Sunday, August 4, 2013

A Tale of Two Fires: You Can't Take it With You

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time                Year C                  Deacon John McMullen                                Christ the King Parish, Evansville, Indiana   
Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:21-23; Colossians 3:1-5.9-11; Luke 12:13-21

a) When I was growing up in the 1980s in Vincennes I knew a widow who could not get rid of anything nor would she give anything away, and though she had several children, she would not share her wealth or possessions with them, because she couldn’t part with anything – even her deceased husband’s clothes. And he died in the 1960s! Her home was a veritable museum of her life. [This was long before Hoarders became a TV show]. 

In fact, it seemed she believed that all of her material possessions, as long as she kept them, would somehow help her survive the inevitable – the grave.

But one cold December night she was smoking while watching television and fell asleep, the cigarette dropping from her fingers onto some old newspapers and assorted stuff; the lit cigarette ignited a fire that caused her home to explode in a raging inferno, where she perished in the blaze.

As an eyewitness to the fire, it was, in a way, a vision of hell. All that she held dear was consumed by the flames – including herself – all fuel for a funeral pyre that she had unwittingly prepared for herself.  

How ironic it is that the very thing that was to provide her with some kind of security was that which took her life.  It was all in vain; gone in huge plumes of smoke.

b) In today’s gospel when the man says to Jesus, “Tell my brother to share the inheritance with me,” Jesus cuts to the quick and replies: “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.”  Then Jesus tells the Parable of the Rich Fool.

Here is a wealthy man with lots of material goods. But his problem was that he never saw beyond himself. He was only focused on himself and his own enjoyment, for he only speaks to himself about himself. What am I to do?  My crops ...  my grain… my goods, I will say to myself: I have plenty of good things stored up for many years, Take your rest, eat, drink, and be merry!”

A Roman proverb says, “Money is like salt water: the more a man drinks, the thirstier he becomes.” This is indeed the situation of this man. His sole desire is to get more and more things for himself so he can enjoy himself.

Note also that there is no mention of any other person in this man’s life. So when this man was confronted with such a surplus of extra material goods, it never entered his mind or heart to give some of them away.

Instead he decided to build bigger storage barns and thought he would be happier if he kept all of his stuff to himself, obsessed with storing his worldly treasures for himself.    

The man seems to believe that this world of earthly existence is the only existence. And he never ever refers to God, for he lives his life as if there is no God or afterlife. This also explains his worry and anxiety about all of “his” material things. Indeed he was possessed by his possessions.
This man gave little consideration that his life might end; it seems that the man was in denial that he would even die. Or if he would die, it would be in many, many years. Instead he died that very night.

One wonders what this man could have done with his wealth of possessions?

How many people could he have helped in life and made their lives easier if he had only shared his wealth?

Instead he only lived for himself and goes down in history as a fool.


Now, I realize that this is a parable, and the man is fictitious, but in reality have we not heard of or actually known fools such as the man in the parable?

Too many of us seem to expect to find our happiness here on earth and in our “stuff” – myself included. I mean some people have so much stuff that they have to rent storage barns.

Our culture says that the more we have, the better off we are! And we’ve got so much stuff! But what do we need with so much stuff?! To what end? How much stuff can I have? I mean, what would I do with everything? Where would I put it? Seriously.

St. Teresa of Avila said: “The only treasure you take to heaven is what you gave away while on earth.”


My grandfather worked for the railroad in Vincennes all of his life and lived in a modest home. He was also very generous. His motto was: “Might as well give it away while you can.”

Then, close to the end of his life, in December of 1986 – his home caught fire and he lost practically everything but his life. When I arrived after the fire, I found him walking amid the smoldering ash and black heaps of burnt possessions and soggy debris. 

The 72 year old man put his arm around me and through a tear-filled smile, said, “You know, Johnny, I wasn’t going to be taking any of this with me anyway.” 

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