Jesus said to the crowd, ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’ Then he told them about a rich man who decided to pull down his barns, build larger ones, store all his grain and goods and relax, eat, drink, be merry.’” But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.’
That reminds me of a story about the easiest way to trap a monkey which is to take a coconut, punch a smallish hole in it, empty it, tie it to the ground and fill it with a few pieces of good food. I am not sure what qualifies as good monkey food, maybe straw, although I am inclined to go for pizza and chocolate, but am prepared to see that as pure projection.
Anyway, when the monkey comes exploring, he sees the desired food inside the coconut, he puts his hand in, he finds he can’t grab hold of the food and get his hand out at the same time. And he won’t let go. He’s that greedy. Supposedly a monkey will hold onto the food even when the people with the nets come ‘round, even when he’s going to get trapped, lose everything, he’ll still try to hold on.
This story scares me more than a bit, because there is something like that greedy monkey in me that often wants to hold on, to an old idea, to an old idol, to an old pain or an old plan. Those things matter! I want to hold on;
But as today’s Gospel puts it: “And the things you have prepared [the stuff you try to hold on to], whose will they be [when you die] ?” So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.” I believe that’s true, even good news, but I can understand the frustration felt by the reading from Ecclesiastes we just heard.
“All is vanity [and] all my toil in which I had toiled under the sun, [and] I must leave it to those who come after me – and who knows whether they will be wise or foolish? Yet…. What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun? For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest. This also is vanity. “
Don’t you hate nights like that? But it’s true!
It also reminds me of the story of two men talking after a third man’s funeral: One said, Did he leave much?
The second said, Well, yes, he left it all!
In the end we leave it all.
But maybe we get it all too. Maybe, if the Epistle to the Colossians is right, then, by God’s grace, we are stripping off “the old self with its practices and have clothed… ourselves with the new self… [and] being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. [then] … Christ is all and in all!”
That’s not a bad consolation prize! And if that is true, what is more important than saying yes to life and to God in the present moment?
What else are we trying to hold onto? Again, Is there an old idea of failure or success? Is there a worn out list somewhere of people we tried to impress when we were younger? Is it an old idea of our religion, of how to act it out and live it out? What do we hold onto today that can trap us, trip us up, keep us from turning around to say yes to the present reality of celebrating life and love right now, when that’s what might matter most? What keeps us away, if we are being called by God, as Jesus tells us, to be rich towards God, to mindfully walk with God in the openhearted possibilities of the present moment?
Part of it is that this openhearted process is not easy to get hold of, is not easily condensed into a book or a creed, a dogma or doctrine. And don’t get me wrong, none these things are bad; we need benchmarks and rest-stops, records, standards, starting points, places where we can remember, turn around and begin to live again. But they are not the way, and there is even a danger that they can turn into detours, get us out of God’s own way, keep from from being that new self-in-Christ … who is being “renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.”
And this is less like a bank account, a barn, or a lesson plan, more like a flower or a fresh breeze, or love: Maybe Jesus’ ministry is breathing the breath, singing the song of the intimacy of God breathed by the spirit in every moment of creation. Maybe that’s the gift that lasts, maybe that’s the way the way works in each of us as well as in all of us together. We can’t get hold of it easily, but that’s the way I believe we’re called to follow.
And if God’s open-handed love, which we see in the life of Jesus, is the way to follow; then the greedy, self-directed documentary of who we want to be, where we ought to go, and what we want to hold on to; all those plots, hopes, fears, memories and desires, follies and forecasts that we cleave to: why, we can let all that go!
For here we can be held in the free-gift of God’s true love, right here, right now in the middle of the way, willing to be filled with renewing acts of creativity, redemption, blessed mercy and surprise; when love lights us up with spirited, surprising connections of compassion, wisdom, justice, love.
But there is always something in us that wants to fight that light, keep our hand in, hold on to what we can, get what we want. That relates to what the letter to the Colossians is talking about with that earthy, dirty little list: “fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry)... [to say nothing of] anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth” all of these are tight-fisted attempts to grip power, passion, grab control, make the world work our way, the places where sin is so often found.
But that’s not where we are, as the writer of the epistle goes on to say: instead, “you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!”
So if Christ “is all and in all” risen, if we are renewed in knowledge according to the image of our creator, if we are invited to share in that resurrection life, then we are all called to open our greedy hands, our grimy hearts, our grasping lives, and leave ourselves open to be companions, neighbours, lovers of the life God gives us, freely giving without the need for control or power. We can be something as light and lively as a bright dance, a procession from the heart of creation, from the deepest heart of love, to be found and offered in the fragile centre of the human journey.
So don’t let your hand be caught in holding on to what you wanted, or feared, or planned for your life, instead let yourself come home to Christ in the midst of the world of living and dying, in the hope of heaven.
For we are called to strip off the old self with its practices and clothe ...ourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!”