There are two seas in the Holy Land. One is the sea of Galilee. It is fresh and fish abound in it. Green adorns its landscape. Trees spread their branches over it and stretch their thirsty roots to sip its life-giving waters. Along its shores children play. The river Jordan forms this sea with sparkling waters from the hills. It radiates in the sunshine. People build houses near it and the birds their nests. Every kind of life is happier because it is there. And of course it was from here that Jesus called his first disciples.
The River Jordan then flows on south into another sea. Here there is no splash of fish, no fluttering leaf, no song of birds, no laughter of little children. The air hangs heavy about its waters and neither human nor beast nor fowl will drink of it.
What makes the difference in these neighbouring seas? Not the River Jordan – it empties the same good water into both. Not the soil in which they lie, not the country about. The difference is that the Sea of Galilee receives, but does not keep the Jordan. For every drop which enters it, another drop flows out. The receiving and the giving go on, day after day, in equal measure. On the other hand, the Dead Sea receives the river Jordan but there the river stops. Every drop it gets, it keeps. While the Sea of Galilee gives and lives the other sea gives nothing. It gets hardly any mention in the gospels because there is no activity there. Small wonder that it is named the “Dead Sea”.
This illustration provides us with a very clear moral, namely, there is abundant joy in giving and receiving. On the other hand, to receive, but never give is to bury ourselves in a black hole and die. Giving and receiving makes all the sense in the world. If everyone did that, then we could really join in with Louis Armstrong and sing ‘What a wonderful world!’ Think of the harmony and peace that would abound everywhere. The joy of giving would be pulsing through our veins. Sadly, such is not the case. We harbour fears about our safety and security and it is all too easy to follow the path of the rich fool in today’s gospel.
The rich man’s fault was not in planning ahead; he was perfectly right to provide for what we would call “the rainy day” – within reason of course. Where he went wrong was in thinking only of himself, of his personal comfort and well-being. He forgot the responsibility we all have to the community at large, namely, that we are here to help each other. It is only when we live and work in a kind of social and family solidarity that our life and work fit in with God’s plan for us.
The last sentence of the parable conveys the mind of Jesus: one must not store up treasure for oneself, but seek to be rich in the sight of God. What does this mean? Later in Luke’s gospel (Lk 12:31-34) this becomes clear: “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and all these things will be yours as well. Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.” Fear not! If only we could trust and take Jesus at his word, then there would be not fear.
Pope Francis has been at the World Youth Celebration in Poland the last few days. Yesterday he issued a rousing and impassioned call to action to young people around the world saying our unsettled times require them to get off the couch and “set out on new and uncharted paths…The time we are living in does not call for young couch potatoes but for young people with shoes — or better — boots laced.”
Furthermore, he warned the youth against paralysis that can come from thinking the problems of the world are too large to confront. But then he warned against what he called an “even more dangerous” kind of paralysis: “to think that in order to be happy all we need is a good sofa.”
The more the Pope spoke about the sofa the more I kept thinking about the rich fool for it sums up his attitude very neatly. So let’s hear more from the pontiff on the sofa. “A sofa makes us feel comfortable, calm, safe. A sofa like one of those we have nowadays with a built-in massage unit to put us to sleep. A sofa promises us hours of comfort so we can escape to the world of video games and spend all kinds of time in front of a computer screen.”
The Pope then adds: “It is very sad to pass through life without leaving a mark, but when we opt for ease and convenience, for confusing happiness with consumption, then we end up paying a high price indeed: we lose our freedom.” Does this not sum up the rich fool who opted for ease and convenience and confused happiness with consumption? And he too lost his freedom!
One last quote: “So I ask you: Are you looking for empty thrills in life, or do you want to feel a power that can give you a lasting sense of life and fulfilment? Empty thrills or the power of grace? To find fulfilment, to gain new strength, there is a way. It is not a thing or an object, but a person, and he is alive. His name is Jesus Christ.”
Sunday, 31 July 2016