ON THE PARABLE OF THE RICH FOOL
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ!
What a terrifying and yet encouraging parable. It’s perfect for the Nativity Fast and the Christmas Season. Just like the Carol “Good King Wenceslas” teaches us the virtue of generosity, today’s parable teaches us, or really warns us, about the evils of covetousness and avarice. The first thing presented to us is the fact, that the riches of this man were honestly acquired. "The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop." He is portrayed as an honest, hard-working man, like any of us, whose labor was blessed by God with abundance. With the increase of his wealth, however, there was no corresponding increase in his heart. Even though God was very generous toward him, that generosity was not reflected in his behavior towards others. Rather, "He thought to himself, “What shall I do? I have no place to store my goods."
"He thought to himself!" Doesn’t that say it all? How easy it is for us just to think about important decisions and rely on our own judgments. How easy it is for us to be deceived or misdirected by our own passions or even demonic suggestions! Instead of “thinking to himself,” what should the rich man have done? Pray to God. First he should have given thanks. He didn’t. Next, he should have prayed to God seeking how he might distribute this great abundance. He didn’t. It never once dawned on the rich man that he was God’s steward, and that every “good gift and every perfect gift” comes down from Him, as the Lord’s brother says (James 1:17). As God’s steward he was supposed to disburse those riches rather than hoard them as if he were God’s banker! So, he selfishly decided, "I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods." St. Ambrose of Milan comments on the rich man’s perplexity about "having no place to store my crops." He writes, "What do you mean, you have no place?" "You have many barns already! The bosoms of the needy; the houses of the widows; the mouths of orphans!"
By thinking to himself, he thought only OF himself, and so it didn’t occur to him to relieve the poor, or the sick, or the widows or orphans. Accumulation of what he assumed was his wealth consumed all his attention, and so he says to himself "Soul, you have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry!" He thought he had it made. He had no cares in the world. He would lead a long and comfortable life. He was going to live on “Easy Street.” He didn’t think at all about death. No. Death was for others: the poor, the sick, the old. To human eyes, his future looked ideal, perfect, in fact. His heart was encased in gold, and his mind was very far from God. The man who has everything, has very little need for God. That’s why the Lord said, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24).
This is the world’s illusion of a happy life. There used to be an ad on television a couple of years ago for an online company called “Wayfair.” It’s jingle included the words: “Wayfair, just what I need. Everything for my house. Everything for me!” The message almost seemed to be: Everything is out there. I need it all, and it’s ALL FOR ME! This is the mind of the rich man in the parable. In this state of peace, plenty, and pleasure, his thoughts stretching out into the future, and his plans maturing to perfection, he is suddenly, shockingly, aroused by the voice of God, saying unto him, "You fool! This very night your soul will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?"
What a startling announcement this is! The death knell of the soul--extinguishing every light of hope and of joy, leaving it in the depths of darkness forever! He was a "fool" to imagine that the soul needed no preparation for the translation to the next world. He was a "fool" for supposing that his soul would be satisfied with the wealth or pleasures of this world. He was a "fool" for believing that life had no other purpose than self-gratification, no other ends than comfort. He was a "fool" in thinking that his riches were his own, to hoard in barns, rather than entrusted to him as a steward to disburse to the Lord's poor, and for the Lord's service. Instead of building for a barn him, they will nail a coffin and dig a grave! Instead of having "much goods laid up for many years,"he has nothing laid up for eternity! Instead of his soul taking ease and being merry, he was destined to dwell in everlasting sorrow. How mighty is the wreck of wealth--when God calls the sinner to his judgment. In the language of St.Theophylact, "Fearsome angels, like pitiless exactors of tribute, required of him, as a disobedient debtor--his soul." His departure was like that described by Job: "The wicked go to bed rich but wake up to find that all their wealth is gone. Terror overwhelms them like a flood, and they are blown away in the storms of the night. The east wind carries them away, and they are gone. It sweeps them away. It whirls down on them without mercy" (Job 27:19-22). To the rich man thus swept away in his wickedness, Jesus well asks, "Who, then, will get what you have prepared for yourself?" David answers in the Psalms, “Surely man walks in a shadow; nay, he is disquieted in vain: he lays up treasures, and knows not for whom he shall gather them” (Psalm 39:6).
The Lord concludes His parable with this moral: "So it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God." Isn’t this the lesson of Ebenezer Scrooge? Scrooge hated Christmas because he was a selfish miser who thought it was a money-sucking waste of time. Dickins was a professed Christian, and his tale “A Christmas Carol” was exactly a call to Christian virtue. Three spirits (dare we say “angels?” After all, “He maketh His angels spirits!”) visited the evil old man in order to bring about repentance and a true change. To the last angel Scrooge finally says, “Spirit, hear me! I am not the man I was! I will not be the man I must have been but for this intercourse. Why show me this if I am past all hope? Good Spirit, your nature intercedes for me and pities me. Assure me that I may yet change these shadows you have shown me by an altered life! I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach! Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on this stone.” The stone, the gravestone, of course represents eternal death. When Scrooge is returned to his own bedroom, he exclaims: “O Jacob Marley! Heaven and Christmastime be praised for this! I say it on my knees, old Jacob, on my knees!...and his face was wet with tears.” This is the meaning of A Christmas Carol and it is the same 2,000 year old message delivered by our Lord in the parable of the Rich Fool. Those who store up riches for themselves but are not rich toward God in their giving will inherit sorrow. But to those who care and give, they will be like Ebenezer Scrooge whose “own heart laughed, and that was quite enough for him...and it was always said of him that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that truly be said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, ‘God bless us, everyone!” Amen.