What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. — James 4:14
I wonder if today’s parable is not lost on us. We think that saving for the future is a virtue and the parables we tell ourselves are of grasshoppers and ants, parables that, at least on that surface, put us on the side of the rich fool in Luke 12.
It would seem from the episode that brought on the parable that Jesus sees greed in the request from a man in the crowd to act as arbiter of an inheritance dispute. As a matter of fact, he says so outright. To drive the matter home, Jesus follows the parable with a sermonette urging us not to worry about tomorrow so much. It will worry about itself. The ants in the room cringe at this every time they hear it.
What of value does the man in the parable actually do? The language of the parable is quite clear: The Land has produced a large harvest, not the man. That too may be a lost thought, tractors, industrial planting techniques, fertilizer and weed or pest control measures available through good chemistry seem to make growing a crop less a gift than a labor mixed in with a bit of luck.
Worse, most of us live from the products of lands far away. We eat stuff that has never seen our faces when it was just beginning to grow. We are strangers to the food we eat. The money that is in our bank accounts on the other hand has the sweat of our brows written upon it and, yes: ”we did that,” or at least or family and ancestors “did that.“
Every year my congregation sponsors a community yard sale. We have done it for 30 years now. We have spent 30 years contemplating the flotsam of the generations pass over our fellowship hall tables. Heirlooms and novel ideas from days past. Technology once great and marvelous now on sale for $1 if you would be so kind to save us the trip to the tech-recyclers. Things once deemed precious now available for a quarter and much will go from our tables to yet other yard sales from whence many had come. Today’s precious things will come across the table in due time.
This seems to be there accounting that Jesus holds up for us. In the words of Psalm 49 (also in the lectionary for today): “6 We can never ransom ourselves, or deliver to God the price of our life; 7 For the ransom of our life is so great, that we should never have enough to pay it, 8 In order to live for ever and ever, and never see the grave.”
In these days, it might be a good approach to life to meditate on the impermanence of life. As I write, yet another act of small scale terrorism has taken place through the night, this time in France where a church was stormed, hostages taken, and a priest murdered. As I write, yet another political party is putting on a dog and pony show to convince me that only they can protect my life and only they can assure that I will live prosperously and only they are privy to the secret wisdom that will make life work out best for me. All I have to do is give them treasure so they can assure it by the election they hope to buy from those unwashed imbeciles that must be swayed by adverts on the telly.
The depth of greed might well be the will or hope to live life on our own terms, live it without want, need, or terror, and live it forever. The parable answers: That is not the outcome and not the purpose of life. The riches you have, the crops that God gave you, the breath in your lungs, the very life you live is not yours for you did not cause it. These are gifts given from eternity to be used for . . . well, for whom? You? Just you? Is it all about you? Peace on earth, is it just about and for you so you need not be afraid? Making peace is it about peace or is it about you being claimed the peacemaker?
It is the hardest thing in the universe to live the idea that our lives are given to be lived for others. To say that God is love is to say that God is for us. To use St Therese Lisieux: In this mixed up world will you too ”Be Love?”