Someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me." But he said to him, "Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?" And he said to them, "Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions." Then he told them a 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." -Luke 12:13-21
Montaigne said, “It's not the want, but rather abundance that creates avarice.” As soon as Jesus begins the parable, we don't much like this rich farmer congratulating himself for earth's bounty, planning to pull down his barns to build bigger ones, hording not for on behalf of neighbors to protect them from famine, but for his own accumulation of profit and selfish pleasure. Jesus said, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions."
I thought of the materialistic Soames Forsyte (meditation one) sitting in the splendor of an autumn day not quite understanding (after 921 pages!) that beauty cannot be grasped and possessed. I thought of Midas, who lost all he had to the much anticipated magic that turned everything he touched to gold (meditation two). But the hoarding of self (meditation three) is the true tragedy of life.
Rather, Jesus said, “be rich toward God” - an invitation to discover moment by moment the meaning of this mutual daily windfall.
Wishing you a wealth of blessings, Suzanne
Meditation One (introit) you just don't get it, do you? In this scene, Soames Forsyte, the "man of property," reflects upon his life as he sits near the family tomb at Highgate cemetery. Softened by the events of the past week, affected by the melancholy beauty of the autumn day, Soames came nearer than he had ever been to realization of that truth - passing the understanding of a Forsyte pure - that the body of Beauty has a spiritual essence, uncapturable save by a devotion which thinks not of self. After all, he was near that truth in his devotion to his daughter; perhaps that made him understand a little how he had missed the prize. …
… And only one thing really troubled him, sitting there - the melancholy craving in his heart - because the sun was like enchantment on his face and on the clouds and on the golden birch leaves, and the wind's rustle was so gentle, and the yew-tree green so dark, and the sickle of a moon pale in the sky. He might wish and wish and never get it - the beauty and the loving in the world! -John Galsworthy 1867-1933 The Forsyte Saga
Avaritia, Pieter van der Heyden after Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1588
Kicking the bucket
Once upon a time there was a cow. In all the world there was no animal which so regularly gave so much milk of such high quality.
People came from far and wide to see this wonder. The cow was extolled by all. Fathers told their children of its dedication to its appointed task. Ministers of religion adjured their flocks to emulate it in their own way. Government officials referred to it as a paragon which right behavior, planning and thinking could duplicate in the human community. Everyone was, in short, able to benefit from the existence of this wonderful animal.
There was, however, one feature which most people, absorbed as they were by the obvious advantages of the cow, failed to observe. It had a little habit, you see. And this habit was that, as soon as a pail had been filled with its admittedly unparalleled milk - it kicked it over.
-Idries Shah 1924-1996 Wisdom of the Idiots
Where there is greed, what love can there be ?
He who distinguishes the true savor of his food can never be a glutton; he who does not cannot be otherwise.
The Prodigal Son, Gerrit Van Honthorst, 1622 (the young man's new "friends" prey on his wealth.) Eating, drinking, and making merry...
Meditation Two (insight) expensive breakfast In this re-told tale, King Midas has been given the ability to turn to gold all that he touches - including his food, his garden roses, and, later in the story, his beloved daughter. And, truly, my dear little folks, did you ever hear of such a pitiable case in all your lives? Here was literally the richest breakfast that could be set before a king, and its very richness made it absolutely good for nothing. The poorest laborer, sitting down to his crust of bread and cup of water, was far better off than King Midas, whose delicate food was really worth its weight in gold. And what was to be done? Already, at breakfast, Midas was excessively hungry. Would he be less so by dinner time? And how ravenous would be his appetite for supper, which must undoubtedly consist of the same sort of indigestible dishes as those now before him! How many days, think you, would he survive a continuance of this rich fare? -Nathaniel Hawthorne 1804-1864 The Golden Touch
Meditation Three (integration) to hoard the self
It is a most significant fact that man is not sufficient to himself, that life is not meaningful to him unless it is serving an end beyond itself, unless it is of value to someone else. The self may have the highest rate of exchange, yet men do not live by currency alone, but by the good attainable by expending it. To hoard the self is to grow a colossal sense of the futility of living.
-Abraham Joshua Heschel 1907-1972 Man Is Not Alone: A Philosophy of Religion
The Last Word
Earth provides enough to satisfy everyone's need, but not everyone's greed. -Mahatma Gandhi 1869-1948
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." -Luke 12:19-21
What does this mean, “rich toward God”?
When I pay attention to the present moment, I feel God lavishing riches upon me. Paying attention, I suppose, is letting myself be rich toward God.
In this moment: the scent of earth still clinging to me after weeding the lavender. The still, cool air on my skin. Ginger tea warming my throat. The robin's clear dawn melody. First shafts of sunshine pouring through the trees on the east side of house.
I've had a few friends who, when they were dying, or having nearly died, immersed themselves in deep gratitude. Gratitude - not that they are dying of course - but grateful that dying awakened them to life. They lived at the last knowing the preciousness of every moment. Friendships appreciated. Shedding bad relationships and habits. Not so much ambitiously “making the most” of the remaining time, but summoning love toward life each moment. Not so much checking things off an extravagant bucket list, as admiring the symmetry of the bucket itself. Even in diminishment, enlarging the capacity to love.
I don't mean to glamourize dying. More often, that kind of heightened consciousness is impossible through trauma and pain. I'm inspired nevertheless by these friends I mentioned. I'm reminded of Benedict's admonition to “keep death always before you” for the very practice of daily waking and re-awakening to life against death. Anchorites took a scoop out of their graves every day for the same reason. Or stitched on their shrouds. So that they might remember the 'one thing necessary' - that they might love the gift of life.
Being rich toward God seems to me to be more about consciousness than bustling around the church managing God's business. Noticing the scent of lavender and earth and early morning and still being grateful for it by the end of the day. Noticing the other: taking risks in love for Love disguised as the unlovable.
Comforting words from Teresa should I ever be too sick to express my love - “Prayer is an act of love, words are not needed. Even if sickness distracts thoughts, all that is needed is the will to love.”*
Give me a heart of flesh to replace this heart of stone. Help me to be present to You this moment in love. And the next moment. Help me to know You in love and in Your Love. Give me a habit of love, so that when that 'very night' comes, I might respond in love and in Love. Amen.