Msgr. Joseph Prior

(See the readings for the Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 4, 2019.)

The short film “Gone Nutty” provides the opening for the movie “Ice Age.” The main character is a squirrel named Scrat, who prepares for the coming deep freeze by collecting as many acorns he can. A hollowed-out tree trunk serves as the silo for his treasure. When the movie opens, Scrat is collecting one more acorn. He climbs the tree trunk and neatly squeezes it into place.

As he turns away, the acorn pops out. He goes back and pushes it in. It pops out again. This time he pushes it in, jumps on it and stamps on it. It goes back in but then, all of a sudden, there is a trembling and crackling noise. The tree trunk can’t hold all these acorns and it explodes, sending Scrat and his harvest down a steep slope and off a cliff.

Falling, with acorns all about him, Scrat begins to collect again. He forms the acorns into a huge ball which smashes and scatters as it hits the ground. As he gets up after a hard landing, Scrat looks up to see one final acorn coming down from the sky like a meteor on fire. It hits him on the head and knocks him over. Getting up, a little dazed, he picks up the acorn. As he looks at it with pleasure it crumbles to ashes.

The story has similarities with Jesus’ parable of the bountiful harvest. The parable recalls a rich man whose attitude in life is to store up his riches. When he finds his grain silo is not big enough, he tears it down to build an even bigger one. He thinks to himself: “Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!”

The twist in the story comes when God says to him: “You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?”

Jesus concludes the parable by saying, “Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.”

Jesus reminds us that the true riches, those that will endure, are the things of God. Some of these riches are love, virtue, goodness, kindness, mercy, patience and truth. Their value can not be measured as material goods or property, but their value exceeds all.

The context for Jesus’ telling the parable is that he is questioned by someone regarding their share of a family inheritance. In response, Jesus warns his listeners, “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.”

Greed can be consuming. Interestingly, news reports on the economy refer to people as “consumers.” Human beings become defined by what they buy or purchase or “consume.” Greed can be disguised by this approach. This is not to say that material things or possessions are bad, but too much focus on them can lead us to neglect the spiritual realities that have so much more to offer us.

Long before Scrat the squirrel, the Book of Ecclesiastes (Qoheleth) lamented the futility of accumulation: “Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth, vanity of vanities! All things are vanity! … Here is one who has labored with wisdom and knowledge and skill, and yet to another who has not labored over it, he must leave property … ”

St. Paul exhorts the Colossians in the second reading to “seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.” Here he calls us to a higher good, a better choice. In other words, place value on the things in life that have an eternal worth, something that will last beyond this world.

He further encourages us to put aside things that will inhibit our quest for the godly: “Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry.” He reminds us that as Christians we have everything we need in Christ Jesus himself whos “is all and in all.”

Jesus warns us against greed in all its forms. He urges us to cultivate and store up treasure that will last forever.  Scrat’s desire to store up acorns falls apart due to his greed. In the end, even the one acorn he has left turns to ashes and dust. We, on the other hand, have the greatest of all gifts in Christ Jesus himself. In him we know God’s love, which has been and continues to be poured out into our hearts. This gift has permanent value and will never disappear or fade away.

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Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.