The Last Laugh

All of us want to be happy. In fact, our desire to be happy draws us closer to God because God has created us for Himself and we can only know joy if we come to know Him.  The strange thing, though, is that as badly as we want to be happy, we seem loathe to do the things that will make happiness possible.  God has revealed surefire strategies for finding joy – but, for some reason, we’re attracted to the surefire path to ruin.

Eighteenth Sunday In Ordinary Time

 

Gospel 

Someone in the crowd said to Jesus,
“Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.”
He replied to him,
“Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?”
Then he said to the crowd,
“Take care to guard against all greed,
for though one may be rich,
one’s life does not consist of possessions.”

Then he told them a parable.
“There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest.
He asked himself, ‘What shall I do,
for I do not have space to store my harvest?’
And he said, ‘This is what I shall do:
I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones.
There I shall store all my grain and other goods
and I shall say to myself, “Now as for you,
you have so many good things stored up for many years,
rest, eat, drink, be merry!”’
But God said to him,
‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you;
and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’
Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves
but are not rich in what matters to God.”

Luke 12, 13-21

 

This is what I shall do:
I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones.
There I shall store all my grain and other goods
and I shall say to myself, “Now as for you,
you have so many good things stored up for many years,
rest, eat, drink, be merry!”
 
Luke 12, 18-19

The best kind of laughing is the laughing we do at ourselves.  Another kind of laughing, which isn’t quite as good, comes about when we laugh at others.  The worst kind of laughing, of course, is laughter that is directed toward us and is provoked by our own folly.  The rich man in today’s parable becomes a laughingstock for the ridiculous way he sets himself to the task of being happy.  He wants to “rest, eat, drink, be merry!”  What do you think about that?  Are these things worth wanting?  What do the man’s aims tell us about him?  If we want to get the most out of this parable we have to ask ourselves, “what are his values?  How do his values measure up to the things that Jesus taught?”

First of all, he wants to rest.  Where does the LORD come down on the matter of resting?  I have to think that Jesus considered our desire for rest to be a natural and wholesome desire.  Why else would he have appealed to that very desire in the invitation that is reported in the book of Matthew?  “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.”

I believe that our desire for rest is one we should cultivate rather than one we need to quell – and I didn’t come to that simply by reading the Bible.  When I think about the things other people say about their lives, or when I take the time to consider my own life, I am struck by the fact that it is all too common for life to wear us down.  Our lives can very quickly become very weary and weariness turns life itself into a burden.

Jesus tells us, “My yoke is easy, and my burden light” because he fully understands what it is we’re doing wrong when life starts wearing us down.  I become weary the minute I start to think of life as being my life.  Whenever I put myself “in charge” I drain all the energy out of my battery.  In fact, I can get a pretty good ‘read’ on the condition of my spiritual life if I pay attention to my own degree of weariness.  Weariness suggests to me that I’m veering off the path.  Rest is a sign that I’m staying ‘on course’.

What else does the rich man want?  He wants to “eat” and “drink”.  Is there anything wrong with that?  Would the LORD laugh at us, or call us “fool” for wanting to eat and drink?  I don’t think so.  In fact, I think that the very mission of Christ is to address our longing to eat and drink.  Why else would the book of John record him saying, “my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink”?  I don’t think it’s any accident that Jesus repeatedly likens Eternal Life to a wedding banquet.  We ought to approach salvation with the same attitude with which we’d anticipate a fancy dinner.  Come hungry, or don’t come.  Our desire to eat and to drink has to be considered a blessing.

Finally, the rich man wants to be “merry”.  Is it a Christian attribute to want to be merry?  I think about the things the LORD said when he came to the end of his life.  As he was wrapping things up, he explained to the disciples what the point – the very point of his Incarnation – really was: “so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.”  Happiness is where it’s at.  You’ll find a lot of teachings in scripture that point to the primacy of joy; of course, you’ll also find things in scripture that seem to point in the other direction.  If you’ve got the Bible, but you don’t have faith, you’re going to doubt that God wants you happy.  If you know the sacred texts, but you don’t know the LORD, you’re going to be plagued with the suspicion that God intends for you to be miserable.

The truth is that God created us to be “Joy Manufacturing Plants”.  Making merry is our job.  When we’re sulking, we’re slacking.  The man in the parable wants to pursue happiness.  That’s a very good impulse and it’s certainly not the reason he ends up the butt of the joke.

The rich man made a fool of himself, not for what he wanted, but for the way he went about getting the things he desired.  The funny part, the action that provoked all the laughter, was his insistence on tearing down barns to build bigger ones.  He wanted to pile financial security upon financial security.  Another way to look at it is to say that he wanted to eliminate his vulnerabilities.  A weaker person, he supposed, was at a greater risk of suffering and he was determined to guard against suffering.  He wanted to be strong.  His folly was to think that the best way to live was to dress himself in armor and hide himself away in an impenetrable fortress.  His recipe for finding joy was to run from suffering; and that strategy is utterly counterproductive.  In other words, he’d cooked himself up a recipe for failure.

Once we learn a few things about the keys to life, and about the path to joy, we’ll come to understand how completely ridiculous the man is.  Instead of being dumbfounded, as he was, at his own demise we’ll see exactly how he led himself to ruin.  Instead of being laughed at, as he was, we’ll be ‘in on the secret’ and we can laugh at him.  If we’re wise, we’ll see that it’s a very bad idea to wait for invulnerability before you start looking for joy.  In fact, if we’re wise, we’ll see that vulnerability is a prerequisite to joy.

If we’re laughing at the man in the parable, we’re in much better shape than he is.  We know ‘what’s what’ even though he’s clueless.  There is, however, an even better way than this.  It’s possible, if we screw up enough courage, to go beyond the vision of the man in the parable tearing down barns to build bigger ones.  It’s possible for us to notice the way we ourselves do the same thing.

Well enough for me to get a chuckle out of this man’s folly; but what if I could learn to laugh at myself?  Where am I passing up the chance to be alive in order to keep myself ‘safe’ and out of trouble?  Am I able to keep an eye on myself?  When I see the rich man tearing down barns to build bigger ones I know he’s heading for trouble; but what about me?  Am I, perhaps, doing the rich man one better?  Perhaps I’m tearing down the bigger barns to build even bigger ones.  How far am I willing to go to keep myself out of trouble – and how much of a sense of humor do I have to see how really, really foolish I am?

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About captaincatholic

Fifty Eight Year old 'Cradle Catholic'. Married for twenty two years to the magnificent Pam. Father to the unsurpassable Angelique. Parishioner at Sacred Heart Parish in Lexington MA.

One response to “The Last Laugh”

  1. Karen Cole says :

    Hi Paul, it’s Karen from Starbucks, please remind me to give you $ towards the walk. Thanks,Karen

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