Thoughts from the Early Church
Commentary by Basil the Great
What am I to do? I have not enough room to store my crops. (Lk 12:17)
“The land of a rich man produced abundant harvests, and he thought to himself: ‘What am I to do? I will pull down my barns, and build larger ones.’”
Now why did that land bear so well, when it belonged to a man who would make no good use of its fertility?
It was to show more clearly the forbearance of God, whose kindness extends even to such people as this. “He sends rain on both the just and the unjust, and makes the sun rise on the wicked and the good alike.”
But what do we find in this man? A bitter disposition, hatred of other people, unwillingness to give. This is the return he made to his Benefactor. He forgot that we all share the same nature; he felt no obligation to distribute his surplus to the needy.
His barns were full to bursting point, but still his miserly heart was not satisfied. Year by year he increased his wealth, always adding new crops to the old. The result was a hopeless impasse: greed would not permit him to part with anything he possessed, and yet because he had so much there was no place to store his latest harvest.
And so he was incapable of making a decision and could find no escape from his anxiety. What am I to do?
Who would not pity a man so oppressed? His land yields him no profit but only sighs; it brings him no rich returns but only cares and distress and a terrible helplessness. He laments in the same way as the poor do.
Is not his cry like that of one hard pressed by poverty? What am I to do? How can I find food and clothing?
You who have wealth, recognize who has given you the gifts you have received. Consider yourself, who you are, what has been committed to your charge, from whom you have received it, why you have been preferred to most other people.
You are the servant of the good God, a steward on behalf of your fellow servants. Do not imagine that everything has been provided for your own stomach. Take decisions regarding your property as though it belonged to another.
Possessions give you pleasure for a short time, but then they will slip through your fingers and be gone, and you will be required to give an exact account of them.
“What am I to do?” It would have been so easy to say: “I will feed the hungry, I will open my barns and call in all the poor. I will imitate Joseph in proclaiming my good will toward everyone. I will issue the generous invitation: ‘Let anyone who lacks bread come to me. You shall share, each according to need, in the good things God has given me, just as though you were drawing from a common well’.”
Homilies on Riches, Courtonne, pages 15-19
Basil the Great (c.330-379), one of the three great Cappadocian Fathers, received an excellent education and began a career as a rhetorician before a spiritual awakening led him to receive baptism and become a monk.
After visiting ascetics in Egypt, Palestine, Syria, and Mesopotamia, he decided that it was better for monks to live together in monasteries than alone as hermits, and he set about organizing Cappadocian monasticism. Basil’s Rules influenced Saint Benedict.
In 370 Basil succeeded Eusebius as bishop of Caesarea. His main concern was for the unity of the Church, and he strove to establish better relations between Rome and the East. His efforts bore fruit only after his death.
Basil’s writings include dogmatic, ascetic, and pedagogic treatises as well as letters and sermons.
**From Saint Louis University