A tribute to the life and work of Brian Torode
In the good old days, even as recently as when I was a child, the parish priest was the one to whom one went if one had a problem – whether material or spiritual. This was indicative of the fact that most clergy were University educated at a time when university education was the privilege of the few. The parish priest could sort out most problems and if he couldn’t he knew someone who could.
The start of today’s Gospel, made me think of those far off days, because the unknown person in the crowd seemed to be doing just that – he had come to Jesus for advice, but he didn’t bargain for the response he got from Jesus. We don’t know who he was, what he was like, but one can assume that he came from a fairly wealthy background as his inheritance was something that was uppermost in his mind. In a way one could argue that he was paying a compliment to Jesus, for in asking him to help sort out such a personal and legal matter, he was surely recognising Jesus authority as an informed and educated Rabbi or teacher.
But Jesus sees into the hearts of men and his seeming rejection of the man’s request for a decision suggests that Jesus saw in the man, a purely material motive, one of self interest, of possession motivated by greed and Jesus was not going to be involved in such material matters.
What would you have done in such a situation –after all, we don’t know the background to the person’s request. We could send the person off to the local Citizen’s Advice Bureau, or perhaps to the local Legal Aid Consultant. But not so with Jesus, for he saw into the man’s heart and realised that the spiritual aspect of this man’s request was totally missing.
As was the familiar style of Jesus in such situations, he told a story, a parable, which must have embarrassed the person in front of the whole crowd standing round him, but which hopefully made him go away and think. And the parable was one that so easily mirrors the society in which we live today, a society where so much effort is put into amassing wealth, power, possessions and fame. A society where success is marked by how big a house you own or how much you spend on your holidays or what sort of car you drive. The more you have the more you want was one of granny’s favourite warnings, and how that is reflected in the fat salaries and bonuses paid out to those at the top of the earnings chart today.
Yes, the parable Jesus told addresses issues that are as relevant in our society today as they were in his. The man who built bigger and better barns was doing so, not so that he could provide for others, but so that he could provide for himself, so that whatever disaster may have befallen in the future, he would be alright Jack. His total trust was in material goods, which would ensure a comfortable earthly life with no thought at all for the spiritual life and the life to come. The rich man confuses the needs of the body with the needs of the soul – Soul, relax, eat drink and be merry, he says.
But God warns him – and us too – that material security for the future does not mean that we have nothing to fear. Our lives are answerable on demand – and when God calls we have no choice and what good will our wealth do us then?
But taking this parable to our own situations in the 21st century – aren’t we constantly being advised, warned, threatened even, to make provision for the future, for our old age care, for the rainy day. Rightly so, for in so doing we are acting responsibly and acknowledging our dignity as human beings. The attitude to possessions is what decides where you stand with God, and once you have got that right, then your hope of eternal life is secure.
This morning’s Gospel theme fits in nicely with the Lammastide bread which we are going to bless in a moment and share later. In pagan days, there were all sorts of rituals surrounding crops and fruits of the earth, but as with all other pagan rites the church, probably at the time of King Alfred, highjacked them, Christianised them and incorporated them into the church’s recognition of God as supreme provider of all that is and is to come. Lammas, was the bread-mass, the occasion when thanks was given to God for the first harvest crop – that of the wheat harvest. In thanksgiving for the fulfilment of the promise that seedtime and harvest shall not cease, bread was presented at the Mass on the Sunday nearest to the first of August, bread not to be confused with the Consecrated bread of the body of Christ, but ordinary bread in thanksgiving and in asking God to provide sufficient for the year ahead. In a way, Lammas was the first day of Harvest – and the 29th September, Michaelmas was observed as the end of Harvest.Once the first crops were in, uncertainty about food for the year ahead was over. The blessed bread was then shared by the congregation.
At the Reformation, such celebrations ceased being seen as too worldly, but they have been resurrected in many rural and farming communities in recent years and our own Common Worship has made provision for Lammas and Rogation to be restored to our Liturgy – for the first time at St Stephen’s today.
Thanksgiving not greed is what we will share today, combining our spiritual thanks with our material needs and praying that the haves of this world will recognise their responsibility to those who have not.
May our earthly riches make us rich towards God. Amen.