Archbishop Peter A Comensoli
The mystery of life can throw up some real ironies at times. Recently, I purchased a house with proceeds from my parents’ inheritance. They were always worried I might not have some place of my own when I get old. So, they scraped and saved over their lives to ensure my brothers and I would have something in our lives. The private purchase of that house made it into the newspaper yesterday as a story about the Archbishop living it up, while the Archdiocese is going through a belt tightening phase. And now, here I am preaching about Jesus’ response to a man who was demanding his own inheritance! Sometimes, the timing of things is not a welcome friend.
Be that as it may, the parable that Jesus shared with us today is a sobering story to hear. How often might we – not necessarily in the big ways of the rich man – grasp onto things we claim for ourselves, beyond what we need for ourselves? The issue of the parable is not that the man was rich, but that he selfishly grasped onto what he did not need. He had enough grain in his barns already, but he wanted to hold onto even more than he could possibly ever use. In so hoarding all that extra grain, he lost the one thing he had no control over, yet thought he did – his very life.
What we might possess is not what Jesus was concerned about, either with the disputing sibling or the rich man of the parable. Rather, it is what possesses us that is his concern. And this doesn’t simply mean material things. I might be quite generous with the various things I have – what might be called a spirit of largesse – yet I can still lack a spirit of generosity and detachment. Think about the gift of time, for example. Do I make time for others, especially those whom I find time-consuming to deal with? Giving is not essentially something that ought to be measured by way of money – the value of giving is about who we are, not what we have.
Sometimes, I’ve heard discussions about today’s parable applied to the so-called desert island scenario: if you were to be marooned on a desert island, what would you want to make sure you had with you? A topical way of seeing the same question would be: If your house was about to burn down, what would you save from it? The point behind this thought experiment is to try see what matters to us. But I think it also misses the point. When taken out of our ordinary situation, we will always react in surprising ways. But Jesus is concerned with how we act in our ordinary circumstances, not desert island ones.
So, perhaps a better thought experiment is to ask of ourselves: What of my own am I prepared to lend to others, and especially to lend without the expectation of getting back? This would be a far more realistic test of what possesses us. What of my time and energies am I prepared to give to God and others? What of my gifts and talents am I willing to expend for the sake of building a kingdom not of my own? What of my material wealth and possessions am I prepared to hand over for others to make use of?
These are not easy or comfortable questions to ask. But they are the sorts of questions with which we can measure our lives. And having honestly answered them, we have the beginnings of what we need to work on in striving for a spirit of generosity and detachment. May God, the giver all that is good, give to us a giving spirit.