Sunday, November 23, 2008

Which Way Will You Turn?

My mother tells a story about my grandfather that I think many of you would appreciate. My uncle used to live in Miami so every winter my grandfather would spend several weeks on vacation enjoying the sun and fishing almost every day in the ocean. One time, as the story goes, my grandfather was really excited about a fishing trip they were going to take the next morning. You see, two days later he was going back to Chicago. This would be his last trip out for the season. He couldn’t sleep that night, not because he was so excited….just the opposite. He couldn’t sleep because he was so anxious about how he was going to get all that fish back home in the airplane. What would he do if he caught too much? Would they even let him carry it on the plane? He didn’t want to just leave it in Miami. That night anxiety kept him from sleeping.

Anxiety is exactly the same emotion the rich farmer felt in this morning’s Gospel story. “The ground of a rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’” (Luke 12.16-17) You can almost feel his pain. After a long season, the harvest arrived and he had no place to store so much food. But the anxiety was blinding and he didn’t know where to turn for help so he looked to himself for the solution.

There were so many other places he could have turned for help if only he didn’t let anxiety get the better of him. The Gospel calls him a rich man, so he must have had servants. In fact, I would doubt he actually tilled the land himself. He may not have gotten very dirty at all. If we look again at the story it says, “The ground of a rich man yielded” This suggests that Christ wants us to see that the rich man was in total isolation from the work. He didn’t do the work, the ground did….and actually we know as Christians that it was God who made the earth yield a plentiful crop. And still the rich man turned to himself for the solution.

By turning to himself the rich man revealed his lack of consideration for others. The Gospel continues, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods.” (Luke 12.18) His barns were already full. It would not have been difficult for him to give some of his crops away, but he was thinking only of himself. He said, “I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.’” (Luke 12. 19) A blinding anxiety had total control of the rich man. Not only was he blind to those around him, he was blind to God.

“But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’” (Luke 12.20) The rich man spent so much time worrying about where he would store the crops (crops he didn’t even need) that he was blind to the fact that his wealth would not help him after he died. Christ says, “So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12.21)

What does it mean to be rich toward God? St Cyril of Alexandria says, “He who does not love wealth but rather loves virtue is rich toward God.” (Commentary on Luke, Homily 89) We are called to take care of each other. The rich man kept turning only to himself. He was blind to the needs of others around him so when he died the food was wasted. Another saint of the Church says, “How will he know where to look, when at the trial he starts hearing the words, ‘I was hungry and you did not give me to eat.’” (St. Augustine Sermon 36.9) The rich man did not cherish love for the poor; he only had love for himself. Otherwise, he would have looked to others for a solution.

The real solution, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, is to look to God. If we look to God then anxiety cannot blind us. If we look to God we will see the needs of others and the excess we have to share. If we look to God, we will be rich toward Him. Christ says, “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; nor about the body, what you will put on. Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing.” (Luke 12.22-23)

We live in a society that tells us: “Be your own person!” or “Don’t depend upon others, but depend upon yourself!” and the worst, “God helps those who help themselves.” This last one by the way is NOT in the Bible and it is nowhere in our Orthodox Christian Tradition. Today’s Gospel lesson teaches the exact opposite. The rich man said to himself, “Eat, drink, and be merry.” He was being his own man, and that didn’t get him very far.

“This night your soul will be required of you.” If we die tonight how would we respond? Have we spent more energy worrying about where or how we were going to store our wealth instead of how we could use our wealth to help others? When the Stock Market lost billions of dollars last month, did any of our worrying beforehand keep it from happening? Has our worrying helped since? We can only look to God.

Christ says, “Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap, which have neither storehouse nor barn; and God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds? And which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?” (Luke 12.24-25) The rich man turned to himself and was condemned, the birds turn toward God and are saved. Which way will we turn?

By the way, after a long night with no sleep, my grandfather didn’t catch one fish. A lot of good all the worrying did.

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