Funny how one passing thought leads to another, and another, until you end up with something completely divorced from the original thought. Especially now, with the internet. You can whisk through any number of random associations in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.
I can’t believe I just typed ‘two shakes of a lamb’s tail’. I have never said that in my life.
I was thinking about my garage, and how it seems to be inhabited by tins nowadays, mostly cat food. This is because I am nervous about Brexit, or rather apprehensive as to the incompetence of civil servants in managing the transition from – oh, you daren’t even discuss this nowadays – from the way we were to the way we will be.
That lead me to think of an old episode of Alaska: The Last Frontier (before I gave up my TV licence) in which there was an earthquake. I have never been through an earthquake and it didn’t look much fun. The root cellar of one young couple had been badly shaken and much of the foodstuff they had worked so hard to gather/make over the short Alaskan summer had been thrown about and ruined. To please his wife the husband, ever practical, set about building shelves out of second-hand timber, with high boards at the front and sides. The idea was that in any future earthquake, supplies would be contained on the shelves rather than smashed on the floor.
And then I got onto, accidentally of course, the Parable of the Rich Fool. I knew there was a thing about a man smugly heaping grain up in his barn, then dying overnight, but I couldn’t remember what it was called or where to find it. There’s a bit in Matthew 6:19 which starts:
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in…
The parable itself seems to be Luke 12: 13-21. A rich man has had a bumper harvest and is rejoicing over all the excess crops he has. There is so much, he hasn’t got room to store it all, yet he means to save it and be able to live the good life for many years, eating, drinking and being merry, which must be the origin of the saying Eat, Drink and be Merry, for tomorrow you die.
He makes a plan. He will tear down all his old barns and build much bigger ones in their place…
Now, here is one of those logic holes. I just love logic holes, which tend to leap out at me. Star Trek is an excellent source. If I were the rich man, and didn’t yet know that God was about to thunder at me “You fool! This very night your soul is being demanded of you. And these things you have prepared, whose will they be?”
If I were that rich man, I would be saying at this point: what a waste of time and assets it would be to pull down all the barns I have already got. Why don’t I just build a number of additional barns? Then I can store my grain mountain and eat, drink and be merry etc till the cows come home.
I can’t believe I just typed ’till the cows come home’. I sound like my Nan.
But then of course God would commence his Thundering and I would realise that all my crops and possessions were of no use to me. I should have been concentrating on storing up ‘treasure in heaven’ instead.
I did come across a children’s bible ‘translation’ of this story, that began something like:
There was once a very rich man, and he grew fruit on his farm. We don’t know exactly what sort of fruit, children, but he grew so much of it he was beginning to wonder how he would store it all…
What was with all this mysterious fruit? There was no mention of fruit, surely. So I checked it back in the King James version. What it actually says is:
The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully:
And he thought within himself, saying. What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits and my goods.
And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods.
The writer of the children’s translation has taken this literally. What ‘fruits’ actually means is crops, ie ‘the fruits of his labour’. Fruits are crops, and goods are possessions, as in ‘all my worldly goods I thee bestow’.
But to what extent was the parable itself mean to be taken literally? Should I not be storing cat food but trust in the lord not to let my nineteen cats starve. Should people not be saving some of their earnings, if they can afford to, because in the event of some financial crash Jesus will provide?
I am still thinking this one over. Where is the line between blind faith and fecklessness? Surely if you don’t worry a bit about the future and try to provide for yourself, you will end up in the gutter, or with other people having to take care of you, or unable to look after anybody yourself? Surely it is a person’s responsibility, as a member of society, to at least try not to be too much of a drain and a nuisance?
It all hinges on time, and predictability. The Rich Fool was called foolish because he decided to horde his excess crops (crops, not apples, pears, cumquats etc) against a future that, in the event, he was not destined to have. But he didn’t know that. If he had known it, maybe he would have made a different decision. If he had known it, maybe he would have given it all away to the poor and needy, and then sat down happily to await his transport to the next world.
Can we live as if there will be no tomorrow? What happens if there is a tomorrow after all?
Taken to its logical conclusion, if we brooded constantly on the thought that we might die at any moment, wouldn’t we all just curl up on the living room carpet and do nothing at all, ever again? Isn’t everyday life only possible because the future is unknown?