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主日八分半  
18th Sunday of the Year
文稿(中文)
粵語講道普通話講道

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time


Impermanence of Life and Death. Wealth and Riches are like Dung

First Reading (Eccles 1: 1-2; 2: 21-23): All is vanity
Second Reading ( Col 3: 1-5, 9-11): Seek the things that are above
Gospel (Lk 12: 31- 21): Parable of the Rich Fool
Chinese Classics:
-“Cover a thousand miles for a letter about a wall, let them have three feet more, does it matter? The Great Wall of China is still there, but Emperor Qin of yesteryear is not seen.” (1)
-“Though the virtues of the gods all mankind may fully know, earthly longings and ambitions they unwillingly forego.
Yet pause and think! The wise and brave of old, where are they now? Their graves are overgrown with weeds, themselves a heap of clay.
Though the virtues of the gods all mankind may fully know; the heaping up of riches they reluctantly forego.
Daily they lament their failure with their first and last breath. When satiety arrives then their eyes are closed in death.”(2)
-“Heaven is nothing, the earth is nothing Life is hardly discernible in their midst. Power is nothing, fame is nothing. A blink of the eye to find one’s grave in the wilderness. (3)

Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions... God said to the rich man, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.” (Lk 12: 15 21)

Today's Scripture is unusual. Suddenly a man comes to Jesus and asks him to help him divide up his wealth!

We can say and do many things, convey many messages we ourselves think are quite clear, but what others understand is not the same at all. Sometimes there is a great discrepancy between what people understand and retain and what we intend to pass on. Moreover, what people hear and what they absorb often stems from what is most applicable and advantageous to themselves.

There was a man who, on hearing Jesus' preaching, thought it was very attractive and that Jesus' personality and spirit were very winning. He was touched by Jesus and thought Jesus was far superior to other people. He thought: this is truly a reliable person, fair and objective, meticulously discerning. For the moment he forgot what Jesus had said in his talks, he only thought Jesus would be able to help him with his personal problem, which was to help him apportion out the wealth of his family. So he called out to Jesus in a loud voice, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” (Lk 12:13).

It is very possible that the man had been unfairly treated by his brothers and had no other recourse, so he asked Jesus to help him obtain justice.

Jesus did not get involved in the man's family dispute, but he pointed out a way to solve his family problem. It was similar to Jesus not wanting to get involved in political issues but rather pointing out the spirit with which we should face political challenges.

He taught the man that in dealing with distribution of wealth he should remember a principle: “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed” and remember that “One's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”.
Talking about disputes over family fortunes reminds me of a Chinese story. Two neighboring families were arguing about including a wall about three feet wide in their building plans. One of the families had a relative who was a high official in the Ministry of the Interior. The family decided to write this relative to ask him to exert pressure on the other family to give way. Who would have known, the official wrote this letter in return: “Cover a thousand miles for a letter about a wall. Let them have three more feet, does it matter? The Great Wall of China is still here, but Emperor Qin of yesteryear is not seen.”(1)

What he hoped was that his family would not quarrel with their neighbour about a mere three feet. Even if they won it would be of little matter. The Emperor Qin was a good example. He had once been a magnificent figure, but where was he today? The man's family followed his advice and gave the three feet to their neighbour. Their neighbour was so touched he moved back three feet also. The six foot-wide strip of land became a lane which people later called the 'Lane of Love and Justice.'

Actually there is profound philosophy behind this refusal to quarrel. It is that even if one wins the argument, it may be of no use.

The wealthy man in today's gospel thought that with all his wealth and treasures he would have no further worries. With great delight and contentment he said to himself, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” (Lk 12: 19) “But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, where will they be?” What is the use of gaining the whole world if we lose our soul, ruin our lives, drain away all our energy and become disillusioned and decrepit with old age?

All human beings without exception come into the world with nothing, and leave with nothing. We come into the world empty-handed, go around for a while, then leave the world empty-handed.

In Cao Xue Qin's novel, “Dream of the Red Chamber” there is a song, “All Good Things must End.” The song says,
“Though the virtues of the gods all mankind may fully know, earthly longings and ambitions they unwillingly forego.
Yet pause and think! The wise and brave of old, where are they now? Their graves are overgrown with weeds, themselves a heap of clay.
Though the virtues of the gods all mankind may fully know, the heaping up of riches they reluctantly forego.
Daily they lament their failure with their first and last breath. When satiety arrives, then their eyes are closed in death.”(2)

In the Ming Dynasty there was a song of similar meaning called “Song of Nothingness.
“Heaven is nothing, earth is nothing. Life is hardly discernible in their midst.
Gold is nothing, silver is nothing. They will not be in our hands after death.
Power is nothing, fame is nothing. A blink of the eye to find one’s grave in the wilderness.”(3)

Jesus' conclusion was, “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.” In the end all is emptiness.

Therefore the wisest way is to “store up eternal riches before God:” leave behind some worthwhile achievements for society, acts of good will done for others, protection for one's family, good deeds for one’s descendants, actions worthy of remembering and for the world, some acts of courage to emulate. Do not hold on too tightly to any thing else.


(1)千里捎書只為牆,讓他三尺又何妨?長城萬里今猶在,不見當年秦始皇。
(2)世人都曉神仙好,只有功名忘不了;古今將相今何在,荒塚一堆草沒了。世人都曉神仙好,只有金錢忘不了;終朝只恨聚無多,及到多時眼閉了。
(3)天也空、地也空,人生渺渺在其中。金也空、銀也空,死後何曾在手中。權也空、名也空,轉眼荒郊土一封。

 

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