I have to admit that I still had last week’s gospel on my mind as I prepared for this week’s homily. Last week, I mused about the apostles’ request for Jesus to teach them to pray, his response of the Lord’s Prayer, and then the parable about knocking, asking, requesting. Last week, I wondered about our attitude as we pray. Of course, there are many moods and attitudes that accompany us to moments of prayer, but the one that concerned me was the disposition in which we expected God to be our valet, our concierge, and prayer was simply the currency of exchange.
Immediately following Jesus’ teaching of his disciples, we have the episode where a man shouts out from the crowd: “Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.” Is the man addressing the Messiah? More likely he is reducing Jesus to an estate lawyer. One wonders about the disposition of his heart. Perhaps he just wants what is fair – and who doesn’t? Maybe his older brother is being unfair – who knows. But one can’t help but think that the man’s desire for fairness and what he assesses as his part of the inheritance is embittering his heart. He’s so worried about fairness and scarcity that he doesn’t even notice justice and abundance standing right next to him in the person of Jesus. He’s so narrowly focused on his economic affairs that he has no bandwidth for the salvation Jesus offers. As I mentioned, he reduces Jesus to an estate lawyer.
The man in the parable of the rich fool also has some work to do on his inner life before God. He is quite taken with himself and his accomplishments. In two verses he manages to refer to himself 13 times! Unlucky number that. “You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?” There is a part of me that agrees the man should have some degrees of freedom to use his hard-earned money. There is a part of me that agrees with the one seeking fairness. But it seems those things are not so much on Jesus’ list of concerns.
In the carefully crafted narrative, Jesus sees someone who makes no connection between his accomplishments and any other human being – he is vainly a “self-made man.” Apparently forgetting God made him and forgetting that all things come from God, all is gift and that we are called to receive the gifts in gratitude, nurture them, use them justly, and in some way, return them to their rightful owner: God. What the rich fool has forgotten is at the core of our Eucharistic prayer: “Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the bread we offer you: fruit of the earth and work of human hands, it will become for us the bread of life.”
We need to be on guard about our attitude for prayer and God – and make sure we have not compartmentalized our life into secular and sacred realms. What happens in our so-called secular lives has a way to creeping into our life of faith. The estate claims we made can’t help but begin to change our view of brother into obstacle or a competitor. The accumulation of possession, wealth, fame, power and all the rest can lure us into the false sense of our own self-sufficiency.
Think about your own state in life. In my case, it is as a Franciscan priest. You can’t say I am exactly like the rich fool, after all, as a Franciscan I gave away all my money, stocks, real estate, and possessions. So, I don’t need Jesus as an estate lawyer. Hopefully I don’t pray as though our Lord and Savior is a personal concierge. But what about this great gift of being a priest? While I worked hard at seminary, I had lots of help along the way: mentors, formation directors, professors, family, friends, and more. It doesn’t occur to me that I am a “self-made priest.” Well, good for me…but – do I continue to:
- receive this gift in gratitude? When I am tired, at the end of a day, do I see the next person wanting something of me as a burden or am I grateful that I can again use God’s gifts.
- Do I nurture the gift? Do I spend time in prayer, in preparing homilies, reading Scripture, being healthy, getting enough sleep so that the next person is not a burden?
- Do I use the gift justly and share it? Which I am more likely to respond to – a generous donor or a parishioner that is pretty inactive in the parish, even in Mass attendance. What about an after-hours call from Tampa General? A patient in hospice on South Dale Mabry, not a parishioner, but they can’t find a priest?
- Do I return the gift to the One from whom it came in the first place?
Am I a good steward of the gift of priesthood?
The same questions apply to your lives, occupations and avocations. I think tomorrow is the start of the academic year for our teachers. Talk about a group of people who are gifted and dedicate a lifetime to sharing the gift of knowledge with our most precious gift – our children. Yet…the same questions can be asked. Nurses, doctors, police officers, first responders, software developers, real estate agents, and the list goes on. Gratitude. Nurturing. Sharing. Returning. Are you a good steward of the gifts you have been given?
Hopefully none of us are fools, and this night will pass in peace and we all see the morning – but will we fall asleep this evening having stored up treasures that matter to God, having been a good steward of God’s gifts? I hope so.