We’re all familiar with Jesus’ parable about the man who tore down his barns to build bigger ones in Luke 12:13 –21. The key to His teaching resides in verse 20. Most translations read: “Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou has prepared?” But that’s not exactly what our Lord says in Greek. The subject of what God says to the fool is not “thy soul” but “they” implied by the form of the verb “to require.” And the verb is not in the future, but the present tense. And so what our Lord actually said was: “They are requiring your very soul from you.” And the question is: Who is “they?” In the context, the answer is, of course, the things—all the stuff the rich man had been so concerned about that he built bigger barns to hold it all. A better translation might be this: “Fool! This night they are requiring your very soul from you. Now who owns whom?”
The moral of our Lord’s parable then is not “you can’t take it with you.” For the rich man in our Lord’s parable doesn’t die. He lives. The worst part about putting all your stock in stuff is not that you might die before you can enjoy it. But that you might actually live and be enslaved to it. For all the stuff the rich man thought he owned actually owns him. It dominates his life. He’s launched a demolition and construction program to support it all. He has to lie awake at night terrified that someone might slip in and steal it from him. He doesn’t own his stuff. The stuff owns him. But a man’s life doesn’t consist in his possessions. A man’s life consists in being possessed and being possessed by the right things.
We delude ourselves into thinking that we are in control. We think we control the things in our life. When in fact they call out to us night and day, day and night. Our flesh is easy prey for the devil and the world. Our hunger for the things of creation is insatiable. And we seek to consume it all. But it is vanity, a chasing after the wind. For in the midst of our consumption we find that we are the ones being consumed. It consumes us. It kills us. It possesses us. Fool, this night they are requiring your very life, your very soul from you.
The Holy Trinity does not share. You can have only one master. We belong to that which we love, and we are a slave to anything from which we will not walk away. Better to be a slave keeping the door in the house of the Lord than deluded in the tents of wickedness. Better to enter eternal life without an eye or a hand than to enter into the hell of fire fully intact.
It is only when we give things up, when we are content with nothing, that we can fully enjoy creation. Because when everything in this world is a gift, when nothing really belongs to us, then gratitude flourishes and joy grows free. Where mercy rules, joy abounds and love grows spontaneously.
And the most significant thing that does not belong to us is we ourselves. We must give up ourselves because we are not our own. We were bought with a price. We are possessed by the Lord. Remember the Catechism: “who redeemed me . . . purchased and won me . . . that I may be His own . . . .” He has taken us as His own by Water and Word. Redeemed in Christ, the poor in spirit are now rich toward God. We are free of this sad world and its uncertainties, free of trying to make our own way, of being perfect or even of being happy. You brought nothing into this world. You will take nothing out of it. Yet all of this world, in Christ, who gave up all things for us, is ours, because we are His. The irony is that in giving up all things we gain all things.
And this is what it means to be rich toward God. To be rich toward God is to empty ourselves of all things, to cast ourselves at his feet and like beggars, cry out for mercy and grace, for his undeserved love and kindness. To empty ourselves so that he can fill us up. Being rich toward God is simply to receive, to sit at the receiving end of his gifts. It is to recognize that He is the giver and we the those who receive. It is to receive daily bread, house and home, spouse and children, land and work and all that we have as gifts from His gracious and giving hands. It is to recognize that all that we have, all that we are, and all that we shall have and shall be are His. And in receiving Him, we have received all that we need and more.
And so with that in mind, let us turn our faces toward Bethlehem. For the Lord, our Possessor, has given up heaven and His Divine rights and power and has taken up our Flesh. He gives up His possessions so that they may be ours. He has given up his life so that that death would be for us true life. The Lord has emptied Himself of righteousness to be filled with our guilt and sin. He empties us of what is yours in order to fill you with Himself. We belong to Him, the Lord born in Bethlehem, murdered in Jerusalem, visible in Emmaus, and ascended into Heaven. For a man’s life consists in being possessed by the God who gives us all that we need for this life and the next. How can we not give back to Him in thanksgiving and gladly do what He says? Amen.