For most people, the main work of life is providing for themselves and their families. What happens when a person no longer needs a paycheck? Some people are born that way with a rich inheritance, and some people reach that point early in life because of the lottery or skills as a musicians or actor or in sports. Some people never reach that point, but we Americans expect to someday get there between social security and retirement accounts, so it is a question that most people in this country at least have to face at some point. What should a person do once they no longer need to earn a paycheck?
This is the question of the Gospel today. The man is called a rich man, and his harvest one year is finally enough to retire on, so he decides to “rest, eat, drink: be merry.” He decides to enjoy himself. This seems reasonable to us. Of course he would do this. We say, “Congratulations on your retirement. I hope you do enjoy yourself. Have fun.” God says, “You fool.”
The mistake that the man makes, and that we are susceptible to making in our culture, is believing that we have ever earned the right to “rest” in this world. Our rest comes in the next world. Without question, a person reaches a point where they cannot put in the same hours that they would have put in 20 years ago; they should rest if they need to, but no one can ever say to the world, “I have put in my hours, now it is my time to rest, eat, drink, and be merry.”
It is a splendid thing if someone no longer has to work at a job they never liked much anyway, that they no longer have to wake up at 5 in the morning and commute for an hour a day, and I am glad for those whose early success means that they are provided for in this life. These are good things. The question is, what does a person do with this newfound freedom? It might be 80 years, it might be 40, it might be 20; it might be 4 hours, like the man in the gospel today. The point is that we are never off the hook. If we are free of serving this world, that ought to make us free for serving God and our neighbors, not free for serving ourselves.