Gospel Reflections in Year C
This homily was written circa 2016.
11th Sunday after Pentecost 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Common Lectionary Catholic Lectionary
Luke 12:13-21 Luke 12:13-21
Dreams of contentment
My nephew, Robert has recently bought himself a cottage near to his home in the west of Ireland. It is a picture postcard place – a whitewashed wall and thatched roof dwelling, neat and tidy with a long lawn out to the road and a small lake across on the other side. It reminds me of ‘White O’ Morn’, the idyllic cottage that featured in the 1952 film, The Quiet Man. I cast envious eyes on the place as soon as I saw it. From childhood’s earliest days a cottage in the west of Ireland has been a dream of mine, but I am happy to think that the reality has come about in my nephew’s life, if not in my own. My own home is a semi in Scotland and I am very happy with that.
In my time I have lived in some very large properties, monasteries in Britain and abroad. One in particular, Hawkstone Hall has recently gone on the market for something in the region of 4 million pounds. That place is a very historic country pile, built in the middle of a large estate, well away from the plebs and the poverty of England.
I lived in that grand house for six years and they were the lost years of my life. From the age of 19 until I was 24 I spent my days rattling around in that mansion, being formed into a catholic priest, so I was told. Among the many faults that I found with the place the greatest one was its remoteness from the rest of the world. Living in that place, in the middle of fields we were completely cut off from society and civilisation generally. We were being ‘set apart for sacred duties’ as the ordination prayer used to say, and set apart we were!
To live unconnected to other people is a most unhealthy condition. We begin to lose a sense of proportion about things. We become obsessed with our selves and our own particular desires and fancies. We are not challenged by what other people think or do or say, because their lives never impinge on ours. We live in an ivory tower, sufficient unto ourselves.
At the time of writing the final series of Downton Abbey is being prepared and it will show us how the self enclosed and self contained world of power and privilege could not continue in the aftermath of the Great War. Servants were servants no more and deference was dissolving. The upper class presumption of prestige and priority could only maintain itself in a closed-off world, and now that world had been invaded by the devastation of war, hastening the breakdown of social barriers, class and privilege. Many of the great country houses were demolished in the 1920s. Others, like Hawkstone Hall were sold to religious orders, which used them as convents, seminaries and care homes.
The story that Jesus tells today is all about a world of privilege. It describes a man of wealth who finds his riches a reason to separate himself from others and all the problems that others tend to be, in order to ensconce himself in the lap of luxury and to propose to himself, like proposing a toast, long life and happiness for ever and ever.
The isolation of the man is quite pronounced since Jesus does not bring any other character into the story…except the Almighty.
The rich man conducts a conversation with himself over his problems and his proposed solutions – I will build bigger barns – and there is no one else around to interject or offer alternative proposals as to what he might do with his glut of money…until the good Lord himself interjects by calling time on the rich man’s selfish ways.
In telling this story, as with all his stories, Jesus is aiming at our selves. This is not a parable for rich people only. It is not simply aimed at the ‘stately homes of England’ although therein lies a tale. The parable is aimed at myself and at you and the issue before us is our tendency to greed in all kinds of ways.
In this story Jesus identifies the root issue for all of us and he names it – security. We want our lives to feel secure, safe from all worry and care. One of the things we discover as we become more prosperous is that the more we possess the more we have to worry about, the more energy we expend in making our things secure.
One of the great stories of insecurity I have come across concerns the last days of Josef Stalin, the Russian dictator, who murdered so many millions of his people. Stalin conducted many purges of his close associates and ministers in government that he drove himself into a state of complete isolation. He was unable to trust anyone since he himself was such an untrustworthy person. He lived in constant fear just as his associates feared him and at the end when he had a stroke no one had the courage to go anywhere near him to check how he was. Stalin had driven everyone away by his own murderous practises.
Jesus teaches us to make ourselves rich in the sight of God. Divine wealth comes to us in faith that knows the Lord, in hope that looks to the bright future and love that transfigures all our days. The story that Jesus told about the wealthy farmer was prompted by a request from someone who was at odds with his brother over family inheritance. Instead of the money being divided fairly between the brothers, the siblings found themselves divided from one another because of money.
In childhood one of the first board games we enjoyed at home was Monopoly. That game encouraged the buying of property and the gathering of fines against our opponents, the building of houses and hotels, until one person had ‘loadsamoney’ and the rest are in gaol or in penury.
We enjoyed the roller coaster of emotions in the game as we made and lost money but there is something unsavoury about just one person ending up with all the cash.
I think the rich farmer would enjoy playing Monopoly…if he could find anyone to play it with.