Reflections on the Readings for Sunday 4 August 2013
Ecclesiastes 1:2, 2:21-23; Pslm 90:3-6, 12-14, 17; Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11; Luke 12:13-21
When your life is over, what will you regret the most?
The man who asks for Jesus’ intervention in an inheritance dispute calls Jesus ‘teacher’ but I bet he hadn’t really heard any of the wisdom coming from the teacher’s lips. His thoughts were too snarled up in anxiety and anger about not getting a share of his father’s estate. We don’t know if his claim is legitimate or not – he certainly thinks so – and Jesus doesn’t ask. Jesus stands for truth and for justice, and yet he refuses to be drawn into this fight. His first words rebuff, refusing to take sides. Jesus can’t enter into the situation that way, where the options are to side with one against the other and contribute to the resentment and discord threatening to tear this family apart. Jesus sidesteps this dance of anger and enters the situation a different way, through the story of the rich man whom God names ‘Fool’.
It isn’t his farming skills or business sense which earns him that unflattering title. It is his splendid but isolated life. Notice how many times he says ‘I” in the story. Also notices who he talks to – no one but himself. Even his anticipated celebration is probably a party for one. And if it isn’t, the guests wouldn’t be there as friends, but as sycophants and envious witnesses to his success. He is the man the Qohelet the sage describes, the one so busy working and amassing wealth that he has forgotten to ask “for whom am I labouring?” I wonder who went to his funeral?
St Paul tells us to set our minds on heavenly things, not earthly. But ‘spiritual’ people can live like the rich fool, splendidly isolated, though the ‘wealth’ that surrounds them may not be physical. When Paul describes ‘earthly’ things, he speaks of evil desires, lying to one another, taking advantage of others, and greed. If our lives are oriented toward God, then they are characterised by the opposite – generosity, desires and passions that promote human flourishing, honesty, and love.
The psalm reminds us to ‘number our days aright’. Anticipation of death can put things in perspective and teach us wisdom. It can remind us of what is really important. What would the rich man / Fool have done if he was being rich in what matters to God? And to return to the man, someone’s brother, who asked Jesus to intervene on the matter of the inheritance. What else was as stake here, besides money or land? What other possibilities were there, what alternatives to the destruction that inheritance disputes can wreak on families? Wisdom would take that path.