other than who we are now, and we rather like who we are now. Sadly because of our self-love we do not become who we truly already are.
Over the past few months, I’ve had the opportunity to sit with a man slowly wasting away from a degenerative brain disease. There is no cure. He is losing his ability to form thoughts or communicate them. Sometimes he’ll just stop mid-sentence and stare blankly ahead because his eyes are no longer working properly and his brain is getting smaller. He’s starting to choke on his food when he eats now, and he frequently falls even with his walker.
He had plans. He pursued his interests to the detriment of his family, but more importantly, to the detriment of his soul. He wanted to be important. He wanted to experience everything he thought he lost out on in his youth. He wanted his time to be used solely for his own pursuits and not for communion. He wanted all this for himself, and he accomplished much of what he set out to do. And then he got sick.
When you’re dying and your brain and body are shutting down, what good is all the stuff you have amassed? What good are all the vacations you took, or your distractions, when you have to work to develop a coherent thought at the end of your life? Perhaps, sitting here, we might think that if we do all these thing, if we travel to that one place, read that book, take that one adventure, at least we’ll have had a full life. (Isn’t it interesting that communion with God through the sacramental life, and becoming holy is never on our so-called ‘bucket list’?) This constant rejection of Christ in favor of more ‘fulfilling’ pursuits, of course, presumes that death is the end of all things, and so the life lived must be as full here and now as possible.
But death is not the end. Life is eternal. It never stops, even though our breathing may. No, there at the end, when everything fails, the only thing that will matter is our participation in the grace and mercy of God. At death what will matter is our communion with Life.