Bible Study: Leviticus 25:1-17, Ps.67 and Matthew 14:1-12
_“God said to him, `Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God” *(Luke 12:20-21).*_
Last Sunday, the focus of our reflection was on the power of prayers. We saw how God was willing to negotiate with Abraham for the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, the fact that God was willing to spare the city if only Abraham had continued his negotiation further. We saw the need for persistence in prayer with the story given by Jesus of a man who went to his friend at night demanding for some loaves of bread. In fact, Jesus assured us last Sunday that anyone who asks receives, anyone who seeks finds and anyone who knocks will have the door opened because God is the father who will not give a snake to his children when they ask for fish.
Today, surprisingly, a young man prayed to Jesus imploring Him to come and settle a property dispute with his brother, but Jesus who had said earlier that whatever we ask we shall receive, responded saying: “Man, who made me a judge or divider over you” (Luke 12:14)? Definitely, this response of Jesus did not go down well with the man who came with faith expecting that Jesus, a promoter of social justice would heed his prayer.
This scene truly raises a lot of questions. Could it be that there are some prayers that God does not answer? Is there anything wrong with asking for riches or financial prosperity? Didn’t God so shower riches on Abraham to the extent that the land could not accommodate himself and Lot his cousin? What is Jesus really teaching us today? *Lesson One: Beware of all Covetousness.*Reading through our Gospel passage, it is easy for us to wrongly assume that Jesus was condemning riches, but in truth Jesus was actually condemning the following;*1*. The worship of riches*2*. The feeling that our life is secure based on the abundance of our possessions *3*. Our willingness to do anything just for the sake of riches (covetousness on the part of the brother who refused to release the father’s inheritance)*4*. Selfishness; thinking only of ourselves and *5*. Wastefulness; storing up riches instead of helping to better the lives of others who are in need.
I can go on to expand on these five points, but the message is clear. To be rich is not a sin, but to worship riches and to fail to use riches properly is a mortal sin. Jesus does not condemn the rich, rather he condemns covetousness; greediness, avarice, inordinate desire for another person’s possessions.
*Lesson Two: Take Care of Your Soul; Be Rich towards God.*The rich man in the parable said: “I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample good laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.” The man did not realize that the survival of his soul does not depend on earthly riches. Recall our penny catechism teaches us that we are made of body and soul; that we must care for our souls more than our bodies because it is immortal. “For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life (his soul)?” (Matthew 16:26)
The reason this man is called a fool is that he acted as if there is no God. Remember the Psalmist says: “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 14:1, 53:1). He was wise enough to know how to plant, but was foolish by his failure to be rich towards God. What does it mean to be rich towards God? “Let him:’ says St. Bede, “who wishes to be rich in God, not lay up treasure to himself, but distribute his possessions among the poor.” Furthermore, St. Augustine teaches us “he is rich to God who is full of love and therefore of God.” 1 John 4:16 says: “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” St. Augustine explains: “If you have love you have God. What has the rich man if he has no love? If a poor man has love, what has he not? You think him rich perhaps whose chest is full of gold, and is he not so whose conscience is full of God? He is truly rich in whom God deigns to dwell.”
My brothers and sisters, what do you hope to do with all that extra money you have stored up in your bank account? Have you written your will? If God were to demand for your soul this very night, would He call you a fool? Some of us are so foolish that we don’t even tell our spouses how much we have in our account. A man died recently with billions in his account and his wife went begging, almost selling herself to bury him. Only his account officer knew how much he had. According to St. Ambrose “The things that we cannot carry with us are not our own. Virtue alone is the companion of the dead. Mercy alone follows us—and mercy alone gains abodes for the departed.”
*Lesson Three: Wealth and Vanity Are not The Same Thing*.”The word ‘vanity’ is the English translation of the Hebrew word ‘hebel’ which means ‘breath’ or ‘air’. In our first reading, the preacher’s aim is to draw our attention to the futility (emptiness, senselessness, mere breath) of toiling and working so hard for wealth which neither brings us satisfaction nor last forever. It is mere breath to work so hard and hand over riches to your children who will not value it since they did not work for it. It is mere breath to spend your health to make money because there is no amount of money you can use to buy back your health.
Our first reading is not fatalistic. It only warns us of the danger of making the pursuit of wealth our highest priority in life. There is a way to be wealthy that would not amount to vanity. This when we are committed to training our children, instead of simply transferring wealth to them. Do not spend the whole day working, come home early to rest. Spend more time with your children, be involved in their lives, don’t leave them at the mercy of house-helps, don’t assume the eight or nine hours they spend in school is enough to give them sound moral upbringing. If money is not a priority, then either of both spouses can decide not to work (or work from home) just to be available for the children. Pursing money at the expense of children is vanity, it is a mere breath.
*Lesson Four: Some Prayers are not Worth Answering.*If you read Luke chapter 12 beginning from verse 1 down to where our Gospel passage today begins, you would immediately realize that this man actually interrupted Jesus. He was not even listening to what Jesus was saying. “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Luke 12:6-7). Sadly, many of us are in the same shoes as this man. We come to church not because we desire to improve our spiritual life, but because we want our share of property.
This is where many fake men and women of God actually take advantage of us. They know the economy is bad, they know our minds are thinking of how to make money so they twist God’s word to suit us, they tell us what we want to hear, they get us super excited and make us do their bidding. This explains the abuses we see today. Jesus told him the bitter truth. Jesus did not come to this world to make us millionaires; He came to lead us to heaven.
According to Saint Augustine, this man “begged half an inheritance on earth; the Lord offered him a whole one in heaven; he gave him more than he asked for.” The same Jesus who was willing to heal the sick, to raise the dead, etc. was not willing to go with this young man not because Jesus supports injustice, but because Jesus wanted him to have true riches. Jesus used the occasion to draw his attention to something of higher value – his soul and eternity. Some prayers are not answered not because God is incapable of answering, but because we ask wrongly. As James puts it: “You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. Unfaithful creatures! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:2-4).
*Lesson Five: Set Your Minds on Things Above.*Do you hold this doctrine: “if it is not making money, it is not making sense?” Do you dream of having lots of cars and houses that you wouldn’t know which one is which? Do you consider the good life as taking breakfast in Hawaii, lunch in Dubai and dinner in Lekki or Banana Island? Are these your life goals? Then you should reconsider. St. Paul tells us in our second reading to set our minds on things that are above by putting to death immorality, impurity, evil desires, covetousness and especially telling of lies. You would agree with me that the reason why many are engrossed with these sinful behaviours is money. Don’t fall into this trap, don’t be like the seed “sown among thorns; they are those who hear the word, but the cares of the world, and the delight in riches, and the desire for other things, enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” (Mark 4:18-19). Stop aiming to be the richest man on earth, satan will so entice you that you end up losing your religion. Aim rather for Sainthood
*In conclusion, Don’t Be a Fool.* Money is useless without your soul. Do you feel blessed with some money? Has your business prospered? Then “give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:13-14)
Do you have any extra money and you are thinking of what investment to do? Are you thinking of building a new barn? “You have it in the bellies of the poor” says St. Basil and St. Ambrose. St. Basil continues: “Thou hast storehouses; the bosoms of the poor, the houses of widows and orphans, the mouths of infants. Let these be thy barns, and they will last thee forever.” St. Basil again, in the homily above says: “He is a despoiler who, when he receives what he ought to dispense, considers it as his own. The bread thou hast is the bread of the famishing, thy robe is the robe of the naked, thy silver that is buried in the ground is the silver of the indigent: wherefore dost thou wrong so many poor whom thou mightiest support?”
Let us Pray: Lord Jesus, draw near to us, answer our prayers with you unceasing kindness, restore in us what you have created and keep safe in us what you have restored, Amen.
*Be Happy. Live Positive. Have Faith. It is well with you. God bless you. (Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time. Bible Study: Ecclesiastes 1:2,2:21-23, Ps.90, Colossians 3:1-5.9-11 and Luke 12:13-21).*