The man’s question about his family’s inheritance has a larger context in the early Christian communities. St. Paul brings it up several times in the letters. It seems that they were going to lawyers and the secular legal and juridical structures to obtain satisfaction and judgments; Paul criticizes them, telling them to resolve matters “among yourselves.” Several of Jesus’ parables command the same. “Settle with your opponent on the way to court,” Jesus teaches. Discern things communally.

Jesus’ initial answer was rather picked up by Pope Francis on several occasions now. “Who am I to judge?” In any event, all this stuff is vanity. The Hebrew word literally means “a puff of smoke” or “a wisp of morning fog.” In other words incredibly ephemeral.

The parable that follows has elements of eastern humor. Remember that this incident occurs at dinner, where the give and take of conversation was expected, and that also meant humor. The man in the parable is presented as foolish and funny. Who tears down old and useful barns to make new bigger ones? The conversation he has with himself is ridiculous. What god is stored grains if not sold on the market? The saying “eat, drink, and be merry,” goes all the way back to Siduri the tavern keep in the Gilgamesh epic. Even God calls the man a fool as his life is taken. It’s all meant to be an outrageous and over the top parable.

Jesus begins and ends the parable with sayings about earthly treasure in perspective of heavenly treasure. Warnings are the bookends to the humor.

Alan Hartway

Theological Studies at Catholic Theological Union, Chicago IL; Master of Fine Arts, Poetics, at Naropa University, Boulder CO 1996; Master of Arts, Greek Classics, University of Colorado, Boulder CO 2012; Taught at Naropa University from 1999 through 2015; Chair of Interdisciplinary Studies from 2007-2015; Member of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood, Kansas City Province since 1974; Pastor at Guardian Angel Catholic Church, Mead, CO, ministry from 2007-2020 Currently Retired

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