Sunday, 31 July 2016

Storing up treasures for ourselves
without being rich towards God

A large barn at Comberford Manor Farm in Staffordshire (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford,

Sunday 31 July 2016:

The Tenth Sunday after Trinity

11 a.m., The Sung Eucharist,

Saint John the Evangelist,

Sandymount, Dublin

Readings:
Hosea 11: 1-11; Psalm 107: 1-9, 43; Colossians 3: 1-11; Luke 12: 13-21.

In the name of + the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

I am not fond of television quiz programmes, or programmes that ask silly questions of people.

You have the programme presenter sitting there, looking smug with both the questions and answers, researched by a paid researcher, and the poor member of the public sitting there, anxious about obscure questions about the World Cup Final at Wembley in 1966, or No 1 hits in 2006, or celebrity weddings in 2016.

I could not, for the life of me, answer any one of those questions. But some poor people, for the sake of €100 or €1,000 – never, it seems, on the way to being a millionaire – are made to look silly or ridiculous.

Quite frankly, I find it demeaning. And I have never wanted to hoard up all the answers for a television quiz, or, for that matter, for a parish table quiz. As I get older, I know this is anxiety that I do not need, and it is probably knowledge I am better off not storing up.

Recently, watching one of those programmes as we were idly flicking through television channels, I was told: ‘I could never go on a programme like that with you!’

‘Why?’ I asked.

‘Because I could never answer: “What is his favourite piece of music.” Or: “If money was no barrier, what would he buy?”’

Well there is a lot of good music to listen to.

But if money was no barrier, what would I buy?

Would it make me happy?

Would it make anyone else happy?

Would it tell anyone that they are loved, loving, worth loving, that I love them, that I really enjoy their love?

But do not get me wrong, please.

I understand why the man in this morning’s Gospel reading (Luke 12: 13-21) does many of the things he does.

He has a bumper crop one year, and not enough room to store it in. Was he to leave what he could not store to rot in the fields?

It is a foundational principle of all economics, whatever your political values – from Marx and Malthus to Milton Freedman – that the production of surplus food is the beginning of the creation of wealth and the beginning of economic prosperity.

Even if you are a complete suburbanite, it should bring joy to your heart the see the fields of green and gold these weeks, for the abundance of the earth is truly a blessing from God.

And it would have been wrong for this man to leave the surplus food to rot in the fields because he failed to have the foresight to build larger barns to store the surplus grain.

It provides income, creates wealth, allows us to export and so to import. Surplus food is the foundation of economics … and makes possible generosity, charity and care for the impoverished.

For the people who first heard this story, just image those people who first heard this parable – they would have imagined so many images in the Old Testament of the benefits of producing surplus food.

Joseph told Pharaoh to store surplus food in Egypt and to prepare and plan ahead for years of famine (see Genesis 41: 1-36). In the long run, this provides too for the survival of the very brothers who had sold him into slavery (see Genesis 42), and, eventually, for the salvation of the people of God.

The production of extra grain in the fields at the time of the harvest allows Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi to glean in the corners of the field behind the reapers (Ruth 2: 1-4). In the long run, this provides too for the survival of Boaz and his family line, and, eventually, for the salvation of the people of God.

When the people of God go hungry, the provision of surplus food is seen as a sign of God’s love and God’s protection … whether it is:

● the hungry people in the wilderness who are fed with manna (see Exodus 16), which is alluded to in this morning’s Psalm (Psalm 107: 1-9, 43);

● or the way the Prophet Hosea reminds the people, in this morning’s Old Testament reading (Hosea 11: 1-11), that God is the God who can say throughout their history: “I bent down to them and fed them” (Hosea 11: 4);

● or the hungry people who are fed with the abundant distribution of five loaves and two fish (Matthew 14: 13-21; Mark 6: 30-44; Luke 9: 10-17; John 6: 1-14; see Mark 8: 1-9);

● or the Disciples who find the Risen Christ has provided for their needs with breakfast (John 21: 9-14).

Surplus food, wealth, providing for the future, building bigger and better barns … it is never an excuse to “relax, eat, drink, [and] be merry.”

A barn on a farm at Cross in Hand Lane, outside Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Our Gospel reading this morning offers the abundance and generosity of God’s provision as a sign of God’s love, for us as individuals and for all around us.

The rich man is not faulted for being an innovative farmer who manages to grow an abundant crop.

The rich man is not faulted this morning for storing up those crops.

The rich man is not condemned for tearing down his barns and building larger ones to store not only his grain but his goods too.

The rich man is not even condemned for being rich.

The man condemns himself, he makes himself look foolish, for thinking that all that matters in life is our own pleasure and personal satisfaction.

We are human because we are made to relate to other humans.

There is no shared humanity without relationship.

We are made in the image and likeness of God, but that image and likeness is only truly found in relationship … for God is already relational, God is already revealed as community, in God’s existence as Trinity.

This man thinks not of his needs, but of his own pleasures. He has a spiritual life … we are told he speaks to his Soul. But he speaks only to his own soul. His spiritual life extends only to his own spiritual needs, to his own Soul, it never reaches out to God who has blessed him so abundantly, the God who in this morning’s Psalm reminds us that he “fills the hungry soul with good” (Psalm 107: 9).

His spiritual persona never reaches out to or acknowledges God who has blessed him so abundantly, or to the people around him who have needs and who could benefit from his charitable generosity or from his business acumen.

In failing to take account of the needs of others, he fails to realise his own true needs: for a true and loving relationship with God, and a true and loving relationship with others.

He has no concern for the needs of others, physical or spiritual. He is spiritually dead. No wonder Saint Paul says in our epistle reading that greed is idolatry (Colossians 3: 5).

But if he has stopped speaking to God, God has not stopped speaking to him. And God tells him that night in a dream that this man is spiritually dead.

God says to him in that dream that his life is being demanded of him. (Luke 12: 20).

But did you notice how we never hear how he responds, how we never hear whether he dies?

The story ends just there.

The Gospel reading for the last Sunday at the end of September [25 September 2016, the Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity] is the story of the rich man who kept Lazarus at the gate, and then died (see Luke 16: 19-31). But unlike that rich man, we are never told what happened to the rich man in this morning’s Gospel reading.

Did he die of fright?

Did he die after drinking too much?

Did he wake up and carry on regardless?

Or, like Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, did he wake up and realise his folly, and embrace the joys of the Incarnation?

I am challenged not to pass judgment on the Rich Man. Instead, Christ challenges me, in the first part of this reading (Luke 12: 13-15), to put myself in the place of this man.

If we are to take the earlier part of this Gospel reading to heart, perhaps we might reserve judgment on this foolish rich man.

Perhaps, instead of judging this young man with the benefit of hearing this story over and over again, perhaps in the light of the first part of this Gospel reading, we might reflect on this Gospel reading by asking ourselves two questions:

“If money was no barrier, what would I buy?”

and:

“Would that choice reflect the priorities Christ sets us of loving God and loving one another?”

[Silence]

And so may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

A barn on a farm in Co Wexford waiting for the harvest (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Collect:

Let your merciful ears, O Lord,
be open to the prayers of your humble servants;
and that they may obtain their petitions,
make them to ask such things as shall please you;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post-Communion Prayer:

O God, as we are strengthened by these holy mysteries,
so may our lives be a continual offering,
holy and acceptable in your sight;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Luke 12: 13-21

13 Εἶπεν δέ τις ἐκ τοῦ ὄχλου αὐτῷ, Διδάσκαλε, εἰπὲ τῷ ἀδελφῷ μου μερίσασθαι μετ' ἐμοῦ τὴν κληρονομίαν. 14 ὁδὲ εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Ἄνθρωπε, τίς με κατέστησεν κριτὴν ἢ μεριστὴν ἐφ' ὑμᾶς; 15 εἶπεν δὲπρὸς αὐτούς, Ὁρᾶτε καὶ φυλάσσεσθε ἀπὸ πάσης πλεονεξίας, ὅτι οὐκ ἐν τῷπερισσεύειν τινὶ ἡ ζωὴ αὐτοῦ ἐστιν ἐκ τῶν ὑπαρχόντων αὐτῷ. 16 Εἶπεν δὲ παραβολὴν πρὸς αὐτοὺς λέγων, Ἀνθρώπου τινὸς πλουσίου εὐφόρησεν ἡ χώρα. 17 καὶ διελογίζετο ἐν ἑαυτῷ λέγων, Τί ποιήσω, ὅτι οὐκ ἔχω ποῦ συνάξω τοὺς καρπούς μου; 18 καὶ εἶπεν, Τοῦτο ποιήσω: καθελῶ μου τὰς ἀποθήκας καὶ μείζονας οἰκοδομήσω, καὶ συνάξω ἐκεῖ πάντα τὸν σῖτον καὶ τὰ ἀγαθά μου, 19 καὶ ἐρῶ τῇ ψυχῇ μου, Ψυχή, ἔχεις πολλὰ ἀγαθὰ κείμενα εἰς ἔτη πολλά: ἀναπαύου, φάγε, πίε, εὐφραίνου. 20 εἶπεν δὲ αὐτῷ ὁ θεός, Ἄφρων, ταύτῃ τῇ νυκτὶ τὴν ψυχήν σου ἀπαιτοῦσιν ἀπὸ σοῦ: ἃ δὲ ἡτοίμασας, τίνι ἔσται; 21 οὕτως ὁ θησαυρίζων ἑαυτῷ καὶ μὴ εἰς θεὸν πλουτῶν.

13 Someone in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.’ 14 But he said to him, ‘Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?’ 15 And he said to them, ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’ 16 Then he told them a parable: ‘The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?” 18 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. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” 20 But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.’

An empty barn on my grandmother’s former farm near Cappoquin, Co Waterford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

1 comment:

Janet McKee said...

Food for thought.