by Father Patrick Longalong
“For what profit comes to man from all the toil and anxiety of heart with which he has labored under the sun?”
This is in the first reading we hear this weekend. It is a much more eloquent way of explaining the pitfall of focusing too much on material wealth than the usual saying, “Money is the root of all evil!”
In general, when we hear these sayings, it is easy for us to quickly think of a person who obsesses too much on financial gains at the cost of losing their soul or hurting other people who are in their way.
We don’t realize, however, that many people stress or find themselves in a state of anxiety because they need money to pay for basic necessities. They aren’t looking for excess, but to be able to live meaningful and comfortable lives. Maybe this is why we can relate to that latter saying.
Our Gospel on this 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time talks about money and the accumulation of wealth. We first have to understand that the Gospel did not intend to present money or possessions as the problem. Rather, it is the person’s attitude toward them.
As a matter of fact, the Gospel writer even presented material wealth as a gift from God that should be used in service of the community and to advance the spread of the Gospel. The following passage in Luke 16:8-9 alludes to that: “For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”
Material wealth becomes a problem when we begin to focus on it so much that it begins to define us and those people we encounter.
The parable Jesus told the two brothers who are fighting over their father’s inheritance is a story that unfortunately still exists today. How many times have we heard about families who are divided because of money? I have met people who haven’t talked to their siblings for years because of property.
“Tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me!” was what one of the brothers demanded from Jesus. But Jesus declines to arbitrate their legal issue. Instead he launches into one of his best-known and most-often ignored parables — “The Parable of the Rich Fool.”
The story describes a successful and wealthy man who is not just a farmer. The man owns multiple farms and land, which have made him wealthy. He seems to do everything right from a business standpoint, and has been successful beyond even his own expectations. He sees a need to provide for the future, and so he plans to replace his small and inadequate storage facilities. Finally, he looks forward to enjoying the fruits of his success.
Now what is wrong with all of that? It seems like this businessman is someone to emulate, someone we should admire, but Jesus condemns him harshly in this parable, calling him a fool. Why?
At first glance, the story is confusing. What is so wrong about the rich man’s diligence to work hard for his future? I have heard many reflections and musings on this parable, and somehow many seem to infer the man acquired his wealth through manipulation and corruption.
People accuse him of going about his business in a dishonest way. Most likely because there were other parables of rich persons with that particular disposition. But there is nothing like that indicated in this parable. This parable has an interesting twist because you have to listen to it very closely for the meaning to come forth. The man was indeed a fool for a very simple reason.
Let us listen closely to what the man said — “‘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!’”
Isn’t it tragic that he is only talking to himself? There was no other person involved. All of these thoughts are just for himself and not shared with anyone. No family. No friends. No community. Not even God to thank for his good fortune.
His last sentence revealed that he also lost his sense of mortality. He thought he could live for a very long time. This is the danger that Jesus wants us to learn. Not to focus so much on acquiring earthly possessions that our spirit becomes destitute and that we lose having a meaningful existence enriched by good relationships with others and with God.
St. Paul in this weekend’s letter to the Colossians addressed this issue perfectly. “Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry.” (3:5)
Only in doing that will we truly have access to what is more precious than earthly wealth. We free ourselves to have more time to spend with the people we love. We free ourselves to love unconditionally. We free ourselves to have peace in our hearts and not be caught up with worry and anxiety. By sacrificing these attachments, we make our first step to gaining much more in life.
The man in the parable and people who emulate his pattern of life are fools for leading isolated, self-absorbed lives, because everything they have given themselves ends in death.
Life is not measured by how many possessions we have, but by how much we have lived it in a meaningful way. Life and possessions are gifts of God to be used to advance God’s agenda of care and compassion that are life-giving and enriching for those who share them.
When we detach ourselves from material possessions, we have more room to accept treasures in heaven.
Readings for the Eighteenth
Sunday of Ordinary Time
Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:21-23
Psalm 90: 3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 14, 17
Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11
Father Longalong is the pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes, Queens Village, and coordinator of the Ministry to Filipino immigrants.