Gospel parables, an Orthodox commentary

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A certain man once appealed to Lord Jesus Christ, for Him to order his brother to divide an inheritance with him. Christ declined the appeal on the grounds that He came into the World not to hear lawsuits before a civil judge, but to educate men in morality and to open the way into the Kingdom of Heaven for them. This appeal to divide property served as another occasion for Christ to tell a parable, warning His audience about the passion and sickness of gaining possessions rather than the wealth of repentance. The Evangelist Luke has preserved this parable for us:

"The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: and he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to store my crops? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I store all my srors and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God" (Luke 12:16-21).

God told the rich but imprudent man: "Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?" This question can never give rest to many of the rich people of the world. Even the richest Solomon, when pondering the matter, said: "For all is vanity and vexation of spirit. Yea, I hated all my labor which I had taken under the sun: because I should leave it unto the man that shall be after me. And who knoweth whether he shall be a wise man or a fool? yet shall he have rule over all my labor wherein I have shewed myself wise under the sun. This is also vanity" (Ecclesiastes 2:17-19).

In a letter about the sudden death of a rich acquaintance, the pagan Roman philosopher Seneca wrote: "How foolish it is to make plans in life! We cannot be in charge of ourselves even for the morrow! O the madness of those who amuse themselves with hopes for the distant future! I shall buy, I shall build, I shall lend, I shall take back, I shall hold a post, and then I shall enjoy contentment in the years of old age and weariness!" Pagan stoicism seconds Christ's last words in the parable of the rich but imprudent man: "So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God." The rich man's interests are well-being on earth, and his thoughts are far from God and from striving toward spiritual values. Everything he possessed he called his own, forgetting that "ours," belongs to God, Who gives to us wanderers on the earth temporarily. "The earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof, the world, and all that dwell therein" (Psalm 24:1; see also Psalm 50:12), exclaims the Psalmist.

Our life itself is in God's hands, and God counts all our days before our birth (Psalm 138:15). Just when the rich man's passion for ownership reached satiety, and he stood confident about his future, the Lord cut short his life. "Surely," writes King David and the prophets and the Apostle Paul, "man walketh about like a phantom, nay, in vain doth he disquiet himself. He layeth up treasure, and knoweth not for whom he shall gather it" (Psalm 39:8-9; see also Psalm 49:11, Proverbs 11:4, Ezekiel 7:19, I Timothy 6:7, 9-11, 17-19).

"Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal," says the Lord, "but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Matthew 6:19-21).

Giving one's heart to worldly treasure disables a man from choosing freely and evaluating the world. Christ elaborates the passion and sickness of gaining possessions in the metaphor of eyesight (Matthew 6:22-23). The healthy eye correctly sees the world and delivers information, unlike the damaged eye. "And what the eye is for the body, the mind also is for the soul," explains Saint John Chrysostom. A bright mind clearly understands spiritual objects and directs all the soul's to gather spiritual treasure. "If thine eye is pure," says Blessed Augustine, "if thine intent is pure and pleasing to God, then all thy works performed with this intent will likewise be pure and righteous; they will be bright. But if thine eye is wicked," continues Augustine, "if thine intent is defiled and darkened by carnal lusts and the desire for temporal goods, then all thine actions which spring forth from this impure impulse will participate in darkness." Therefore, cleansing one's "heart," one's inner world, is the Christian's only concern.

Commenting on this parable, Bishop Theophan the Recluse speaks of the believer and his wealth: "Since wealth is from God, when it flows in, dedicate it to God, and it will go out as holy wealth. Share all surpluses with the needy: this will be the same as returning to God what was given by God. Whoever gives to the poor, gives to God." Bishop Theophan the Recluse continues, "By exhausting wealth, as it were, such a man truly grows rich, being enriched by good works, he grows rich for God's sake, in forms of pleasing Him; he grows rich in God, attracting His good will; he grows rich from God, Who sets whoever is faithful in a little over many things; he grows rich from God, and not for himself, for he does not consider himself as an owner, but only a steward and a disburser, whose whole concern consists in satisfying all who come to him in need, and who is especially afraid to spend anything on himself, considering this as an incorrect use of the property entrusted to him."

Men are ready to destroy the storehouses given to them in order to build anew, but in the end, their hands are empty. These storehouses are our stores of time, each minute passing. The storehouses we think to build are our future moments and times, which may not come. The phrase "time is money" is un-Christian. The Christian must sanctify his time to build the spiritual riches that do not grow scarce.

The Apostle Paul answers this question with great precision in the Epistle to the Ephesians (5:9-19), which is read during the Liturgy with the parable of the rich but imprudent rich man on the 26th Sunday after Pentecost. This epistle speaks of the fruits of the Spirit, which are the riches given by God. The apostle counts these fruits "For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth . . . Wherefore, he saith, Awake thou that sleepest and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light. See then that ye walk circumspectly . . . redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is . . . be filled with the Spirit; speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord."

These words encourage us to seek fruits of the spirit, to convert the personality, and to value time not by our will, but by God's will, in oneness with God, as with a best friend, even more so than as bride and groom, or as wife and husband. Each minute, in each detail, the Lord wants to teach us what to do, not for His Own sake, but for our salvation, for the light and fullness of our lives. We value each minute as lovers value it, whose only care is to stay together. Such a lively oneness with God is not given immediately. One must to strive and believe. If we value our time, according to the Apostle Paul, let us wake up at last. Let us rise from the dead. And may Christ the Lord enlighten us.

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