18th Sunday of the Year - 05 August 2007
Gospel - Lk 12:13-21
Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.” He replied to him, “Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?” Then he said to the crowd, “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.” Then he told them a parable.
“There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest. He asked himself, ‘What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?’ And he said, ‘This is what I shall do:
I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones. There I shall store all my grain and other goods and I shall say to myself, “Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!”’
But God said to him, ‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’ Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.”
Ecclesiastes 1:2, 2:21–23; Colossians 3:1–5, 9–11; Luke 12:13–21
Years ago a Chicago restaurant had specially printed place mats at all its tables. The mats were designed exclusively for the restaurant. And if you asked the waitress, she’d give you one to take home, frame, and hang on your wall. Let me share with you the wording that appeared on those mats. It went something like this:
“In 1923 an important meeting took place at Chicago’s Edgewater Beach Hotel.
Attending the meeting were the following men:
• the president of the largest steel company,
• the president of the largest utility company,
• the president of the largest gas company,
• the president of the New York Stock Exchange,
• the president of the Bank of International Settlements,
• the greatest wheat speculator,
• the greatest bear on Wall Street,
• the head of the world’s greatest monopoly,
• a member of President Harding’s cabinet.
That’s a pretty impressive lineup of people. Yet, 25 years later, where were those nine industrial giants?
According to the story on the place mat,
• the president of the largest steel company, Charles Schwab, died bankrupt;
• the president of the largest utility company, Samuel Insull, died penniless;
• the president of the largest gas company, Howard Hobson, had gone insane;
• the president of the New York Stock Exchange, Richard Whitney, was just released from prison;
• the bank president, Leon Fraser, died a suicide;
• the wheat speculator, Arthur Cutten, died penniless;
• the Wall Street bear, Jesse Livermore, died a suicide;
• the head of the world’s greatest monopoly, Ivar Kruegar, died a suicide;
• the member of President Harding’s cabinet, Albert Fall, was just given a pardon from prison so that he could die at home.
That story dramatizes -as few stories can- the point behind today’s Scripture readings. And what is that point?
It is summed up perfectly in Jesus’ parable of the foolish farmer.
Contrary to what some people think, in this parable Jesus isn’t knocking the acquisition of wealth. He isn’t knocking private enterprise. What he is knocking is the foolish idea that some people have of placing greater importance on laying up material treasures than on laying up spiritual treasures.
How does one calculate one’s wealth? Usually we calculate it by checking how much we have, but the saints tell us we should calculate it by checking how much we have given away.
“You fool! This very night you will have to give up your life.”
No serious person can read today’s Scripture readings without asking the question: “What have I done with my life?”