Two contrasting images bring out the meaning of the readings of today. The first is this: An advertisement company offered as its first prize, a two week paid holiday on an island. The winner would be the one who had the most money on the day he/she died.
The second is this: A televised interview with a man who had lost his house and all his possessions to a raging fire driven by strong winds somewhere in the world provides a striking contrast to the rich fool. Shortly before the fire, this man recalled that his brother had mused that they should be careful not to allow their possessions to possess them. Seeing everything he owned but the shirt on his back go up in smoke, he announced to the reporter, with a note of unexpected triumph: “I am a free man now!”
The Gospel text of today and the first reading are emphatic: We can take nothing with us. We leave everything when we leave. The story is told that, at the funeral of the fabulously wealthy Aristotle Onassis, one of the mourners turned to another and said, “How much did he leave?” The other replied, “Everything. He left everything.”
Both the Gospel and the first reading speak of a person so possessed of his possessions that he does not really possess them, but allows them to possess him. So deep is the man’s self-centredness that he can only think in terms of “my crops, my barns, my grain, my goods, and, finally, my soul”. This selfishness is what comes to haunt him at the end. His possessions have claimed him, they have controlled him, they have used him and, they have led to his death. The illusion that his properties and riches are inalienable and absolute is stripped away by the inalienable and absolute reality of death. He did not enjoy his riches when he was alive. And, another will own and possess them after his death.
This fact is made absolutely clear when not once in his soliloquy does the rich man of the Gospel think that he could give away out of the abundance he possesses. His concern is only to build bigger barns to store, for his sole benefit, the bounty he receives. This very clearly, according to the first reading of today, is vanity. Such a person is restless in the day and unable to sleep at night. He is worried in the day and anxious at night.
An antidote to this way is suggested by Paul in the second reading of today. He invites the Colossians to be concerned, not merely or firstly about earthly things but, to seek the things that are above. This heavenly mindedness is not to be understood as a form of inattentiveness about the things of this life. On the contrary, because one is first concerned about heaven, it will drive and motivate believers to put things in perspective. Believers will strive to live a full earthly life, one moment of one day at a time. This kind of life means that one is not obsessed or fixated on the future. Seeking the things above does not mean reduction of the Christian hope to “a pie in the sky when you die”. It means putting to death in oneself everything that is selfish and self-centred, especially insatiability which reveals itself in making things ends in themselves and giving things the status of a god. To seek the things above means seeking Christ and his way of proceeding. His way of proceeding always put the other before self. His way of proceeding is always concerned to share, not only from one’s bounty but, even from the little that one may have.
The challenge of the readings of today is an enormous one. We live in a world in which the larger majority live, not in the present or the now but mainly in the future or the tomorrow. It is also a world in which “having more’ is the criterion by which success and failure are defined and judged. The more one has, the more successful one is regarded. Thus, there is in many, an obsession to keep accumulating even at the expense and discomfort of others. These want bigger homes, bigger cars, bigger anything and everything simply because they have been taught to believe that bigger is always better. These are like the fool in the first reading and in the Gospel of today who will not share their bounty with anyone and who will never be satisfied, no matter how much they accumulate. These die without ever having lived.
Yet, there is also another way. Jesus has not only shown us this way, he is this way. He is the way of selflessness, self-sacrifice, and living contentedly in the present moment with no regrets about the past and no obsession with the future. He is the way in which “being more” and spending oneself in the service of others means more than egocentric, inconsiderate and uncaring living. He is the way in which success and failure are measured, not in terms of how much one possesses but in how much one dares to give away. He is the way which does not die but lives forever.