|12 - The Rich Man and His Barns, November 20, 2011|
“All those who do not make themselves rich towards God are fools.” This is the Gospel lesson given to us on this the Eve of the beautiful Feast of the Theotokos’ Entrance into the temple at the age of three. Today is also the first Sunday of Advent. So, both the Feast that we celebrate tomorrow and this morning’s Gospel lesson are given us to ponder as we begin to prepare ourselves, by increasing our regimen of prayer and fasting, for the celebration of Christ’s Nativity from the Blessed and ever-Virgin Panagia. The Lord tells this morning’s Gospel parable in response to someone who wanted Him to make a brother share his inheritance. To this, the Lord had answered: “A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions;” and, then, He proceeds to tell this parable of the rich man and his barns.
Fool: the word in Greek is “mindless”, having no sense, acting without reflection or judgment. It evokes the image of one who just “goes with the flow”, who acts as his whim, his appetite or his lusts want him to act. It is the opposite of the mind of faith, which is the mind that is in Christ, as St Paul says: “Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 2:5) The mind of Christ is obedience to the Father in humility and compassion for mankind. For us to attain the mind of faith, the mind of Christ, requires us, then, to wake up out of our heedlessness, to stop following the whims of our appetites, the fancies of egotism and to become mindful, disciplined, focused on discerning the will of God, on purifying our mind and our senses from all defilement of flesh and spirit in the mind of humility and love for God so that we can discern the will of God.
Here, then, is the purpose of our increased fasting. It is meant to serve our preparation for receiving Christ on Christmas Day who comes to us as the Child born of the Blessed Virgin. The fast serves our effort to wake up from the foolishness of a mindless worldliness in which we follow blindly after the whims and appetites of our souls and bodies, responding to the challenges and difficulties of worldly life according to a mindless mood or emotion or a self-reliant intelligence that is unmindful of God. Its purpose is to wake us up so that we remember God, we become mindful of God, and in that holy mindfulness to begin living for God and in God and according to God so that we become rich toward God.
The fast helps us to become mindful of God in a very practical way. When our stomach gets hungry, the fast reminds us, as we mindlessly get up to follow our stomachs to the refrigerator, that we are preparing ourselves for the coming of Christ on Christmas Day by working to make ourselves rich towards God. Standing in front of the refrigerator in that mundane moment of the week, we are faced with a choice. Do we follow the promptings of a mindless stomach and set about to build another barn, or do we pursue the mindfulness the fast has graciously prompted in us in that moment and go back to where we were, lay down the magazine, put the laptop aside, leave the surf board on the internet and pick up a prayer book or the Scriptures or the Festal Menaion or the life of a saint to make ourselves rich towards God? Or, do we push aside the prompting of the fast that would make us mindful and open the refrigerator?
You see how, in that moment, the fast is challenging us to make a choice; or, let’s say, it is making us to feel in a very tangible way, in our stomach, the heavenly call coming to us from Him in Whom all the riches and fullness of God dwell bodily to turn away from the fleeting treasures of the world that do not save us from death or from falling back into the dust, and to follow after the treasure of heaven, Christ our God, in the faith of the Church. St Peter tells us that it is a faith more precious than silver and gold because it is incorruptible. It is the property of the eternal life of God.
The fast, then, makes our stomach like an alarm clock that wakes up our mind to see the choice that is always before us: the treasure of the world or the treasure of heaven. We can get out of bed and make our way toward the treasure of heaven through prayer and fasting, feeding our mind on the food of the Church and not feeding our stomachs any more on the food of the world, or we can turn off the alarm and go back to sleep, back to the refrigerator, back to the mindless whims of our appetites in the night of a world that does not know God.
This morning on the eve of the Feast, the Church directs our mind to the beauty of the Theotokos entering the temple to prepare herself to become the pleasing and beautiful dwell-place of the Savior who grants the world great mercy. When we take up the fast of the Church, are we not leaving the world, the refrigerator, behind to make our way with the Theotokos to Him who is the Fruit of the Tree of Life? By means of the fast, and in the mindfulness of prayer, we are leaving the death and corruption of this earthly life behind – not just in theory, in abstracto but in concreto, in the flesh – and, we are making our way body and soul with the Theotokos into the Holy of Holies, not just in our imagination, but in the spiritual reality of the Church that implants itself and roots itself in our heart to become embodied, incarnate in the daily life of our mind, our soul and our body. And in that incarnate reality, it brings our mind to the doors of the heart and opens us onto the joy and the beauty and the wonder of the incarnate Lord enthroned in the beauty of the Theotokos; and in that joy, it calls us to become partakers of the divine nature.
So, it is in the joy of the Feast and in the love of Christ and the Theotokos, that we now take up the fast as our cross before the Feast. We fast from corruptible food so that at the Feast we may feast on the incorruptible food of Holy Eucharist. We strive to empty ourselves from the vainglory of our egotism and pride so that at the Feast we may feast on the uncreated glory and virtue of God’s own uncreated light. We fast from the temporal pleasures of the world so that we may feast at the Feast on the “medicine of immortality”, the Food of Eternal Life in the Holy Resurrection of Christ. Through the discipline of the fast, we become poor toward the world that we may become rich toward God, the God who loved us and gave Himself for us, Who clothed Himself with our poverty that He might clothe us in the wealth of His own uncreated glory and virtue in the joy and fellowship of His own uncreated life eternal. Through the fast, we shake off the groggy, sluggish darkness of a mind sated and stupefied with the scorn of those who are at ease, the contempt of the proud; and in the prayer of the fast, our mind begins to wake up to hear the call of the Theotokos to us as she makes her way into the Holy of Holies. She is calling us – the liturgical text says that she is actually urging us to enter with her and to delight in her divine marvels. (FM p. 175) What are these divine marvels? They are the wondrous joy of seeing the cave of Bethlehem opening onto Eden, of seeing the ancient enmity that separated man from God like a thick dividing wall laid low and destroyed by the coming in the flesh of the Savior, of seeing the Christ lying in the manger with radiant beams streaming from His holy face brighter than a thousand suns in the uncreated light of His glory, His compassion, His tender mercy. It is the marvel of seeing in the glow of the Savior’s tender glory the flaming sword giving way to all who approach. It is the joy of hearing the Spirit and the Bride calling out to us, “Come! You who are thirsty come to partake in the fear of God, with faith and love of the life-giving Tree in Eden and become once again not builders of worldly barns containing empty riches but gardeners of immortal plants who are rich towards God. (FM 207)
May Our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ, through the prayers of Our Most Blessed Lady and Ever-Virgin Panagia Mary Theotokos grant to each of us to see and hear the joy of the uncreated Light that is coming into the world through the Blessed Virgin on Christmas Day. Amen.