This hoard of yours...
Are you a hoarder or, at least, do you have hoarder tendencies? Lots of people do, you know. It’s a baffling urge which the psychologists tell us has its origins in insecurity. Personally, and I’m no expert, I believe hoarding, like most personality dysfunctions, has its origins in our fear of death.
However right or wrong that may be we all know that hoarding is such a problem in our society that they are making all sorts of reality TV shows about it.
People hoard all kinds of things. Imelda Marcos, it seems, had a thing about shoes. Others collect old newspapers, bottle tops, canned food, animals, clothes, or cutlery. Some collect popularity, power, prestige or just plain old ordinary cash. It doesn’t really matter what is being collected it just seems that having a lot of it is somehow ‘comforting’.
But hoarding has another dimension. It is not simply the collecting of items – it is also the inability to part with them. Hoarding is all about me. All those things I’ve hoarded are mine, and not yours.
This is why the final question of Jesus is such a painful taunt to the hoarder: and this hoard of yours, whose will it be then?
Hoarding, then, is not just a harmless affirmation of self, it is – consciously or unconsciously – a rejection of the other. Count the number of first person pronouns in these few lines:
What am I to do? I have not enough room to store my crops ... This is what I will do: I will pull down my barns and build bigger ones, and store all my grain and my goods in them, and I will say to my soul: My soul, you have plenty of good things laid by for many years to come; take things easy, eat, drink, have a good time.
Even the word you which is used only once is directed to the self. Where the ‘other’ should stand only the ‘I’ can be found. Tragically the hoarder of the gospel has become an icon of all hoarders, amassing for himself and speaking to himself.
With startling energy Jesus cries out: Fool...! You can almost see the man jump! He is right in the middle of the process of making a decision about his future life. He believes he has it all worked out: This is what I will do; and Jesus cries, 'Fool!'
It is to this groundless confidence that Jesus directs his cry. This very night the demand will be made for your soul. In other words ‘Fool, you may store up grain, you may store up goods, but you can’t store up years because they are stored in my barn not yours. And tonight there are no more left for you.’
Let us not forget that Jesus speaks this teaching, this warning, to all who live totally absorbed in the here-and-now, wrapped up in comforting material illusions without any thought at all for God or for others.
Watch, and be on your guard against avarice of any kind, for a man’s life is not made secure by what he owns, even when he has more than he needs.
These are words of life spoken by the author of all life. They are full of wisdom and light and the wise take them seriously: A man’s life is not made secure by what he owns.
Undoubtedly we all seek security. It is a natural instinct. And we are all, to varying degrees, afraid of death, the ultimate source of insecurity. Jesus knows this about us and he knows of our hapless tendency to grasp at anything, anything at all, which we suspect might make us feel less the insecurity which comes with being alive.
The more insecure the world becomes the more common becomes the phenomenon of hoarding. And it doesn’t matter if what we collect is hundred dollar bills, fame, or old newspapers, it’s still hoarding and it’s still a waste of time. It does not and cannot make us safe.
Real safety is assured only by making ourselves rich in the sight of God. To do this we must change our basic orientation to the passing material things of this world, none of which, ultimately, are worth collecting.
St Paul’s counsel is invaluable: ...look for the things that are in heaven ... Let your thoughts be on heavenly things, not on the things that are on the earth.
To this we may add the words of the psalm: Make us know the shortness of our life that we may gain wisdom of heart. Then we may rejoice with the alleluia verse: How happy are the poor in spirit: theirs is the kingdom of heaven.