Luke 12:16-21, 26th Sunday after Pentecost or 9th Sunday of Luke
From the moment of our birth, we begin a journey through this life which inevitably leads to our death.
There is no escaping that fact that it is appointed to all men once to die. It is also true that no man truly knows the day and hour of his own death for it can come at any moment. Oh yes, we all believe that we will live to see tomorrow, or next year, or even the next 50 years, but it is not certain. Our lives will end, but we do not know when or where this will occur.
Most people respond to this uncertainty with simple denial - it just won't happen to me. Most people never think of their own death, and in fact, it is a breach of polite manners to even bring up the subject of death. Death, especially our own death, is something that we prefer to tuck away out of sight in a place where we won't have to think about it.
The rich man of the parable was just this sort of person.
It never occurred to him that his life would end. He was oblivious to the possibility that he might die and so gathered his harvest which he planned to enjoy for "many years". Because he did not consider the possibility of his own death, he was a fool, for indeed in that moment, his life suddenly ended and it was no longer his earthly wealth that mattered, but his spiritual wealth (or lack thereof). He had wasted his life in the acquisition of worldly possessions to address the many possibilities of his life without making provision for the one certainty - that he would one day die.
The Fathers of the Church all speak of the benefits of being mindful of one's own mortality and death.
This does not mean that we should all go around somber and humorless, always afraid that we will drop dead in the next moment, but it does mean that the possibility of our own death is always a factor in our choices about how to live. When we are aware of our own mortality, the context of our lives changes. It is easy to think that we are immortal, that we will not die or that if we do die, it will be in the distant future. This lack of awareness of our death encourages three tendencies in our lives which are detrimental not only to our spiritual lives, but also to many aspects of our earthly lives. These three tendencies are procrastination, vulnerability to temptation and living in the future. These are all the result of thinking that we have "plenty of time" and when we think that we are "immortal", then we consider that there is always "plenty of time".
Procrastination comes about when we think there is "plenty of time" to accomplish a task and so choose to do something frivolous over that which is necessary.
In the context of the spiritual life, this often means that we put off doing those things which will help us to draw nearer to Jesus Christ and instead do those things which are pleasurable to our fallen nature. Therefore, we might watch TV or surf the internet rather than take time out for our prayer rule - because we can always pray later. We don't read the scripture or other spiritual things because there is always something else to read or some other activity to take up our time. Or perhaps we will pass by a beggar without a thought, thinking that we can catch them "next time". We can skip the divine services on Saturday night because there's always Sunday morning - or there's always next week, or maybe there are too many other things that "need" to get done.
There is always "more time" to catch up on those things that we need to do for our spiritual benefit because, well, it doesn't really affect me right now - it won't be important until after I die, and I'm not going to die for a long long time. All this comes about because we forget our mortality and lose sight of our own death. To recall one's own death adds urgency to the thought of acquiring the grace of God and developing one's own spiritual life.
When we are not mindful of our own death, sin becomes more palatable because there is always the possibility of repentance.
"Why not sin now, I can always repent later" we think, and that suggestion weakens our resolve to resist temptation. The idea that repentance is always possible later is born directly from a lack of awareness that "later" might not always come. When we are mindful of our own death, it brings a certain urgency to living a righteous life now (not later) and that if we sin we might not always have the opportunity to repent.
Compounding this is the erroneous idea that repentance is somehow "magic" and takes effect instantaneously.
Repentance is more than this, for while it begins at a moment in time, it goes on continually after that moment. Sin is not just "breaking a rule", it has consequences which cause injury to the soul. Just as "breaking" the "law of gravity" will result in injuries to the body (bumps, bruises, even broken bones) so also sin results in injuries to the soul. Just as bodily injuries take time to heal, so also the soul requires time and care to heal from the injuries of sin.
Regretting our sin and being sorry are only the beginning of repentance which is a continual turning away from that sinful behavior and thought. Even if we begin the process of repentance instantly, there may not be sufficient time to heal completely from the injury we have inflicted upon our own selves. Without the awareness of our own death and the resulting limitation on our time, there always seems to be "plenty of time" and "later" and so the urgency of resisting temptation is lessened and we fall into sin more easily.
One final effect of a lack of awareness of our own death is that of living in the future. By constantly living for tomorrow, we forget today. By constantly worrying about what might happen "later" we lose sight of what is happening "now". When we live in the future, we are not living our lives, but rather we live in a fantasy of our own creation. And the future we create never quite matches up to reality that we live and so to live in the future is fraught with frustration and disappointment in the present.
Our Lord Jesus Christ told us not to be concerned for tomorrow for tomorrow will care for itself. Our concern is to live the life that God gives us today. If we are always waiting for tomorrow, we miss the challenges, the opportunities, the blessings of today. When we bring in the awareness of death to the context of our lives, then today becomes important and tomorrow fades into nothing more than possibilities that may or may not even come to pass.
To live each day as though it were our last brings out the urgency and imminence of the events of each day and the necessity to use each of those events for our own spiritual benefit. Living in this way makes it easier to live each day for the glory of God and brings us step by step and moment by moment nearer to Christ.
The rich man of this parable was called a fool because he had forgotten to consider his own death and wasted his time on gathering things that were only of worldly value.
While he might have been rich in this life, he was impoverished in eternity. He had wasted all that God had given to him gathering that which was inconsequential, that which was without value and that which lacked any eternal importance.
If we forget our own death and trust in having "plenty of time" to accomplish those things which are of eternal benefit and value or if we think that there is always time to sin now and repent "later" we are fools. If we live in the fantasy of the future and ignore the reality of today disregarding the life that God provides for us here and now, then we are fools and will only end up frustrated and depressed because our fantasy does not match up with reality.
Let us therefore keep an awareness of our own mortality and death, not so that we might be always somber and sad, but rather that we might experience the joy that God gives to us here and now and not miss the opportunities that He puts before us every moment of every day.
The remembrance of death is a tool recommended to us by the saints to help us in our spiritual lives.
The remembrance of death is the remembrance that one day we will stand before God and that we are destined to either live in the joy union and communion with Him or to be forever deprived of that joy.
Let us not be fools, but be wise and prepare for the moment when we shall see God face to face.
Luke 12:16-2116 And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: 17 And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? 18 And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. 19 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. 20 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? 21 So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.
Archpriest David Moser St Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church (ROCOR) 2010
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