18th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C
What Is Enough?
Jesus preaches generosity throughout the gospels. When we share, in theory we offer another some of our bounty. Generosity and sharing denote a gift, a no-strings-attached offering to someone else. So, when this gospel passage kicks-off with the demand, “Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me” (v. 13), it’s a little disconcerting. I picture two toddlers, one being forced to hand over a handful of legos and the other grabbing at the bricks in spiteful glee. Demand, forced, grabbing, spiteful glee—these are not words in the lexicon of sharing, yet they come to mind at the beginning of this passage.
When Jesus says, “Take care to guard against greed” (v. 15), He actually admonishes both brothers. Maybe the one with the goods does need to share, but the other needs to consider whether he actually needs his brother’s bounty or if he just wants more. More does not necessarily make for a rich life.
Jesus goes on to tell the parable of the rich fool. The rich fool is blessed with a bountiful harvest, so bountiful that he redoes his barns to accommodate the abundance. Then he looks at his full, redone barns and smiles. He’s set for an early retirement. Life is good.
There’s anything wrong with this scenario per se—the rich fool hasn’t hurt anyone in saving up his harvest. He has probably employed locals who needed a job in the rebuilding of his barns, so in that way he’s contributed to the community. When he retires, he won’t be a burden on anyone because he has full barns. Life is good.
The problem is the man’s focus was entirely on himself. He has extra and doesn’t share. He thinks only about his future and how good he has made his own life. Jesus reminds his listeners that treasure “stored up” (v. 21) doesn’t make you rich. More does not necessarily make for a rich life. We all need enough. But once we have enough, more is just more and doesn’t get us anything of worth. More tricks us into believing we are self-reliant and don’t need God.
As usual in the gospels, we can’t know, but I suspect the listener in the crowd didn’t need any of his brother’s inheritance. I suspect he had enough on his own and was just looking for more. But Jesus doesn’t justify going after more. Jesus justifies sharing what we have rather than building bigger barns to hold a lucky windfall. Jesus always wants our attention to be turned outward to the other and not inward on ourselves. It’s a difficult and not a natural stance, but real wealth is achieved, not by demanding our fair share, but by changing our perspective. Once we recognize the power and authority that come from understanding the depth of our dependence on God, we have all the more we need.