SERMON ON THE RICH FOOL Luke 12:16-21
November 17, 2019
Brothers & Sisters,
St Gregory Palamas, the great champion of the Jesus Prayer and the steadfast guide to holy theosis, in one of his homilies gave a commandment to his flock saying: “You should secretly give from what you have to those in need, so that you receive from God, Who sees in secret, a hundred times more, as well as life eternal in the age to come (cf. Mt. 6:4; Mk. 10:30).” This commandment to give is the antidote to greed, miserliness, and coveteousness, which is the theme of today’s Gospel as well. This morning’s Gospel just gives us the parable, but I’d like to start with a little background, a few verses earlier. And what do we find there? We find a man in the crowd who is elbowing his way forward in order to get close enough to Jesus to get His attention. When he did so, he cried out demanding that Jesus settle a dispute between himself and his brother. It seems that their father had died, and he suspected his brother was hogging-up more than his fair share of the inheritance, and he wanted Jesus to render a ruling about how much each should get. Jesus responded by saying: “Who appointed me to be a judge or an arbiter between the two of you?” And then he issued not a ruling but a warning to the two of them: “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.” Then the Lord, by way of illustration, shares the parable of the rich fool with the brother, and with the rest of the crowd as well.
What’s going on here? In this chapter of Luke, chapter 12, Jesus is warning the people about the dangers of what the pharisees are teaching. He tells the people that they need to hear Him, believe in Him, stick with Him, and to disregard the fury and the threats of the religious establishment. (I’m paraphrasing...can you tell?) Suddenly, out of the blue, this unhappy brother shows up. And what does he do? He treats Jesus exactly like a pharisee, like a lawyer, as if His only job is to interpret the Law of Moses for people and render judgments. It demonstrates that the man was not listening at all to Jesus! He had no idea Who Jesus was! How could he? He was blinded and made deaf by his one-track mind, his “idée fixe,” on his problem, which was his desire for more of the inheritance, which is his covetousness. And what does Jesus do? Does he chastise the intruder for interrupting? Does He call him names or demand that His disciples grab him and haul him away? Not at all. St Cyril of Alexandria says that He: “found a seasonable opportunity, (i.e. a “teachable moment”), so He frames a profitable and saving discourse; and protesting as it were against them, declares, ‘Take heed, and keep yourselves from all covetousness.’ He reveals to us that pitfall of the devil, covetousness, a thing hateful to God, and which the wise Paul even calls idolatry, perhaps as being suitable for those only who do not know God, or as being equal on the whole with the defilement of those who choose to worship idols made of wood and stone. It is a snare of evil spirits, by which they drag down man's soul to the meshes of hell. For this reason He says very justly, as if to set them on their guard, ‘Take heed and keep yourselves from all covetousness:’ that is, from great and small, and from defrauding anyone whoever he may be” (Sermon 89 on Luke).
Covetousness is related to a first cousin - lust. It is an insatiable desire for more, a desire for what we don’t have or shouldn’t have. It it the first of three siblings, triplets if you will, named Covetousness, Greed and Avarice. It was the very first transgression committed by Adam and Eve in the Garden. It was the cause of Judas’ betrayal of Christ and his own suicide. It is number 10 of the Ten Commandments: “Thou shalt not covet.” To covet is to want what others have, it means to hoard. It also means robbing God by being stingy with either the church or with the poor.
In the Old Testament, in Haggai 1:3-5, the Lord speaks through the prophet and chastises God’s People for taking care of themselves while neglecting the House of God. He says: “Is it right for you to dwell in your finished houses, and for Our temple to lie in ruins?” Now therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: “Consider your ways!” And that’s what the Lord wants us to take away from today’s Gospel. “Consider your ways!” or as He put it this morning, “He is a fool who lays up treasures for himself and is not rich toward God” (cf Luke 12:21). Amen.