the rev dr john h pavelko
18th sunday in ordinary time
When Enough isn't Nearly Enough
MUCH LAND DOES A MAN NEED?
Pahom lived in a small village and managed a small farm.
hard work and a good harvest, the farm provided enough food to feed his
family. One day he heard that a landowner of a large estate was selling
her property. He decided to buy forty acres of her property. To raise
necessary money he had to sell a colt and half of his bee colony, hire
out one of his sons and borrow from his brother-in-law. But the first
harvest was bountiful and so he was able to pay off all his debts.
So he became a landowner, ploughing and sowing his own
hay on his own land, cutting his own trees, and feeding his cattle on
own pasture.... his heart would fill with joy.
But soon he had problems with his neighbors and he began
feel cramped and he wondered if he could buy more land. Later he heard
that rich farmland was available beyond the Volga at an inexpensive
So, he sold off his land and moved his family. He was indeed able to
more land than he had ever dreamed of owning and his wealth increased.
But '...when he got used to it he began to think that even here he had
not enough land." So, he decided to buy more land.
A few years later, he heard that another landowner
needed to sell
1300 acres for a good price. Pahom talked to the man and they agreed on
a price. Just before they finalized the sale, Pahom heard that he could
purchase vast amounts of land for almost nothing. So, he set out for
country with his hired man. When they arrived the Chief offered to sell
him all the land that he could walk around by day for 1000 rubles but
was only one stipulation. If Pahom did not return to his original
spot by sundown, he would lose both his 1000 rubles and the land.
The night before he would acquire his property, Pahom
lay awake thinking
about his new soon to be fortune. He fashioned plans on how he would
all the farmland. When morning came he met the Chief at the agreed upon
location. The Chief placed his hat on the ground to mark his starting
and Pahom set out. At first he did not know which way to go, he was
in all directions. Finally, he decided to go toward the rising
He walked for many miles. He thought of turning but the
land was too
good and would have been a pity to lose, so he walked further. At
he made his first turn and then walked until midday. He walked all
Just before lunch, he was about to make his second turn but he noticed
a deep hallow. He thought to himself that it would be a pity to leave
out so he walked further thinking an "An hour to suffer, a lifetime to
After lunch, he realized that he made the first to sides
too long so
he decided to shorten the third. He toiled through the heat of the day.
His body grew weary with each step. When he finally sat down to rest,
worried that he had blundered by trying to cover too much ground. After
supper, he made his final turn toward home, his body weary, its
nearly exhausted. Seeing the sun hanging low on the horizon, he began
run. He panicked thinking that he had taken on too much and was about
lose it all.
His breast was working like a blacksmith's bellows, his
heart was beating
like a hammer, and his legs were giving way as if they did not belong
him. Pahóm was seized with terror lest he should die of the
Soon he could see the people gathered round the Chief's
and the sun just above the rim. Remembering his dream he pushed himself
Such is the tale the Russian author, Leo Tolstoy weaves
the passions by which we are driven to grasp for more. Money, power,
possessions have an innate power that tempts, corrupts, entices, and
us. We are never satisfied with what we have. The ancient Greek
Aristotle wrote that the greed of humanity is insatiable. And a Roman
noted the progression of dissatisfaction that has taken place in the
of human civilization when he wrote,
"We have lost our taste for acorns. So (too) we have
couches littered with herbage and heaped with leaves. So the wearing of
wild beasts' skins has gone out or fashion....Skins yesterday, purple
gold today--such are the baubles that embitter human life with
More recently someone once said, "Advertising has
We've gone from caveman and cavewoman to craveman and cravewoman.3
These ancient and modern social critics each understand
the power of
possessions and the cravings of the human heart. Jesus also observed
enslaving power of the tentacles of possessions. In the brother's
he heard the voice of greed disguised as a request for fairness and
Death coupled with the inheritance often combine to produce volatile
emotionally explosive relationships. Unresolved family conflicts emerge
causing a breakdown in communication. Selfishness and greed may entice
even the generous sibling. Jesus would not allow the brother to
him in the family squabble. So, he used the question to direct his
attention to the enslaving temptation of material possessions by
them a parable about a rich man who kept building more and more barns.
THE LORD'S PRAYER AND THE RICH MAN
Located the week after our study of the Lord's prayer,
of the rich man forms a striking contrast to the petition, 'Give us
day our daily bread.' The prayer accepts and even honors the
and boundaries of the present as natural components of human existence.
It directs the pilgrim to enjoy life as it is. It requires us to
human power and control to the providence of a Divine Sovereign. The
man only considered what he does not have. His happiness only flows out
of his plans to expand and produce more. He relies only on his skillful
forecasts and plans. His confidence is based in an egotistical
And in his prosperity, he only considers himself.
We would like to divert the convicting thrust of the
parable by excluding
ourselves from the story. We are not part of the rich and famous crowd.
A camera crew will not be photographing our home. Our net worth will
be spread out on the pages of Forbes magazine. We are plain simple
We struggle to pay our mortgage. Some of us cannot even afford a home.
We lease our car because we do not have enough money for a down
We worry about having enough money to send our children to college or
the property taxes due twice a year. However, we are not exempt. We
in the most prosperous country on earth. Even the poorest of us enjoys
greater prosperity than most of people of the world. Our
society provides big screen TVs to watch our favorite shows, cell
and pagers to stay in touch with family and friends, personal computers
to keep track of our stocks, SUVs big enough to hold our all terrain
camping equipment and personal gear and a complete selection of clothes
for every activity. But even with our unprecedented affluence and
consumption we are very much like the rich man who never has enough.
Jesus has an interesting way of teaching. He tells us a
the temptation of greed but does not give us a simple set of how-to
for resisting. He grabs our attention with a convicting story but does
not provide any answers. He forces us to discover for ourselves the
of the passage and how to apply it to their lives. Therefore, each of
must consider our motives for buying. What drives to want more? What
need are we trying to satisfy?
TO WANT WHAT OTHERS HAVE
The desire to have what others have is a natural human
small baby wants to touch the hand of his mother and feel her jewelry.
Young children cannot resist playing with the objects they see their
use each day. When they see another child with a new toy they want to
with it not out of envy but simple because it looks like fun. When we
the advertisement for a new computer, clothes, soft drink, or food, we
want to have them because they appear interesting and exciting. New
are exciting and fun. "Examining something, taking it home, rearranging
our homes to accommodate it-it's all part of what social psychologists
describe as the human need to affect(and be affected by) our
With the first glance, we have not succumb to envy or
greedy. We simply
would like to enjoy life and its pleasures. But these innocent desires
easily yield to the insatiable desire for more.
The movement from an innocent interest to an envious
craving is subtle
and often disguised. Just as the brother tried to conceal his greed
the cloak of justice and fairness, so too do we attempt to justify our
true motives for the types of purchases we make. It takes intense
to admit to the truth of what drives us to buy and spend.
People are reluctant to admit that they buy things like
new cars, new
boats or some other new toy to keep up with the Joneses but underneath
the surface lies a streak of status seeking in each of us. This is easy
to see in children and teenagers. The child whose parents have not yet
purchased a video game set feels embarrassed over inviting friends over
to play with the old games. A teenager who does not have their own car
does not feel equal to her peers who drive to school everyday. But how
many men feel embarrassed about always asking another man to go fishing
in their bass boat because they cannot afford to buy one. Or how many
are reluctant about inviting people for dinner because their furniture
is old and has a worn look.
If we are not comparing ourselves to others than we are
to ourselves. Once purchased and used a luxury becomes a necessity. The
luster of the new toy looses its shine over time. After the novelty
off, we are driven to replace the familiar. This is as true for the
factory worker exchanging his basic cable service for 200-channel
cable as it is for the junior executive trading in a BMW for a Mercedes.5
HONESTY: THE FIRST STEP TOWARD WHOLENESS
A pastor once told me when I was a rebellious and
that honesty is the first step toward God. It is also the hardest. We
not want to admit we are greedy. We do not want to disclose why we
bought something. We do not want to acknowledge that our motives may
been anything less than pure.
ENOUGH TO BURY HIM
Pahom could see the people all standing around the fur
cap. He looked
at the sun and saw that a portion of it had dipped below the horizon.
gripped him. He thought, "There is plenty of land,' thought he, 'but
God let me live on it? I have lost my life, I have lost my life! I
never reach that spot!" With one last surge of strength, he ran up the
hill, when he reached the summit he saw the fur cap and the Chief. Just
before darkness set, he lounged for the cap. His legs gave way but as
fell to the ground his hand touched the fur. The Chief praised him for
good fortune, "Ah, that's a fine fellow, he has gained much land." His
servant rushed up to him to raise him from the ground but could not
him. Pahom lay dead. "His servant picked up the spade and dug a grave
enough for Pahóm to he in, and buried him in it."
How much land does a man need? Six feet from his head to
his heels was
all Pahom's servant needed to lay his master to rest.
When enough is never enough, it does not take much land
to lay a person
1 Leo Tolstoy, How much land does
a man need? Online:
2 Aristotle, "Politics", and
Lucretius, "On the Nature of the Universe",
both quoted in Goldian VandenBroeck, Ed., Less is More: The Art of
Poverty (New York: Harper & Row, ]978) cited by Alan Thein, "The
Rewards of Consumption." New Renaissance, Vol.3, No.3, Online:
3 Frank Tyger, "Sermon
Illustrations," Leadership, Fall 1996, Vol.
XVII, No. 4, 75.
4 Joan Smith, "Do Americans shop
too much?" May 11, 2000 Online:
5 .Banker quoted in Kroeger,
"Feeling Poor on $600,000 a Year"; Veblen
quoted in Lapham, "Money and Class in America" cited by Alan Thein,
Dubious Rewards of Consumption." New Renaissance, Vol.3, No.3, Online: