THE RICH FARMER. Luke 12: 13 – 21
My first reading of the story we have just heard made me feel rather smug. Here is a character it is easy to dislike – a rich, self-indulgent farmer. He has had fantastic crops. This is probably because he owns a lot of slaves, who have to work very hard just for their poor food. They are probably beaten by overseers, as slaves were on the American plantations. They will get no benefit from these excellent crops. They will continue to live in squalid accommodation, on poor food and probably die young. If they run away they will be caught and either flogged to death or crucified.
Meanwhile the farmer piles up his wealth. Like the modern capitalist, at least the ones that our present government favours, he will not share his wealth. He will build bigger barns to maintain an even richer life style. He himself will take his ease, eat, drink and be merry. He will entertain his friends, men like himself. Food and wine will be wasted. Money will be poured out on display. Meanwhile the slaves will go on working, feeding their master’s greed. So when God comes to him and says: “Fool. This night your soul will be demanded of you.” We rejoice. That’s just how this story should end.
And we can feel smug because clearly we are not like this man. We may feel uncomfortable when we hear of the Pharisee and the publican because we are a bit too much like the Pharisee. We can feel uncomfortable when we read the story of the Good Samaritan. How often have we left wounded travellers on the side of the road? But we are not like this self-satisfied, rich farmer…Or are we?
We live in a big house. We live on invested income. It is quite possible some of that income comes from sources we would rather not know about. We are talking with architects now, partly to reduce our carbon footprint, but partly to make our lives more comfortable. Most of us would not vote for the present government of UK, but are we really that much different from them? Perhaps one point I am making is that, if our actual circumstances are at all like theirs, we have to be very sure that our manner of life, and the reasons for which we live this life, are those of the Gospel, not of the market place.
It’s not only us that I am talking about; it’s all the Christians who live in this country. Whatever, they think of their relative state of wealth and poverty, they live with a degree of comfort and security that is denied to a very large part of this world’s population. What should their reaction be to that?
We can press this story a little further. God told the rich farmer “Fool. Your soul will be demanded of you tonight.” Is that something we should all think about more? There are centuries in which monks lived with a skull before their eyes to remind them constantly that the point of their life is death. That sounds very gloomy to our present generation, but for a Christian it should not be. Maybe, we can do without the skull but if the Community of the Resurrection cannot present death, constantly and convincingly in its Christ given dress of life, then it’s little wonder we have so little impact on the world. It’s little wonder that only the most perceptive and courageous of young men seek to make a life with us. Most do not see the point.
And there is still another story to remember. The death offered to us is not just that of the cancer, the heart attack or the stroke. It is that long catalogue of disasters, which Br Patrick reminded us of last week on which our most fervent prayers seem to have no impact. War in Europe; wars in Africa, tyrannical regimes in Asia, the increase of populist governments in the West; the fallout from Brexit, the deaths from Covid; the threat of another pandemic triggered off by our destruction of the environment, and the rapidly increasing climate crisis. Is all that a way of God saying: “Fools. Your souls will be demanded of you soon?”
I think you get the picture. For all the beauty and gentleness of this world, the lovely people whom we know, the comfortable life we live and the joy of serving God in this Community there is yet a darkness all around us, which it is curiously easy to ignore. Today’s Gospel calls us to look at that darkness.
Is there an answer to this? Well, yes. There are lots of answers, some very long and complex. I cannot go into those now. But the basic truths are before us in today’s readings. We need to take them to heart.
Jesus himself says “Beware of all covetousness. A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Many outside this monastery do covet possessions, though they call themselves Christians. And there is much that each of us here covets. There is much work to be done in Benedictine life to root out the covetousness that lurks in all of us.
St Paul gives us the Christian hope of the Resurrection: “You have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” However dark the world we should not despair, for Christ is seated at the right hand of God.
And finally, today’s reading from Hosea ends with that wonderful assurance: “I am God and not man, the Holy One in your midst and I will not come to destroy.” We may destroy ourselves; that is our freedom. God will not destroy us; that is our hope.
So what is the message we have for this confused and sinful world?