The man liked clocks. He was a collector. He liked all kinds of clocks. Old fashioned mechanical clocks, digital clocks, grandfather clocks, alarm clocks, kitchen clocks and all sorts of other clocks were in his collection. The collector wanted as many clocks as he could obtain.
As the years progressed his house became so full of these clocks that he needed to find a storage place. He started with one of those storage garages that are so popular but soon this was not enough. He was a wealthy man so he bought a warehouse to hold all his wonderful clocks.
The collector was protective of his clocks. He would not display them for fear of them being stolen. He had an elaborate security system surrounding his warehouse. Almost every day he would stop by the warehouse to look at his massive collection. He would just wander the rows and rows of clocks and find satisfaction that he had amassed such a collection. Rarely did he actually look at or use the individual time pieces, he just looked at the collection.
One night while he was dropping off a new acquisition he thought heard a voice. The voice was low and deep but soft as a whisper. “Guy of Paris has more clocks than you,” the voice would echo. As time went on the words would ring in his ears. “Eric of Hamburg has more clocks than you.” “Lu of Hong Kong has more clocks than you.”
The names and places continued to increase as time went on. He was haunted by the voice. Later he would hear, “This warehouse is not big enough, get a larger one,” or “you need more security to protect your clocks.” As it happened one night he thought he saw someone in the warehouse, a shadow. He looked down the row but saw no one; he turned but no one was there.
The next night as he arrived he carefully scoped the entryway, as was his custom, before unlocking the door. “All clear,” he thought. He unlocked the door, opened it and then saw a tall thin man looking at him from inside. “Who are you?” the collector asked. “I’m a thief,” came the reply with a sinister smirk.
He was holding a clock the collector had never seen before. He then walked further into the warehouse followed by the collector, gently placing the clock on a shelf. The collector was angry and blurted out: “What kind of thief are you? A thief would be taking a clock not adding it to my collection.” The thief turned and looked at the collector.
He now had a full smile on his face. “Who said I was here to steal a clock?” The collector looked confused. “I’m here to steal your soul, and I’ve been doing it for a long time.”
Jesus tells the story of the rich man and Lazarus in the Gospel passage for Sunday’s liturgy. The rich man had accumulated so much excess wealth that he was blind to poor Lazarus who used to beg at the door every day. The man’s fine linens and sumptuous meals consumed his life so much so that he bothered not with Lazarus nor did he pay heed to his distress.
When both died Lazarus found comfort and relief in the bosom of Abraham while the rich man went to a place of torment. He asked Abraham to let him pass over but Abraham said it was impossible. You’ve had your fill. You chose your reward.
“Send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them,” the rich man said. When Abraham reminds him that they had heard the prophets’ message, the rich man says it would be different should someone rise from the dead. Abraham then states: “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.”
Jesus’ message is eternal. He cuts to the core of the human condition and its struggles, in this case with self-indulgence. The luxuries of life can be a trap that can easily consume a person if they are not careful or mindful. Luxury and comfort become the focus of life rather than love, compassion and service. Such was the case with Abraham, and such was the case with the “collector.”
The temptation to the luxurious life does not change with Jesus’ rising from the dead. He gives us this warning. The teaching harkens back to the prophets. The first reading from the Book of Amos provides just one example: “Woe to the complacent in Zion! Lying upon beds of ivory, stretched comfortably on their couches, they eat lambs taken from the flock, and calves from the stall!”
The passage from First Timothy compliments the warning of the parable by emphasizing the call to those things in life that will truly build up one’s life and lead to a fuller humanity. “But you, man of God, pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience and gentleness.”
This is the message of the prophets, the message of Christ. Through the parable Jesus invites us to seek life now by giving of ourselves in love. In this self-emptying we will find the path to life, the path of peace.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.