Luke 12: 13-21
Last weekend I was at a gathering of an improv company I created with some friends 30 years ago and still exists today. Some of us talked until 2 in the morning. Through our conversations we were stupefied by the audacity of our group of 16 year-olds who knocked down obstacles on our path and drove this dream of ours across the province of Quebec and eventually even in Europe. We also shared how these years shaped us and led us where we are now. Of course, some were surprised to learn I became an ordained minister, like a real serious minister. Then they figured out that writing every week an original 15 minutes’ reflection and delivering it in front of an audience make sense. Among those present there was Renée who told us about her interior decoration business and how some of her clients who are among the wealthiest people in Canada are completely neurotic, disconnected from reality and afraid to lose everything. My friend Martin who lost his mother last November shared with us his struggles with his brothers regarding the succession, how it has been weeks since the last time they talked to him, how he is working almost day and night to avoid thinking about it.
With all those stories in mind, I came back on Monday to work on today’s text from the Gospel according to Luke, the parable of the Rich Fool, and I said to myself, ‘Well, I guess the book of Ecclesiastes is right. There is nothing new under the sun.’ Our passage begins with Jesus being approached by someone in the crowd who says, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” Of course, Jesus could have easily quoted some Jewish texts explaining how to handle the issue. Instead, he replies by telling a parable about a rich man who owns a farm that produces an abundant harvest. He wonders where he will store his crop since his barns are too small. So he decides to build bigger ones. Then he will be able to enjoy his good fortune. “Soul you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” Unfortunately, God shows up and tells him, “This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”
Traditionally, in our churches the moral of this story is to beware of greed. It is the root and source of all evil. We often say to the people in our pews, Don’t spend your life accumulating wealth because you will not be able to take with you in the afterlife. We might even tell the old joke of this dying man who asked his wife to be buried with all his money. When the moment came, when it was time to put his body in the ground, his widow writes a check, throws it in the grave and says, ‘Here’s your money dear’. No. Don’t be greedy. Do not hoard your money. Be humble and generous instead. In fact, give all your money… to the church… or your minister…
We know that money cannot buy love. Experience has taught us that the abundance of possessions does not necessarily bring happiness. Sometimes it is the complete opposite. As I am stating these simple and eternal truth, I am convinced that most of you agree with me and nod your heads in assent. Maybe you even have names that come in your mind. And yet, once we walk out the doors of this church, it seems that all of us suddenly feel this urge to sing a different tune. We feel this compulsion to run after success and profit. Sometimes we are not even aware we are doing it. Sometimes we cannot help it; it is stronger than us. Sometimes we just go along with our society. We live in a world where the value of an individual is measured in dollars and cents. We live in a world where material possessions represent security, power, status, enjoyment, self-esteem… So we work very hard to earn money to the point we barely have time to spend with our children and grandchildren, we suffer from a heart attack or we install security systems and transform our houses into a fortress because we are afraid to lose it all.
The worst part of it is that, usually, regardless of how much we make, it is never enough. If our income is $20,000 a year for example, we probably think we would be happy if only we could make $30,000. But those who make $30,000 a year could also think they would be happy if only they made $50,000. And even people who make $100,000 a year may think they need an extra $100,000 more, and so on. On some days, we fantasized about receiving a windfall of money and how it would make us feel relieved and secured. This morning I will not ask how many of us may have bought a Lotto Max ticket, dreaming of winning part or all of the 60 million jackpot. Deep down we know that it would not free us from our worries. And yet, we give in to the seductive promise of a “good life”. We come to believe that the latest gadget, a flashier car or bigger barns will make us happier. We constantly look for another “golden calf” out there that we imagine will make our lives complete.
I am not trying to tell you that money is evil and we should be ashamed if we have some RRSPs or investments. Rather, the question raised by today’s parable is what if today would be the last day of your life? What would we see if we looked back at all we have done up this point? Would we be proud of ourselves or somehow feel embarrassed? If we calculated on what we spent our time and energy during our lifetime, what would be the end result? How much time have we spent nursing old grudges, fighting with our loved ones, being anxious about the performance of the markets or afraid that we might lose it all? Would we be able to recognize moments when we used our gifts and resources to help others to achieve their dreams, accomplished small deeds that had an impact on the lives of individuals or shared our joy and good fortune with the people we love? Would we see the story of someone who has been worried all the time or able to enjoy the fruits of our abundance?
Ultimately money comes and goes. What really stays with us is our values, beliefs and ideals. Yes, it is wise to set aside some money. We need to have dreams, projects, goals and objectives, but not to the point we become paralyzed by worries. We need to learn to look forward without being afraid of all the possible outcomes we might imagine. We cannot control the future. We can only control what is going on here and now. This where we live. This is where we can have an impact. This is where we can make a difference. Worrying about what tomorrow might bring won’t really change a thing in the present, except maybe making us more miserable. One of the biggest disappointments people usually have is not how much more hours they could have worked at the office, but the opportunities not seized, words we regret not saying when it was time or the affection we haven’t given to our loved ones when they were still with us. We are invited to live our lives as fully as we could. We are invited to pursue what really matters for us and makes our existence meaningful, without being distracted by worries we often create for ourselves.
Today’s parable from the Gospel according to Luke confronts us with simple but challenging questions. What is a worthwhile life? How do we define a meaningful existence? What makes our life rich and full? Do we want to spend our time fighting with family members over inheritance? Is making money the sole driving factor of our lives? How much is enough? Why do we worry so much? Maybe this morning we are called to unlearn to put a price tag on everything and storing up resources just in case it might be useful in the future and starting to live this day to its fullest. Maybe we are called to invest in what truly makes us alive, like sharing our resources, playing with our children and grandchildren, helping a neighbour or staying up late and talk with old friends. Amen.