Be rich in what matters to God

As I watched the firemen enter my building I mused over Jesus’ parable about the rich farmer. You remember the man who had such a bountiful harvest that he redid the barns to store it all? In the parable, the barns survived, but the man did not. Last winter a neighbor accidently set fire to his apartment. Though that fire was small, well contained, and extinguished rapidly, we were all outside an hour or so in the freezing cold as the firemen cleared the smoke. That night, we all had a scare about the immediacy of loss as well as what it might mean to lose everything. 

In some ways I can sympathize with that farmer. Though we aren’t given his full biography, I believe that the person we meet in this tale as the rich farmer had previously experienced cold and hunger. He knew the pain and devastation wrought by lack of material goods. He worked diligently to harvest his crops and store them. 

As was the farmer, each of us is touched by the events of our lives. Painful events teach us lessons. For example, having learned from that winter’s fire experience, today I grabbed a jacket and my car keys as I evacuated. On the one hand, each of us is called to work on our own behalf to take care of ourselves, friends and family. On the other hand, God has asked us to trust in His Providence. Somewhere between the two is a healthy balance point. Painful life events can sometimes push someone past a healthy balance or even produce irrational actions. This is seen in the farmer’s wanting to build larger barns to hold each and every speck of the harvest. 

I imagine to some extent he was grateful as he looked out at success beyond his wildest dreams. However, he did not choose to express this gratitude. Instead, he chose to celebrate, to use a modern expression, how he had it made. Present in the farmer’s words is the arrogance that often comes with material success. The farmer immediately jumped to the “I am in control of the world” level. 

In the tale, God says to the farmer, “You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong? Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God” (Lk 12: 21). Though the imagery is stark, nowhere does it say that the goods will be taken away as a punishment. Jesus’ stern warning to that farmer and each of us is that happiness cannot be found by choosing such a path. 

With this story Jesus reminds us to consider carefully which of the world’s many offerings are rich in the eyes of God. Those are the ones we should pursue. How can we identify things rich in the eyes of God? Quite simply anything that allows each of us to appropriately love our neighbor as our self will be on that list. What the rich farmer missed was sharing with others the treasures and gifts God had given him.

One time, while on vacation, I stopped to visit an abandoned mine. I brought with me my powerful roadside emergency light. An 11-year-old boy holding a rock pick hammer and wearing his dad’s construction hat ran up to me. He asked me to be his mining partner. My share of the rock specimens we collected adorned my desk through graduate school. They had no monetary value. To me, they were a reminder of the adventure he and I shared that day. So much so that many years later, that one afternoon is the only part of that vacation week that I even remember!

Had he not shared his hammer, or had I not shared my light, there would have been no stones or exciting memories. In choosing not to share his treasures, the farmer chose not to participate in one of life’s greatest experiences — shared joy at living within God’s peace and love. 

Listen to or read the lyrics to the Bette Midler song “From a Distance.” Think about the line: “From a distance we all have enough, and no one is in need.” For the farmer in the parable that was true. However, he chose not to share. There were others around him who remained in need. Jesus’ message is clear. That answer is not good enough. Let us benefit from understanding that farmer’s mistake. Let us make a better decision. As a start, today — right now even — find one person and one situation where, with sharing, the two of you can make true that line about no one in need. 

Anchor columnist Helen Flavin is a Catholic scientist, educator and writer and a member of St. Bernadette’s Parish in Fall River.

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