Luke 12: 13-21
13 Someone in the crowd said to him, "Master, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me". 14 Jesus answered him, "Dear sir, who appointed me judge to settle the case of your inheritances?" 15 Then addressing the crowd, "Know how to get away from all greed, for the true life does not come from the abundance of what one possesses". 16 Then he told them this story inspired by life, "There was a rich man whose land had yielded much, 17 and therefore began to make the following considerations, "What shall I do, for I do not have any place to gather all this harvest?" 18 Finally, he said to himself, "I know what I will do, I will destroy my barn and build a bigger one, and I will gather all my wheat and my possessions, 19 I will say to myself: my dear, you have good investments for many years, rest, eat, drink, party." 20 Then God said to him, "Stupid, this very night your life is being demanded, and what you have planned will be for whom?" 21 So it is for anyone who keeps up wealth for oneself, rather than to enrich oneself with God's perspective in mind."
Can one find in opulence a lasting meaning to one's life?
Gospel commentary - Homily
There is an image of my native region that has remained to me. I am from Rouyn-Noranda. This region of western Quebec has seen the enrichment of many mining explorers. One winter day, at the time of the gold rush and copper, in the 30's, one of them, who had become owner and pilot of a small plane, had flown to Montreal. But when he returned, his plane broke down over the La Vérendrye wildlife reserve and had to make an emergency landing on a frozen lake in the middle of the forest. His body was found several days later. I still have in mind the picture taken: a man lying face down against the snow, and hundreds of banknotes spread fan-like all around him. I imagine that in a moment of madness, feeling his end coming, he shouted his despair in the middle of cold loneliness and emptied his pockets of all that now useless money. I could understand his gesture: what could wealth be for now that he was going to die?
Jesus could have used this event in today's gospel story. Because the story he tells is similar: a rich man whose land had reported a lot plans to expand his barn to store his entire crop and ensure a golden future. Unfortunately he will not be able to profit from it: he will die of a sudden death. Question: Was it wrong to want to enlarge his barn? Who would dare to rebuke him? Of course, if we knew we would die tomorrow, we would not bother. But with the possibility that one lives 100 years, who would not seek to ensure that he can sustain himself for a long time. Each of us has investments to look after the period when he can no longer get paid work. Is not this the most basic wisdom for someone who is not totally irresponsible? But where is the problem that Jesus wants to point out?
First of all the drama of the rich man of our story is that he racked his head to seek an answer to the question on how to handle the overabundance of his harvest. It is a lot of energy spent on a solution that will ultimately bring him nothing, since in dying the solution found will become useless. Who of us is interested in investing time and energy in things that bring nothing to anyone? Everyone, whoever we are, needs to feel that what he is doing makes sense. This meaning is not obvious at first sight. It must often be sought. There are often trial and error. Our rich man looked in the wrong direction. And Jesus gives this warning: "Real life does not come from the abundance of what we have."
But then real life comes from what? How to look in the right direction? There are almost as many answers as individuals. For one, the joy of getting up in the morning comes from his family who is waiting for him, his children with their sweet little face that one wants to munch. For the other, it is a loving spouse for whom the burning passion is growing everyday. For another one, it's a project worthy of its ambitions. But what happens when the landscape changes, when time grazes the body and weakens it, when what someone can give to this society has no buyer, when the spouse is no longer of this world, when the family becomes a heart-breaking sword, when one's personal life is wounded by irreparable errors? In these difficult hours, you have to look deeper and deeper for the meaning of your life. We also need the help of some witnesses who came before us in this endeavour. Think of Paul of Tarsus, a religious extremist who throws Christians into prison and supports the murder of Stephen, but who later becomes this tireless missionary despite all the oppositions and writes: "For me, living is Christ". (Ph 1: 21) Let's think of Etty Hillesum, who will spend long time at the Westerbork Refugee Camp, will see her folks die before going herself to the death camp at Auschwitz in 1943. In her diary she writes: "The only certainty about our way of life and what we must do can only come from sources that spring from within us". In other words, if we know how to be attentive and patient, from the bottom of ourselves we will eventually hear that voice that indicates the way and through which our life will make sense, despite the difficult things around us.
The gospel of this day ends with a phrase that has long remained enigmatic to me: "So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.", which I prefer to translate as "with God's perspective in mind"? Our life experience tells us that the meaning of a life is constantly evolving, that what once appeared fundamental becomes a futile day, until we realize that this evolution will never end; what made sense as a child is not the same as what made sense as a teanager, and this is not she same as what made sense as an adult. Why? Is not it mysterious? This mystery can only be elucidated by the faith that our being bears the mark of God himself, our quest has something infinite to the very dimension of God. This is our greatness, that is why all the riches of this world, not even a long life, can totally answer to what we are looking for fundamentally. Yes, it is great the mystery of faith, if we truly believe.
-André Gilbert, Gatineau, April 2010