A sermon of His Reverence, Archimandrite Parthenius regarding the Gospel of the 9th week after the Exaltation (the Rich Fool), delivered in the monastery Refectory on 1st of December 2019.
My dear ones, today we heard from the Gospel the parable spoken by our Saviour, regarding the rich man who was blessed with abundance of crop. Seeing this plenitude of fruit, he started worrying what to do, how to handle the new situation, i.e. how to store the rich harvest, because his barns were too small to store all the goods. And he came up with an idea. I will pull down my barns and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry (Luke 12,18-19).
Please note that this parable was given by our Lord as a reply to a young man who pleaded with Him to arbitrate between him and his brother regarding their inheritance. One could easily assume that his brother was greedy, since he would not share the property, so this man persistently asked the great Teacher to intervene. But the Lord responded: Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you? And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth. (Luke 12,14-15). After that Christ gave the above parable with a very clear message – that what man owns in this world is not his, but rather belongs to God, as it says in the Bible: The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein. (Psalm 23,1) Man should just be a good administrator and distribute righteously all the goods God has given to him. If he but impartially and justly manages the goods given by God, there would be plenty for him and all the others around him.
It is obvious that the man in the parable was already rich: The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully…. says the Gospel. So, he had a significant treasure already, but now, due to God’s abundant generosity, he received even more, so much that he began to wonder where to store it. Please bear in mind: the guilt of this person was not in him being rich. To be rich is not a sin. Our forefather Abraham, for example, was one of the richest people in his time, however he was not covetous for material things. When God asked him to leave his Fatherland and go to a foreign country, he left everything he had behind and without a hesitation went on a journey to fulfil this commandment of God. Therefore, it is sinful for a man to be covetous for material things, for the earthly treasures which are temporary and are only given to serve man, and not to enslave him. So, in today’s parable we have an accurate description of a typical egoist drown in his selfishness, who worshiped his own ego as his divinity. Just look how many times in a single sentence he claims his own all the goods given by God: my fruit, my barns, all my wheat, all my goods, my soul. Mine, mine, mine… Not even a trace of gratitude towards the One Who gave him all these goods, including his soul! This rich man, being a blinded egoist, who had put the material treasure and his own hedonism first, did not even consider the others around him, he completely forgot his neighbours, and certainly God. Such person is so completely consumed by covetousness and egoism, that he cannot see anything but himself and his own needs. Someone once wanted to show his friend that he was too obsessed with money and he could not even notice what really happened around him. Being unable to reason with him, he came up with a very interesting and unusual method: took a golden coin and placed it on his eye, then he asked him if he sees anything. “No, I can’t see anything”, his friend replied. “You are right, you really can’t see anything, because the money blinded your vision.” The covetous man sees nothing but the treasure and the ways to accumulate some more.
But for a man to reach such a level of utter egoism, previously he must have completely forgotten God. He probably undermined the fact that God is the greatest Benefactor and we owe Him everything we have. God is the absolute Owner of everything and Provider of all the material and spiritual treasures. When a person forgets about this he gives in to the cruellest egoism. Having completely neglected God, he thinks that life is just here on Earth and that his entire existence is determined solely by earthly happiness and abundance of his wealth. That is why our Lord told the young man who came to complain about the unjust division of his inheritance: man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth. On the contrary, its meaning can only be found in the unity with God and in the ability of man to appreciate and manage justly all that has been given to him by God for the sake of his own and the salvation of his neighbours. Unfortunately, there are many rich people in the world today who act like the rich man of today’s Gospel. Almost every day we hear or read about persons whose treasure has been estimated to billions and billions of euros or dollars. For example, these days I read an interesting article about the former president of the American computer company Apple, Mr, Steve Jobs, who reposed in 2011. His treasure was estimated to 11 billion of dollars! However, here is something interesting: in the final stage of his life, this man got enlightened in a way about the insignificance of material treasure and the real meaning of human existence. Namely, just before he died, he left a short message in which, among the other things he says:
“In others’ eyes, my life is an epitome of success. However, aside from work, I have little joy. In the end, wealth is only a fact of life that I am accustomed to. At this moment, lying on the sick bed and recalling my whole life, I realize that all the recognition and wealth that I took so much pride in, have paled and become meaningless in the face of impending death”. So, this is a confirmation of our Lord’s words in the Gospel that man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth. And continues: You can employ someone to drive the car for you, make money for you but you cannot have someone to bear the sickness for you. Material things lost can be found. But there is one thing that can never be found when it is lost — life… Treasure Love for your family, love for your spouse, love for your friends”. – Mr, Steve Jobs
He said: “In the end…” Glory to God that this rich person managed, even though at the very end of his life to realise the insignificance of material treasures and the real meaning of life. But you should know that this rarely happens with the rich covetous men. In today’s Gospel, just when the rich man solved, according to the mundane logic, his life issue by building greater barns, and ordering his soul to eat, drink and enjoy – thus identifying the soul with the body, for the soul doesn’t eat, nor drinks, that’s when God told him: Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? (Luke 12,20) Our Lord calls this man a fool! What a sad fact! The one who was created as a reasonable being, with his own mind, with authority and according to the image and likeness of God, brought himself to a state to be called a fool by God. Ever since the old times God calls fools those who do not believe in Him and think that the abundancy of their wealth would make them happy in this life. Thus, the Psalm 13 says:
The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good. The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge? Who eat up my people as they eat bread, and call not upon the Lord? (Psalm 14, 1-4).
Do you see? those who have forgotten God, consume people the way they consume bread, because they are insatiate. Nothing is enough for them in this world, so they spend their entire life accumulating wealth, and in the end, they leave everything behind, because all their pilled-up treasure cannot help them reach salvation.
In these modern times there are people who think that atheism is something progressive, something cool. Many of the young men love to declare themselves as atheists. The young people who come to see me say that nowadays declaring yourself an atheist is a trend. And I tell them: “There is nothing trendy about it, on the contrary it’s very retrograde. The above Psalm was written more than 3000 years ago!”
And look what the Psalm says: The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God This means that God watches us attentively, with a carrying admonition, because he wants us to be reasonable. And who is reasonable? The one who truly seeks the Lord. Contrary to this, the atheist is called a fool. So, atheism is a result of the terrible sinfulness of man, of his imprudent egoism, it is not progressive at all, and it is not modern, but is rather very old, as old as the human sin. Adam, our forefather, committed the first sin in the Garden of Eden, and from reasonable turn into a fool. He became greedy and wanted to take what was not his, although he had everything already, he was the king of the entire creation. Our Lord gave him His gift of authority – to rule over all the creation. But He also gave him a single commandment – not to eat from the tree of life. And that’s exactly what Adam did. He desired for what did not belong to him and in a way turned into a thief. And that became our heritage. So, I tell you: we should fight, my dear ones, with the covetousness which we carry within ourselves after the fall. If we fight the egoism inside us, we will have everything. But what is most important to have? The spiritual joy – the true happiness which comes from the perpetual meeting with Christ in our hearts. If you have God inside you, then you have everything. St. John Chrysostom, in his morals to the faithful, especially the parents, advises: “ Instead of leaving a great property and treasure to your children, try to raise them in the spirit of Christian faith, because if you don’t educate them in a Christian manner and leave them a lot of property, one day they would fight over it and quarrel and curse you. They would say: ‘Oh, we curse the day when you passed away and left us this property that we fight about all this time. We have lost our peace and fraternal love’. But if you bring them up to be real Christians, even if you leave them poor, they will know how to earn themselves a property and bless you”. They would know because they would seek, above all, the One Who is merciful and holds all the treasures. Having Him, they would have everything, just like our Lord Himself said in the Gospel: But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you (Matthew 6,33) The material treasures would never be enough and we could never take them with us when we leave this world. There are so many examples we can learn from. So instead of chasing for money, let us choose the path of Christ, which is giving and serving the neighbours. If the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many (Matthew 20,28), then we, being His disciples, are even more obliged to love the neighbours as we love ourselves. But that takes a great effort and struggle with the egoism inside us.
I appeal to you my dear ones, let us not be called fools by God. He created us as reasonable beings. What is reasonability actually? Ever the ancient Hellenes, the wise philosophers defined reasonability as a conscience what should and what should not be done. To this St. Peter Damascus adds his explanation that reasonability is alertness of the mind. Knowing all that, what should we do in life? Which path should we choose? The Lord Jesus Christ said: I am the Path, the Truth, and the Life (John 14,6). Whoever chooses Him, chooses the path of reasonability and he will always know what to do. We have already mentioned that it would take a struggle, a persistent struggle with the egoism inside us.
May God give us the strength to be a good example. Because we the Christians should preach with our lives that covetousness and egoism are terrible, that they are serious mortal diseases which affect the whole humankind. Even in our country, what seems to be the greatest problem? The covetousness of our leaders. We are tired of news about money embezzlement in our country. One Government replaces the other, but this problem remains. Why? Because the fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. If a person does not think of eternal life and the true values, he would be indifferent to all the others but himself. He is enslaved by all sorts of passions and lives in the darkness of sin. Being in the dark, how can he bring light to the others?
May the grace of God preserve us, my dear ones, from such terrible misery and direct us towards the path of light, so that we could choose our Saviour Christ. Amin!