22nd Sunday after Pentecost – Orthodox Homily on the Rich Man whose soul is demanded of him

The rich man in today’s Gospel puts his trust in his financial well-being, on creating for himself the illusion of ‘security,’ thinking, that if he just can hide away enough surplus, well, then nothing of this world will be able to touch him. He says, I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.”  But“Christ says of the rich man: “Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have…?  So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”

In much the same way, in the uncertain times we live in, it can be even more tempting for some to put their trust in their financial well-being, on creating for themselves that illusion of ‘security,’ of thinking, that if I just can hide away enough surplus, well, then nothing of this world will be able to harm me. Likewise, it’s challenging to die to this world and live for Christ, to be “rich toward God” in a world and in a culture that emphasizes everywhere focus on self and financial ‘security’ above all else.  

Combating this false sense of security and learning to entrust ourselves to God, demands a conscious effort and struggle, giving priority to the things of God, to bringing Christ into our daily lives, even moment by moment. If we’re filling the moments of our lives with entertainment and distraction, or even just work, or, if we’re continuously filling our ‘bellies’, that is the passions, and giving God only what we each consider “His due”, then we’re going to suffer even more from the world’s temporal but powerful hold on us, we’re going to find ourselves enslaved to this world’s transitory nature and the materialism, the false sense of ‘security’ that such self-absorption and illusory ‘security’ brings.  Not only is it all passing away, but if that is where our ‘treasure’ is, should anything happen to it, to that ‘way of life,’ then that person will be truly found empty.  It will all fall like a spiritual ‘house of cards.’

For this reason, Christ in His love and mercy for us, His gracious desire to save us, to rivet us to heaven, gives us these words of liberation:“Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you.”  He also reminds us of this truth akin to today’s Gospel lesson, saying: “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matt. 6:21).  

Today’s Parable of the rich man “who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God” is a warning for us, a warning of what will happen if we put our trust in ourselves instead of being, as Christ puts it to us today, “rich toward God.”  

This man in today’s parable is convinced his prudencein hording material wealth for himself brings him security.  In reality, though, the opposite is true: not only is this man’s physical life put to an end unexpectedly, but Christ says that his very soul is lost, saying, “‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’” 

Now, before we dismiss this parable, thinking it only applies to the “rich”, we’re constrained to consider ourselves not in the light of “rich” or “poor” but in attitude of hearttowards God and His Kingdom.  A rich person can be generous toward God in spirit and in deed, or, he can be stingy, poor towards God and others—like the rich “fool.”  Conversely, one can also be materially poor but stingy towards God and others, or one can be poor, and like the widow in Luke 21, rich toward God in spirit and in deed, far beyond those with more material means.Christ says of her, the “poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God,[a] but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had.” 

And so, in this parable, we’re forced to consider the reality that an accounting will be demanded of all of us before Christ.  We analyze our giving toward God with the utmost objectivity and ask ourselves the following questions: Am I rich toward God in spirit and in deed, laying up treasure for myself in Christ’s eternal Kingdom? Or, am I laying up treasure for myself while being stingy toward God?   If the latter, we remember what God says to the rich man: “… ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be…?’”

It’s easy to prefer the temporal offerings and attachments of this world, to turn inward, to focus primarily on ourselves, to give into the passions!  It’s easy with all the financial demands on us to forget about being rich toward God, let alone giving a “first portion” to Him with a spirit of thanksgiving for all that God has given and entrusted to us.  But, Christ warns us that this temporal and selfish focus turns to pure poison for our eternal souls.  And isn’t it beautiful that this reading comes to us the Sunday before Thanksgiving and as we enter the Nativity Fast?  

Living in the temporal realm and focusing only on our own needs mayfeelright, it may seemlike freedom at first, but such self-focus turns toxic in our souls. God created us to be self-giving, not self-focused; He created us all to be ‘priests’ of His Kingdom, that is, to receive from God’s bounty, to offer a portion back to Him in praise and thanksgiving, and then to receive even more spiritual blessings in return. Christ God created us for communion with His Body the Church and not as ‘spiritual islands’.  Ultimately, everything we have is a gracious gift from God.  Our giving of ourselves to Him and to His Church reminds us of this truth.  Being rich toward God enables us to entrust more of ourselves to His gracious and loving care.

This parable forces us to ask ourselves some honest questions, and, even, the ultimate question: What do I have if I don’t have Christ at the center of my life, my present, as well as my plans for the future?  What has the world’s philosophy and materialism, of having Christ on our own terms without submission and obedience or accountability, provided for my soul? We can easily fall into the same trap as the man in today’s parable.  Whatever our means, if we put our trust in our in ourselves, or prefer our own ideas over what Christ has revealed thru His Church, if we prioritize our work, our school, over the Church and His Kingdom, then we’re headed down the same road to the same words of Christ: “Fool, this night your soul will be demanded of you.”

Instead of autonomy, individualism, self will, Christ offers us communion in His Body—an opportunity to love and be loved.  He offers to graft us into His one Body by virtue of our willingness to die to this world to be raised with Christ, so that we can become more of what He is. As we submit to His life, His will, and entrust ourselves to Him, we also grow in faith and in communion with Him.

As we learn to put our trust more in God for our spiritual and physical needs, our dependence on this transitory world lessens; we’re freed more and more from the illusory and false sense of ‘security’ that it offers.  In being rich toward God and placing our reliance on Him, God fills us to overflowing with His joy and love to build in us treasure in heaven.  Christ gives us true and lasting fulfillment through contentment in Him, peace, and participation in His eternal Kingdom.   This is His promise to all who are rich toward God, in heart, mind, and, deed.  May His will be accomplished in our lives and may we joyfully give our firstfruits to Him, knowing that he who sows abundantly will also reap abundantly.  

Fr. Robert Miclean
Holy Archangels Orthodox Church

November 17, 2019

Epistle:            Gal. 6:11-18
Gospel:            Luke 12:16-21