The comedian George Carlin had a routine about stuff; all the stuff we accumulate and the hilarious antics we go through to accommodate our stuff. Cable TV has a new show called “Hoarders” about people who hoard possessions to the point of a serious addiction. One of the fastest growing businesses over the past 30 years is self storage units; because all our stuff can’t fit in our homes anymore. And the busiest day of the year in Abita Springs is the day we have our all town garage sale. Yes, we love our possessions.
Probably everybody here has cleaned out the attic. Until my wife and I did this a few months ago I went to bed every night praying that the ceiling would hold. How about cleaning out the garage? One of my friends just announced that after 6 years of living in their new house they can finally park the car in the garage. And probably all of us have made at least a couple of trips to Goodwill with all the old stuff that no longer fits or is no longer in style.
Possessions are sometimes very necessary. Possessions alone are not the problem; the constant need to accumulate possessions is the problem. Sometimes our possessions can prevent us from having right relationships with each other. Possessions may also hinder our personal relationship with Jesus.
As people of faith, what are the possessions we need to rid ourselves of to focus more intimately on Jesus?
The parable we hear today in St. Luke’s Gospel is most commonly referred to as that of the rich fool. The rich man, who has more than enough for himself and his family, is blessed with more. When he takes stock of just how much he has he chooses to tear down barns and buildings and build larger ones so he can keep his excess. And the rich fool then rejoices in his largess by uttering that well known phrase: rest, eat, drink and be merry!
But as with all of the parables Jesus shares, this one too has a larger lesson. In this parable Jesus actually uses the name of His Father as he says that God calls the rich man a fool and explains his life will be taken. This is the classic warning: you can’t take it with you. Jesus instructs in this parable that we are to store our treasures for that which matters to God.
Is God condemning wealth and possessions? Not necessarily. What Jesus is teaching us in this lesson is that our over-worldly desire to acquire more, to have bigger, better, newer is greed; and Jesus tells us guard against all greed. Jesus knows that left to our own designs, greed will choke off our ability to understand what true wealth is: the fullness of life that His Father and our Father too, wants to give us; in this life and eternal life.
Notice what is lacking in the parable of the rich fool. With his bountiful harvest and vast possessions he offers none to his neighbor, none to the poor, and none to those living on the fringes of society. He is not generous. Just last week we heard how generous our Heavenly Father is to those of us he calls His children. God wants us to be generous too; we should share with those who do not have what we may be blessed to have. This is such a profound teaching of the Church that in many of the papal encyclicals the Pope’s have explained about the need for the poor to take from those with abundance, if absolutely necessary for life and survival. And in another encyclical the rights of poorer nations to receive aid and support from richer nations is clearly spelled out.
Two great stories come to mind today about what really matters. In the Acts of the Apostles, as Peter and John are leaving the temple they are asked for money from a poor beggar who could not walk. Peter, with all Christian charity tells the beggar: I have neither silver nor gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus rise and walk. And he was healed. No possession could ever truly give the man real happiness; but the healing love of Jesus most certainly does. And I’m reminded of St. Lawrence, the Deacon of the early church who was persecuted by the emperor. He told Lawrence he could escape death if he gathered up all the riches of the church and brought them to him. Lawrence went and gathered all the people of the church, the poor among them and marched them in front of the emperor and promptly told him: these are the true riches of the church. Things are not valuable; people are. And as people, we are called to take that value into a personal relationship with Jesus and a caring, loving relationship with each other.
Where I minister in prison the men are stripped of possessions. Some take that opportunity to do something with their time in jail. Some pursue their education, others earnestly seek a relationship with God through the many ministries there, and some do both and some don’t care.
How can we, in the week ahead, strip ourselves of those possessions, the stuff George Carlin talked about, the emotional baggage too that may prevent us from deepening our relationship with Jesus and each other? Start this week in prayer. May I suggest we pray with this Gospel, Luke 12: 13-21 and the story from Acts of the Apostles 3: 1-10? Then as our prayer takes hold this week focus on one possession, tangible or not, that dominates us and holds us back from giving more to God and to others. Work on letting that possession go; or at least minimize its impact in our life. And then pick one activity; the food bank, our own St. Vincent de Paul Society, Habitat, the Crisis Pregnancy Center, even our own collection basket when it passes by in the pew, and be generous.
May we rid ourselves of all our physical, emotional and mental stuff and junk; may we clean out our own spiritual attics and garages and replace this stuff with our real inheritance; the fullness of all God offers us.
Yes, we love our possessions; but our life in Christ does not consist of possessions!