In my family, there are two organized religions: Roman Catholicism,
and the Pennsylvania State Lottery. (Recently, some family members
have also been attending the Church of Powerball.) At one point
in the past several years, the lottery jackpot went over one hundred
million dollars. I was living in a different state at the time,
but my brother, Matt, was giving me regular updates on the effects
this huge prize was having: the long lines to buy tickets; people
taking trains from New York, Baltimore, and Washington, others
flying from California and Europe and even Japan; and a level
of general excitement that continued to rise every time there
was a drawing without a winner. He assured me that he had purchased
a fair number of tickets himself, and asked me if I would pray
for one of them to win. I dodged the question by asking him what
he would do if he won, and he revealed to me a very detailed plan
of action. He had obviously given the matter a great deal of thought.
The first thing he is going to do is to get a lawyer, someone
who will be responsible for dealing with the press and taking
care of any legal matters. The second thing he is going to do
is make arrangements to move out of town, someplace new, and tell
no one, including his family, including me, where he is going.
I’m not sure if he plans to tell his wife. The third thing
he is going to do is have a chat with his boss, a frank discussion
in which he gives his two-week notice, and then offers a more
candid analysis of his boss’s shortcomings than he has been
able to do in the past. This analysis will conclude with some
creative suggestions for his boss’s future career path,
and even some indications as to his final destination once this
mortal life is over. Next, he knows the places he wants to travel,
the things he wants to buy, the investments he plans to make.
He also intends to pay for his nieces’ and nephews’
Obviously, money would change my brother’s life. Such
a huge amount of money, coming so suddenly, would change all of
us. Now, if you are honest, you will all admit that while I was
telling that story, you thought about what you would do with that
money! Something flashed through your mind, a few images, several
seconds worth of fantasy, a quick consideration of some of the
possibilities all that money would bring, all the things you could
buy, all the good you could do. If a hundred million dollars suddenly
dropped in your lap, your life would be different in ways you
can hardly imagine.
In today’s gospel, Jesus tells us about “a rich man
whose land produced a bountiful harvest.” Why did his land
produce such bounty? Certainly, because the owner planned ahead,
and because he worked hard and had employees who worked hard.
And certainly because he had sacrificed and struggled over many
years, which is what a successful farm always requires. The bountiful
harvest was the result of hard work, without a doubt. But it also
came from God. The land was fruitful because God made it fruitful.
It is a gift from the Lord, who gave him life, who gives him strength,
and whose majesty keeps the rich man, his workers, his family,
and every tree, vine, and branch on his farm in existence. The
rich man is rich, his land is prosperous, his future looks bright,
because of what he has done - but everything he has done has been
possible only through the goodness of God. We all know this from
our own experience. Each night before dinner we say grace, and
we thank God for His gift of food. A farmer grew the food, a trucker
brought all of it to the supermarket, the store sold it to us.
All of this is undoubtedly true; and yet we know that it is just
as true - indeed, it is even more true - to say that the food
has come to us from God, the giver of all good gifts, creator
of all things, seen and unseen.
So the rich man has a huge gift dropped into his lap by the
Lord. But the man’s first response is to ask: “How
shall I store all of my goods? What shall I do to protect my wealth,
to make sure ‘I will have good things stored up for many
years’”? He does not use the word “gift,”
but speaks of “my harvest” and “my grain and
other goods.” And because he does not recognize them as
gifts, he does not ask the question, “How do I thank the
Lord for the gift of a fruitful harvest?” Because he does
not see the truth of the matter, that everything he has is given
to him by God, he does not ask the question, “What return
can I make to the Lord for all of His goodness to me?” He
asks only how he can store up and protect what he has been given.
He does not seek out the poor and share his gifts, he does not
throw a huge feast and invite all his neighbors. A great bounty
has been given him, a tremendous grace has been poured into his
lap, the Lord has smiled upon his labors and blessed his fields.
And it makes no difference to the rich man, it changes him not
at all. More food than he could ever eat has been placed into
his care, and not one bit does he think to share, but rather seeks
to hide and hold with a tight heart and grasping hand what the
Lord poured freely upon his land. Had his fields failed and his
animals died, no doubt he would have turned his face heavenward
and asked, “Why?” But when his fields flourish and
his fortunes thrive, he does not raise his head and part his lips
to speak those words most desired by our heavenly Father: “Thank
The question placed before us today is this: Here we receive the
body and blood of Christ, here Jesus Christ gives himself into
our hands. Does this change us? We are given Christ: Are we different?
Are we living a different way, speaking a different way, spending
our days in a different way, because we have received the Lord?
We are given Christ, who died for our sins: Are we more merciful
to those who have sinned against us? We are given Christ, who
took the form of a slave for our salvation: Are we more mindful
of the hungry and the poor, more generous with the gifts we have
received from God? The love of God, the Holy Spirit, is poured
into our hearts at this Mass. Does it make a difference?
Money would change us. If we suddenly won a lot of money, our
lives would change in ways that people could see and touch, ways
that would be very obvious. They could look at our clothes, see
where we live and what we drive and where we go for vacation,
and they would know we were rich. Money would change us; does
the Eucharist? Do people look at what we say and what we do and
know that we have received the bread that came down from heaven?
Are we different at work, different at home, different at the
mall and on the golf course? Is it clear that we are people who
strive to forsake foolishness and pursue wisdom, that we are men
and women who struggle to resist immorality, greed, and lying,
to shun the vulgarity of our culture, to resist the desire for
revenge, to protect the weak and the fallen, to nurture beauty
and cultivate virtue?
Here is one suggestion. If you don’t do it already, start
saying grace when you are out at a restaurant. That food comes
as much from God as the food we eat at home. It may feel awkward
and embarrassing at first, but we have received a great gift from
the Lord, and we must be different. Who knows who is watching,
who may see you, and be reminded of the gifts they have received,
and be moved to give thanks as well? It’s a small start,
but a real one. For today, Christ asks us: how do I change your
lives? How does my body and blood make a difference? Will you
go forth from here changed? Will this day be any different?