Scripture for this Sunday: Hosea 11.1-11 (God bewails the turning away of the people of Israel); Psalm 107.1-9,43; Colossians 3.1-11; Luke 12.13-21 (the parable of the rich fool who builds bigger barns to keep more for himself only to die suddenly).
Several years ago, I was asked to lead the funeral for a lady who had died in her mid-60s, and noticed that the grieving seemed to be rather subdued. I learned that after suffering from rheumatic fever as a child, she was left with a damaged and patched-up heart, and faced years of medical intervention. As a result, she understood that her life was, in effect, borrowed time. She was open and honest about her health condition, but was neither maudlin nor self-centred about it. What she had done was to learn to live with death, and so learn how to live with life, and she had educated her family carefully in the matter of her mortality and the value of life.
Her faith was somewhat private, yet a version of 1 Corinthians 13 (Love is patient, love is kind …) on her wall made sufficient impact on her grandson that he asked to read it at her funeral – evidently he saw its message reflected in his grandmother. She left behind a loving, cohesive family, with two adult children in stable, loving marriages – not easy on today’s world.
This is very different from rich people building ever-bigger barns as they live in denial of their mortality. Jesus’ parable rings very true in a modern world in which the rich not only get richer, but try to persuade all around them that acquiring more gives meaning to life. This is a very basic part of human nature, exploited by advertisers: we want our life choices to be affirmed, and we want others to be like us.
Jesus obviously understood the pressures of the culture around him, that was not so very different from our supposedly sophisticated culture today. Jesus came to teach and demonstrate that the blessed life is not about materialism but is about being in relationship with God, about being rich in God’s blessings, and sharing God’s blessings with those around us in the relationships that we share.
He redirected attention away from a leading question about inheritance towards a more serious question: what is the purpose of human life? What are we worth?
Like many things, the world in which we live and its values begin at home. Charity begins at home, so the saying goes, and so does love: love of God and love of one another as we love ourselves in a healthy and fulfilling way.
What will we leave behind? Full barns, or full hearts? John of the Cross left this relevant thought: “In the twilight of life, God will not judge us on our earthly possessions and human successes, but on how well we have loved.”
Even a patched-up heart has an enormous capacity for love to share and give away. What about ours?