The Folly of the Wealthy

Then the Lord Jesus spoke this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. ‘And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”  (Luke 12:16-21)

St. John Chrysostom comments:

Why are you so concerned about fleeting things that must be left here? Nothing is more slippery than wealth. Today it is for you; tomorrow it is against you. It arms the eyes of the envious everywhere. It is a hostile comrade, and you acknowledge this when you seek every way to bury and conceal it from view. While the poor are prepared for action, the wealthy wander about, seeking where they may bury their gold, or with whom they may deposit it. Why do you seek your fellow slaves, when Christ stands ready to receive and to keep your “deposits” for you. Those who receive treasures in trust think they have done us a favor. But with Christ it is the contrary, for He says He has received a favor when He receives your deposited treasures. For the guardianship he provides He does not demand a fee, but instead gives you dividends.

You are a stranger and a pilgrim with regard to things here. But you have a country that is your own in the heavens! Transfer there all that you possess…

Would you be rich? Have God for your friend, and you’ll  be richer than all men!

(Sermon: The Rich in This World, pp. 4-5, O Logos Publication)

If You Want to Be Perfect

In the Gospel lesson of Matthew 19:16-26, a man comes to Jesus and asks Him:

 “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?”

Jesus replies by telling the man to keep the commandments, but then adds this:

“If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

Not only does this man walk away from Christ, but even His disciples are astounded and ask:

 “Who then can be saved?”

St. Basil the Great comments:

“‘Become perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” [Mt 5.48]. Do you see how the Lord restores to us that which is according to the likeness? If you become a hater of evil, free of rancor, not remembering yesterday’s enmity; if you become brother-loving and compassionate, you are like God. If you forgive your enemy from your heart, you are like God. If as God is toward you, the sinner, you become the same toward the brother who has wronged you, by your good will from your heart toward your neighbor, you are like God.’

Note:  In Basil’s theology the ascetical practice of both outwardly displaying virtue and inwardly cultivating a disposition of a godly attitude, from which right action springs, reforms the likeness. Modeling ourselves after the gratuitous precepts of Christ reorders and rejoins the likeness to the image. Thus, he exhorts the reader “to put on Christ,” because “drawing near to him is drawing near to God. Thus the creation story is an education in human life. “Let us make the human being in our image.” Let him have by his creation that which is according to the image, let him also come to be according to the likeness. For this God gave the power.”    (On the Human Condition, p. 44)

According to Genesis 1:26,  “God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness . . .’”  Because the Church Fathers thought every word of Scripture was significant, they believed that the image and likeness were two different things.  Each human is made in the image of God – each of us in a mysterious way is an icon of God.   But, we were not made as perfect beings – we co-create ourselves with God – we have to choose to be in God’s likeness, and we have to work on that.  That is the point of asceticism and self denial, that we make ourselves conform to the likeness of God – to become more Christlike.  We become more perfectly human when we deny our self, our passions, and become more like Christ – loving, merciful, forgiving.

If we live just according to what we often think of as our human nature, we live just according to the nature we inherited from Adam.  But this is not perfect human nature.  We have to strive to be perfect as God is perfect.  That is why Jesus concluded today’s Gospel lesson with the words:

“With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

St. Paul teaches us this same lesson with his words:

Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual which is first but the physical, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. I tell you this, brethren: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.   (1 Corinthians 15:45-50)

Destruction’s Abundant Possessions

And he said to them, “Take heed, and beware of all covetousness; for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man brought forth plentifully; and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns, and build larger ones; and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”  (Luke 12:15-21)

 

St. Gregory Palamas comments on our heart’s desires:

“We are presupposing a kingdom free from war, which is impossible on earth.  […]  Brethren, I entreat you, let us not prefer darkness to light, the devil to God, that pleasure which is the servant of death and hell to eternal divine joy. Let us not choose destruction’s abundant possessions, which, as the Lord showed us through the parable of the Rich Man (Luke 16:19), are fuel for the flame which eternally burns those who acquired wealth in an evil way, rather than the love that enriches. Instead, let us live as He did, and as He showed and taught us when He was made man. Let us take up our cross and follow Him (Matt. 16:24), having crucified the flesh with its passions and desires (Gal. 5:24), that we may be glorified together with Him (Rom. 8:17), and rise up with Him, and after our resurrection be taken up to Him, as He was taken up today to the Father.” ( Homilies, pp 182-183)

God’s Blessings: Treasures to be Shared

In Luke 12:16-21, our Lord Jesus tells us the parable of a rich fool.  Rich in terms of worldly possessions, but foolish in living only for this world, for life is short.   Death shows us that we are living on borrowed time, and our possessions are really just a temporary loan.  We do not truly own our possessions as we cannot take them with us when we depart this earth.  All of our possessions remain behind.

Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully.  And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods.  ‘And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.” ‘ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.

St. Gregory Palamas (d. 1359AD) commenting on the parable says:

St. Metrios the Farmer

“That rich man whose ground brought forth plentifully (Luke 12:16-21), and that other one who was clothed in purple and fine linen (Luke 16:19-31), were justly condemned, not for wrongdoing anyone, but for not sharing what was theirs. Treasures are common to all, as they come from the common storehouses of God’s creation. Anyone who appropriates what is common as his own is greedy, though not perhaps to the same extent as someone who openly takes possession of other people’s belongings. The first, as an evil servant, will, alas, undergo the terrible punishment of being cut off. The second will be submitted to things even  more dreadful and terrifying. Neither will ever be able to escape these penalties, unless they receive the poor with hospitality, the one making good use of the things entrusted to  him by God, the other distributing what he has accumulated by evil means.” (The Homilies, p 98)

St. Nikolai & Thankless Prosperity

Our Lord Jesus Christ taught us often not through direct commandments but in parables.  Parables are stories which have one or more lessons which are derived from the story.  In Luke 12:16-21, Christ

“… spoke a parable to them, saying: ‘The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully.  And he thought within himself, saying, “What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?” So he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods.  “And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.'”

But God said to him, “Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?”

So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.'” 

The Holy Bishop Nikolai Velimirovic comments on the parable:

Jesus spake a parable unto them, saying: ‘The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully; and he thought within himself, saying: ‘What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits?’

He was not just rich; he had such a yield from his harvest that he did not know where to store it. Looking at his wheat-covered fields, and his orchards and vineyard whose branches were weighed down by fruit, his gardens over flowing with all kinds of vegetables and his hives full of honey, this rich man did not look towards heaven and cry out with joy: ‘Glory and praise to Thee, O most high and most merciful God! How great an abundance Thou hast, in Thy power and wisdom, brought forth from the black earth! Thou hast, through the sun’s rays, poured sweetness into all the fruits of the earth! Thou hast given every fruit a wonderful form and particular flavor! Thou hast rewarded me a hundredfold for my small labors! Thou hast had mercy on Thy servant, and hast poured such gifts from Thy full hands into his lap! O my most wondrous Lord, teach me to give joy to my brethren and neighbors with these Thy gifts. May they, together with me, rejoice and thankfully glorify and praise Thy holy name and Thine inexpressible goodness.’ ” (Homilies, pgs. 270-271)

The (Self-righteous) Walk with God

Luke 18:18-27

 Now a certain ruler asked Him, saying, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 

So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God.  You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother.’

And he said, “All these things I have kept from my youth.”

So when Jesus heard these things, He said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

But when he heard this, he became very sorrowful, for he was very rich.  And when Jesus saw that he became very sorrowful, He said, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!  For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.  And those who heard it said, “Who then can be saved?”  But He said, “The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.”

 Fr. Alexander Men in writing about self-righteousness, describes the Pharisess at the time of Jesus:

 The idea that there is some “list of deeds” by performance of which it is possible to gain absolute righteousness gave these lawyers no peace.  They competed with one another in striving for the punctual observance of all customs sanctified by the centuries.  And thus, as has often happened in the history of religion, piety became a gloomy grotesque.

The people called some of the Pharisees shikma—“strong-shouldered” because they always walked around hunched over, showing what an enormous weight of soul-saving feats they had to bear.  Entering the temple Jesus could see that the Pharisees were gathering across the square, constantly stumbling into passersby.  They were afraid to lift their eyes lest they should accidently look upon a woman.  They were called in jest Khitsay, “don’t-hit-your-head.”

It is natural that Christ’s freedom should have irritated and frightened such people; they saw in it temptation and threat to their good morals.  In that era, according to the commentary of a Hebrew historian, the Pharisee-Shammaites steadfastly preached a flight from the world and asceticism.  To say, for example, on looking up from a theological treatise, “What a beautiful tree!” was considered a mortal sin.  The Pharisees also reserved a large place for fasting.  Jesus, although He recognized these external exhibitions of faith, did not make them the center of religious life.    (Fr Alexander Men, Son of Man, pgs 93-94)

Parable of the Rich Fool: Redux

Sermon notes 2008      Luke 12:16-21       The Rich Fool

 Then the Lord Jesus told them this parable:

“The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’  So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.'”

A 2008 retelling of the parable for Americans in the midst of an economic crisis: 

“The land of rich men produced abundantly. And so they thought to themselves, ‘What should we do, for we have no place to store our savings and investments?’ Then they said, ‘We will do this: we will pull down those laws which limit our profits and we will invest more with larger risks, and we will build ever bigger loans for ourselves, and there we will invest our unbelievably large gains and our portfolios and net worth will grow immensely. And we will say to our selves, Selves, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry, for property and stock values can only go up.’ But God said to them, ‘You fools! This very year your loans and margins are being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’  So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.'”

What have we as Americans been investing in for the past 30 years – in God, or in personal wealth and selfish gain?    Are we concerned about being rich towards God, or just in being rich?   Being rich towards God means being generous towards people, including the poor, needy and strangers.

A few other sayings of Jesus which are in the spirit of the Holiday Season:

“No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”   The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him.   (Luke 16:13-14)

“If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.  And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.  And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.  Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. “  (Luke 6:32-36)

 “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid.  But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind,  and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”   (Luke 14:12-14)

Sermon on the Rich Fool (1992)

Sermon notes 1992        (Ephesians 2:4-10)   and   Luke 12:16-21Today in our community we have been blessed by being witnesses to the baptism of Paul B…. It is a blessing for us in many different ways. We all have seen a child of this world born again as a child of God. We have watched Satan being thrown aside. We have caught a glimpse of the unending life in God’s Kingdom. In addition to all of these blessings, we each have had a chance to hear again the words of the baptismal prayers. These same prayers were once said over each of us. So at each baptism, we are given the blessed chance to renew our own commitment to God. We come to understand at each baptism what it is that God expects of each of us in this world, since each of us are also baptized into Christ.

I want to remind you briefly of one reason why we do baptize so that you can today more fully appreciate the baptism of Paul and your own baptism.

We baptize in order to give a new birth and life to people. We are born into this world as a child of this world. But this world, although filled with many tempting pleasures, can ultimately lead us only to sickness and death. For this world is a world corrupted, made sick, by sin, by a separation from the life-giving God. Through baptism, Paul, you, and I can now live for the true life, the spiritual life of God’s Kingdom. This is true life because it is unending life, and life without sickness, nor sorrow nor any pain whatsoever.

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.           (Ephesians 2:10)

We all are the workmanship of God. God fashioned each and every one of us for life with Him. However, that beautiful craftmanship of God has been badly battered and scarred by the evil of Satan, as well as by our own rebelliousness against God. The eternal beauty has been lost in us. Christ Jesus came into the world to restore that beauty to us. In baptism, the dirt and filth of this corrupted life are washed away in order that true beauty of the spiritual birth can be revealed to us.

As St. Paul said, God created us for good works in Christ Jesus. God intended us to do the good works of His blessed Gospel commandments. He wants us to “walk in them”. To walk in them means to follow them and to do them. But that must be our own choice. We must train ourselves to do the good which God has set before us. This training which is the discipline of Christ’s disciples is something we all must choose if we want to preserve the beauty of the baptismal life. To all of us today, but especially to Paul’s parents, godparents and grandparents, it is up to you to train him in the way he should walk to keep the beauty of God’s workmanship. You have baptized him, now you must teach him how to be a disciple of Christ.

One aspect of being God’s child and disciple was taught us in today’s Gospel lesson. The rich man who was storing up great wealth for a life of ease in this world, only to discover that he had to die. Since he had lived only for himself and his own pleasure, he found himself totally impoverished when he died and came face to face with God. All of us who are baptized, think about this lesson. To walk in the way of the Lord, means not to live for a life of greed and getting more wealth in this world. The riches we accumulate in this world will do us no good in the world to come. Because when we die, we will leave all of this wealth behind. We must choose to despise worldly wealth and to live for God’s kingdom. For the Lord Jesus clearly taught that if we use the goods given to us for the love of God and of neighbor, those riches will be stored up for us in the world to come.

Remember the lesson of the rich man. All of us are to teach the lessons of Christ. The best teacher is our own EXAMPLE.

O Lord, help us to enter upon this spiritual manner of living, both thinking and doing such things as are well pleasing to you. Amen.

The Parable of the Rich Fool

nikolaivelimCommenting on Luke 12:16-21, the Parable of the rich fool, Bishop Nikolai Velimirovic wrote that a man so blessed should have not been boastful but spoke to God in a spirit of Thanksgiving:  

“Jesus spoke a parable unto them, saying: ‘The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully; and he thought within himself, saying: ‘What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits?” He was not just rich; he had such a yield from his harvest that he did not know where to store it. Looking at his wheat-covered fields, and his orchards and vineyards whose branches were weighted down by fruit, his gardens overflowing with all kinds of vegetables and his hives full of honey, this rich man did not look towards heaven and cry out with joy; ‘Glory and praise to You, O most high and merciful God! How great an abundance You have, in Your power and wisdom, brought forth from the black earth! You have, through the sun’s rays, poured sweetness into all the fruits of the earth! You have given every fruit a wonderful form and particular flavor! You have rewarded me a hundredfold for my small labors! You have had mercy on Your servant, and have poured such gifts from Your full hands into his lap! O my most wondrous Lord, teach me to give joy to my brothers, sisters and neighbors with these Your gifts. May they, together with me, rejoice and thankfully glorify and praise Your holy name and Your inexpressible goodness.'”