Many of Jesus’ parables are “hard to hear” because they are so challenging. Sunday is a whopper of one that turns life as we see it upside down. First, Jesus refuses to get involved in a family tiff over inheritance. Instead, he goes to the heart of the matter, warning about greed and possessiveness. Then Jesus reinforces his point with a story, the parable of the Rich Fool. As we listen, perhaps we are drawn into thinking that the man had it made, as Jesus’ audience certainly thought. The man’s stock portfolio is up, he has large land acquisitions and his granaries are overflowing. He can kick back and live the good life!  The popular belief was that the material windfall was a blessing from God, so the man had divine approval too!

Not so fast Jesus says as he delivers the twist of the story! Jesus tells us to step back and see this from God’s perspective which is that the man is a fool — one who lacks wisdom, who refuses to see as God sees. What is God’s perspective? It’s always compassion for the neighbor which is prescribed in the First Testament (Old Testament). But the man had no thought of following Leviticus 19:9-10 that dictates leaving the edges of his fields for the poor and alien to harvest. Or the admonition in Deuteronomy 15:11: “Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.’ ” No, he kept all for himself; his treasures were the type of vanity that we hear Qoheleth describe in the First Reading. In Hebrew, the word for vanity is “hebel” meaning empty, perishable, nothingness. Truly these amassed possessions will be empty and meaningless for the owner and will have to be given to someone else in the end.

But what about us? Most likely, we aren’t fabulously wealthy. We make efforts to contribute to the needy. What is Jesus asking of us? If we only look at how much the Foolish Man had then we lose a vital point of the parable. Jesus is pointing out the pointless amassing of possessions. How much do we really need? Can we distinguish our needs from our wants?

These have become very difficult to discern in our American society which is steeped in consumerism. “Laudato Si’,” Pope Francis’ encyclical on ecological living takes a very strong and prophetic stance about consumerism — which he names as “extreme consumerism,” “exacerbated consumerism,” “compulsive consumerism” and “selfish consumerism” — because it is shattering the planet. Laudato Si’ #222 reminds us: “A constant flood of new consumer goods can baffle the heart and prevent us from cherishing each thing in each moment.”

We are called to an ecological conversion which examines our lifestyle and challenges us to see, really see what our consumerism is doing to earth. Then we need to act. “Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience.” (Laudato Si’ #217)

This parable is certainly one of Jesus’ paradoxes — two realities that appear to be opposites but upon deeper reflection lead us to a deeper truth. On one hand, we must care for our needs and the needs of our families. Having what we need to sustain ourselves and our families and to enjoy life is important; it is a blessing from God. On the other hand, can we really see when our needs give way to the indulgence of having every new thing? Can we look around our homes and lives and see when we are filling them with stuff? How do we seek out the truth of this paradox?

Looking at things from God’s perspective is where we must start. Praying daily and opening our minds and hearts to seeing our needs, the needs of our neighbors and the plight of our earth is vitally important. Like the psalmist we cry out: “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of heart.” This wisdom is what Jesus is inviting us to in the Parable of the Rich Fool.