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Rich Fools

Let me tell you where we’re heading. We’re heading towards the sixteenth chapter of the gospel of Luke, which we will read on Sunday September 22, in which Jesus will say, “no one can serve two masters . . . you cannot serve both God and money.”

We will get there via a series of parables that Jesus will teach. The parable of the steward who changes sides. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus. And today we begin with the parable of the rich fool.

I find it remarkable that in a society that had much less wealth than ours, that was so much less materialistic than our own, that Jesus still spent so much of his time talking about money. And if Jesus felt the urgent need to warn people about the dangers of money and wealth in his own time, just imagine what he would have to say to us today.

Because make no mistake. In our society we wouldn’t think of the rich man in today’s parable as a fool. The rich man who tears down his barns to build larger ones in order to store his wealth would be admired as an entrepreneur, as an investor, as a smart business person. Saving one’s money to secure one’s future, that would be praised as responsible and prudent. In our time we wouldn’t even see the man’s foolishness, and even in the event of his untimely death, the best we might be able to do is to mumble platitudes such as “you can’t take it with you.”

But foolishness is really just a nice word for being blind, for not being able to see reality, not being able to see the truth. That’s the rich man’s problem, and if we can’t see why he is a fool, well, maybe we’ve been blinded too.

Because that’s what the love of money does to us. It blinds us to the truth. And because of that, the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.

Jesus will tell us in Chapter 16 that money is dishonest. You and I know at some level that money is nothing more than a tool that can be used to facilitate transactions. But money is dishonest. It will tell you that it is so much more than that. Money tells you that it is how we measure things. That’s a lie. Money tells you that it can make you happy. That too is a lie. Money tells you that it will make you independent. Money tells you that it can save you and secure your life. All of these are lies.

And the rich man in today’s gospel parable is a fool because he falls for these lies. He believes that the abundance that the land has produced will secure his life and make him happy for the rest of his days, the same false promise that is so deeply embedded in our own culture.

“I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul’, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink and be merry.”

“But God said to him “You fool!”

You cannot serve both God and money.

In May I heard Brian McLaren, an American pastor and writer, preach on this section of the gospel of Luke. One of the things he said that struck me was this:

“The American church has thrived because it made a deal, and told people that you can love both God and money.”

That’s a bad deal. We need to get out of that bad deal. Not just the American church, but all of us. The love of money blinds us. It makes us fools. It is the root of all kinds of evil, which is why Jesus talks about this so forcefully. In Jesus’ time, it was about the oppression of the peasant class by the Roman Empire and rich Jewish landowners. On our continent, this same bad deal led to slavery and the theft of indigenous land. In our time the love of money is causing us to exploit the earth and to produce greenhouse gases which are changing our climate.

And did you ever notice that the arguments for why we can’t stop doing these things are always the same? In the 19th century, when people tried to end slavery, they were told that we couldn’t because the economy would collapse. In our time when people say that we need to stop burning fossil fuels, they are told that we can’t because the economy would collapse.

Serve God or serve money. You cannot serve both.

The rich fool did not become a fool overnight. He became a fool over the course of a lifetime, as his love for money and his wealth exercised its steady, corrosive, sight-reducing effect. In this parable, it’s the pronouns that give him away. He thinks to himself. He speaks in the first person: “What should I do, for I have no place for my crops. I will do this, I will pull down my barns and build larger ones.” I, I , I. The only time he speaks in the second person, it is to address his own soul! “I will say to my soul, ‘Soul’, you have ample goods laid up for many years.” It reminds me a little bit of the Tom Hanks movie ‘Castaway’ where the survivor of a shipwreck is so isolated that he ends up talking to a volleyball that he names “Wilson”.

The rich fool talks only of himself. That is his first foolishness. The second foolishness is that he thinks that his stored wealth can secure his soul, his life.

But do you remember that when Jesus was asked the question about how one can secure one’s life, this is how he responded:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and you shall love your neighbour as yourself. Do this and you will live.”

Often we think of these words as moral instruction, and they are. But even more so, they are a way of seeing, of seeing that the most important things in life are our relationships, with God and with each other. The rich fool in today’s gospel has lost the ability to see. He has been blinded, blinded by his life-long relationship with wealth. When the land produces its abundance, he immediately takes possession of it and strategizes as to what he can do, how he can manage this abundance to provide for himself, though in reality he is already rich and has no need of it. There is no thanksgiving to God for the produce of the land, no recognition that he is merely a steward and not the true owner of this wealth, no thought as to how this wealth can be used to serve God or neighbour. The rich man lives in a narrow, stunted world, blinded to the greater, life-giving reality that surrounds him.

No one can serve two masters. You cannot serve God and money.


Homily: Yr C P18, August 4 2019, St. Albans

Readings: Hosea 11.1-11; Ps 107; Col 3.1-11; Luke 12.13-21

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