The Gospel Parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12:16-21)
In today’s Gospel, we see a certain rich man completely bereft of humility and prayer to God; one who relies completely upon his own understanding and power. Seeing his earthly prosperity, he first asks himself—and not God—a question: “what shall I do?” Then, answering himself, he says: “this will I do…” And he continues in this self-reliance, even telling himself what he will counsel his own self in the future, saying, “And I will say to my soul.”
The rich man is seen comforting his own soul with temporal comfort, prosperity, vanity and self-deception. No thought of God or the next life enters within his thinking. He plans for a long life on earth, never raising his thoughts to heaven through the other-worldly illumination born of prayer, and he tells his own soul: “take thine ease, eat, drink and be merry.”
At this point, the Gospel shows God speaking to the man, saying: “But God said unto him…” Up until now, the rich man was seen as the only one who was speaking and listening; yet, all the while, the most humble and long-suffering Lord awaits the right opportunity to visit the man, and to speak to his conscience, “Thou fool!” in order to wake him up; the Lord reveals to him that death is very close, and all his substance, all his life, all his hope—which is simply in earthly things—will not accompany him to the next world, but will be left for others.
Today’s Gospel does not reveal to us the reaction of the rich man, whether he repented or not. This the Lord does in order to immerse us within the parable; we ourselves are held responsible for the end of the story: will we listen to God and obey Him, or not? The story ends abruptly, and we are left with a decision.
If taken to heart, these words will make us to see ourselves, all our life, as dust and ashes. All our accomplishments, possessions, all our ways, everything will be seen coming to a sudden end. We will feel ourselves to be already standing before the judgment seat of Christ. We will see this world and all its things suddenly burned up and appearing as smoke. We will be amazed, seeing our selves standing over the dark abyss. We will tremble, as we are shamefully stripped naked of all our vainglory, self-opinion, and worldly comforts and honors which have up until this point left us in a state of blindness and insensitivity to spiritual realities.
On the Day of Judgment—which is even now experienced by the soul that is sensitive to the living and active words of the Lord in today’s Gospel—on that Day, well-fed and most famous kings will be seen to be on an even plane with the poor and wretched outcasts of society. Patriarchs and bishops will be seen on the same plane as the simplest of Christians; schema-monks with novices; men with women; the rich with the poor; the famous with the no-bodies; the old with the young; the educated with the simple.
All worldly honor, rank, position, luxury, power, security and pleasure—all of this will pass away; and all mankind will be in the same position: the spiritual possessions of each and every soul will be revealed—both their deeply-rooted habits of passion and virtue; both their sins and talents, whether buried or multiplied.
Each man will be judged personally by the Lord, as the Lord Himself alone knows how. Every last detail will be taken into account by Him; as the Fathers say: the poor will not be judged the same as the rich; nor the sick as the healthy; nor the one raised in a godless home as the one born into a house of prayer.
The unfinished ending of today’s Gospel places our own selves within the narrative, demanding from us an immediate answer and reaction. How do we hear these words? Will we forsake our vanity, and repent before it is too late? Or will we harden our souls to the voice of God? Will we see ourselves in truth, and correct ourselves by falling down before the Lord with tears, humility and prayer? Or will we ignore His calling touch upon our hearts?
“Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light!” If we now find ourselves to be dead in soul, we must rejoice and thank God that we found this out before the death of our body! The Holy Spirit calls out to us: “Awake…arise…!” Yet, how do we conduct this arousing of our deadened souls?
The Epistle continues: “Be filled with the Spirit…” But how? “Speaking to your selves, in Psalms and Hymns and Spiritual Songs.” This is one of the central teachings of the great Elder Porphyrios whom we commemorated just yesterday. Above all, he teaches us to always read the Holy Scriptures, the Holy Fathers, to recite Psalms, Hymns and Canons. He teaches us that this is the way to be filled with the Spirit, by filling ourselves with His words.
Therefore, we see that we are to speak to our own soul—not as the rich man, with our own understanding, but—with the many words of God—especially the Church’s prayers which speak so vividly and contritely of our wretched sinfulness; and yet, in the same breath, urge us to repentant thinking, and cast us into the awareness of God’s patience and love, begging Him for His mercy and grace—without which no one can be saved.
We are to see ourselves as the rich fool; and to feel ourselves as standing already in judgment. But, we are offered wings of hope, and are called to beautiful things: spiritual melodies, noetic light, blissful ascent into an unending and ever-ascending divine life in God the All-Good, the Greatest Treasure and Joy of our souls. We are called to be ever-filled with His Holy Spirit no matter who we are or where we are.
Are we spiritually healthy? Let us flee self-reliance and pride. Are we passionate and proud? Let us at least offer constant repentance. Are we unable to correct our ways at every moment? Let us at least strive to move our stubborn and hardened hearts if even a little at the time of our short prayer rule, seeking God’s mercy. Are we unable to affect our hearts with contrition, let us at least reproach ourselves as hard-hearted.
Is this too much for us? Let us at least await the Lord’s help, in pain and long-suffering, keeping our eyes fixed heavenward. Can we not do this? Let us at least not despair. Do we despair? Let us not give in to the thought that even this is incurable; for with the Lord nothing is impossible.
St. John of Karpathos says that when our situation looks to be the most desperate, then it is that God comes to our aid; and this will increase in us humility, and trust in God instead of our own selves; as St. Paul says: “We had the sentence of death within our selves, that we should not trust in our selves, but in God Who raiseth the dead!” All these humble thoughts and contrite attitudes, and more, are found especially in the Church’s canons of repentance.
Let each one of us offer what we have. Let each one of us speak our favorite hymns and prayers into our own hearts, constantly wounding our souls with their sweet repetition; and our hearts will be moved by God’s love. And we will be translated from this godly dialogue with our own soul to a dialogue with the living God.
Reciting the words of God with our bodily and mental lips—especially the Psalms and Prayers of the Church—we seek to understand them with our mind, in order to feel their power with our hearts. And this in turn will move our souls to a longing for God; from this longing (which is born, nourished, increased and perfected by the Jesus Prayer and other short prayers which personally touch our hearts chosen from among the many words of God), from this, our whole man will become consumed with the invisible ascent of divine love.
This longing is the wordless prayer of the heart; and it is greeted, embraced, and transformed by the living activity of the Holy Spirit, Who makes intercession for us with unutterable groans; “for we do not know how to pray as we ought.” He it is Who will accomplish for us good things, taking us heavenward, saving us forever, granting us eternal dialogue and communion with the Father through our Lord Jesus Christ; to the Most Holy Trinity, our all-good God, be all thanksgiving, honor, love, hymnody and worship, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.