Summer’s half over – even more, if you live in northern places where the growing season is pretty short. The harvest is beginning to roll in now : our garden is chock full of tomatoes, collards, kale, garlic, carrots and….zucchini ! Yes, that wonderful green summer squash which threatens to take over not only your garden but perhaps the whole neighborhood as well. Everybody grows them, everybody enjoys them, and everybody wonders if you would “just, maybe, like a few ?” It may be Ordinary Time right now in the Church, but around here it’s also Zucchini Time – with all its attendant joys and difficulties. What do you do when you have too much of a good thing ?
The man in the parable has a similar problem. In fact, he’s had such a great harvest that he’s planning his retirement on it. We get to look into his mind as he starts drawing the blueprints for the giant new barns that will guard it all for him – everything will be NEW ! IMPROVED ! He even plans a speech to make to himself once the barns are in operation : “Eat, drink and be merry !” As we know, he never gets to give that speech because that very night God has another one in store for him. You have to hand it to Luke : he gets in a nice little ironic bit there with the two speeches – and not surprisingly, God gets the last word.
It’s not hard to draw lessons from this gospel : Jesus himself gives the punch line at the end of the parable : “Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.” So, if we manage to find takers for our zucchini and tomatoes, will all be well ? And if we don’t, if we freeze or can it all, are we in big trouble ?
Well, that’s a bit facetious, but we have to consider a few things as we pray with this gospel. What really was the trouble with the rich man of the story ? As far as we can see he wasn’t doing anything particularly unjust – just doing what anyone with a large inventory might do. So the problem might not lie in his actions, which were, after all, only in his mind’s eye that day. He never actually got his project off the ground. So how about if we look away from his proposed actions for a moment and think about his deeply held attitudes instead ?
The rich man’s harvest was “bountiful.” But from where did that bounty originate ? In another gospel Jesus points out that “the seed grows, and we know not how.” That’s a metaphor, but it’s also an agricultural fact. We may plant, but the seed works on its own, taking its life from the soil and the rain and the sun. The rich man seems unaware of these things ; in his eyes, the harvest is his, and because it’s his, he can do what he likes with it. It’s no longer about foodstuffs that have been grown but rather about accounting : so many bales of hay or sheaves of wheat to store up in those brand new granaries he’s got in mind, then on to the party.
As you read, you realize all of a sudden that there’s not a drop of thankfulness in him. It’s really quite stunning. No gratitude or even awareness of those natural processes that made the harvest possible. No thought to the sowers who planted it or the harvesters who gathered it in. Clearly no sense that God might have had a hand in it all. For the “hero” of this story, it’s all about his property, his “treasure,” and how he’ll handle it. He’s a rich guy, so it’s obvious that he’s somebody who knows what to do ; that’s how he got so rich in the first place, right ? Unfortunately for him, he’s also a rich guy in a parable, and that means that what’s obvious will get turned upside down. And it does. We discover that our rich man is so poor in the right kind of treasure that he winds up losing everything.
Let’s listen again to the words of Jesus : “Thus it will be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.” And so our question to Jesus has to be : “Well, what matters to God ?”
If you or I ask that question today in our prayer, what will his answer be ? Let’s not be afraid that he’ll say : “I already gave you that answer ; haven’t you learned anything yet ?” That’s not how Jesus works. He’s the one who always says : “Come unto me, all you who labor and are heavy burdened, and I will give you rest.” The one who says : “I am the Good Shepherd.” We know that we can take him at his word. So, let’s go ask the question, then listen carefully for his reply. What we hear will be the sound of real treasure.
Sr. Nuala Cotter, ra
Worcester, United States of America