Monday, August 5, 2013

18th Sunday in OT (C) - “What is the matter with matter?”

Luke 12: 13-21
August 4, 2013

GOSPEL READING: Parable of the Rich Fool

A man in the crowd said to Jesus, ‘Master, tell my brother to give me a share of our inheritance.’ ‘My friend,’ he replied, ‘who appointed me your judge, or the arbitrator of your claims?’ Then he said to them, ‘Watch, and be on your guard against avarice of any kind, for a man’s life is not made secure by what he owns, even when he has more than he needs.’

  Then he told them a parable: ‘There was once a rich man who, having had a good harvest from his land, thought to himself, “What am I to do? I have not enough room to store my crops.” Then he said, “This is what I will do: I will pull down my barns and build bigger ones, and store all my grain and my goods in them, and I will say to my soul: My soul, you have plenty of good things laid by for many years to come; take things easy, eat, drink, have a good time.” But God said to him, “Fool! This very night the demand will be made for your soul; and this hoard of yours, whose will it be then?.” So it is when a man stores up treasure for himself in place of making himself rich in the sight of God.’

REFLECTION: “What is the matter with matter?”

This gospel episode has been often and aptly entitled, “The Parable of the Rich Fool.” The focus of the story is not on the adjective “rich,” but on the noun-substantive “fool.” It is not per se a condemnation of material goods, nor of wealthy people as an economic class. Matter and millionaires are also creatures of God. It is really about greed (pleonexia), about excessive, obsessive desire and drive for material possessions, and its inherent insatiability.

In the story, greed has turned the rich person into a soliloquist, someone talking with himself. In the context of Palestinian culture, this self-discourse is highly anomalous, for persons are always persons-with, defined in-relation-to-others, belonging to family, to clan, to tribe, to peoples, to nations.  So, the rich person’s interior monologue betrays sinful selfishness, “I… my… myself.” All his wealth has made him closed upon himself. Rest, eat, drink, be merry!  “It’s more fun when you are only one.” There is no sense of other; there is no sense of God.

But “our lives will be demanded (apaiteo) of us…”  We are to account before God, for every missed opportunity to share, to help, to give what is due to others, to use our wealth and treasure to lift the lot of our fellows and to mirror God’s mercy.

This story offers a tragic lesson that is most relevant in our present times. We have invented a science of productivity and efficiency, with the objective of maximizing yield and profit. Yet, most of our people are still hungry, unemployed, impoverished, disempowered, victimized by unjust social structures. We have hoarded grain and goods, continued to abuse the pork-barrel of largesse and excess, stockpiled on waste and weapons, painted rosy economic pictures of sugary surveys and surface statistics. Yet, there is a persistent, pervading, punishing poverty all around – one that resists doled out palliatives, defies capitalist forecasts, excludes the majority of the poor from the minority of prosperity, renders growth as artificial good news. We have become foolish for treasures for ourselves, but not in what matters to God and to our fellow human beings.

But the parable is open-ended. It does not say whether the rich person died or repented of his ways and began to store up treasures in heaven. So, it invites us to provide the answer, the conclusion to the story, to complete the parable by what we do with our riches, by what we do with our lives.

Let us heed this invitation, this imperative of the Gospel, to be on guard against all greed, against selfishness, against foolishness. What matters is not matter, but its righteous use.


FR. CLARENCE C. MARQUEZ, OP is a priest of the Order of Preachers. He is the Director of the Institute of Preaching.


Ordinary Time, Cycle C, OP Friars, Greed, Wealth, Parable, Selfishness, Foolishness   

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