In Samuel Beckett’s play “Happy Days” there are only two characters, a middle aged couple called Winnie and Willie.
Willie is for the most part out of sight and has very little to say for himself. In the first act of this short two act play Winnie is buried up to her waist in sand, but in spite of her condition she chatters on and on. She still has the use of her arms and spends her time rummaging through a bag that contains her possessions, everything from a toothbrush to a revolver. She believes in the importance of things; she says, “Ah yes, things have their life, that is what I always say, things have a life.”
In the second act Winnie is buried up to almost her neck. She cannot reach out to anyone; neither can she be reached by anyone. She has no relationship with anyone and she is entirely caught up in a world of her own. Winnie is alive, but she is dead. Her life is a living death.
The Scriptures frequently speak of a living death. It is a creeping death which comes on those whose lives are empty of human relationships. This kind of death is something that people can learn to live with. This concept of a living dead is a biblical portrait of those people who have become accustomed to caring for no-one but themselves.
In the Gospel read in most of our Christian Churches this weekend we hear of the young man who wants the inheritance divided between himself and his brother. It was the custom of the time to bring such issues to the local Rabbi. The Rabbi’s judgement was final in such matters. In the Gospel Jesus refuses the role of judge, instead he tells a story.
The story is that of a rich farmer who is blessed with an abundance of crops. The farmer’s reaction is not to rejoice and give thanks to God but rather to talk to himself. He has no friend to talk over things with - he thinks he owns his own soul and his own future. His world is seen in terms of what he owns.
The rich man is already dead. His world is unrelated to the fate or fortune of other human beings. Like Winnie in the play his life is a living death. In the scripture passage God, who rarely appears in parable, but appears in this one and calls the rich man a fool. He is the one who does not share his goods or any part of himself with others.
The message of Jesus that is presented in Luke’s Gospel draws attention to the dangers of wealth. Material things are a blessing but they can also become an obstacle to fruitful living of the gospel. From observing day to day living we know that wealth can give people influence, power and a certain amount of control over others. It can give a false sense of security, the illusion of immunity from human weakness and the many ills that afflict humanity. Human weakness can be an uncomfortable thing but it isn’t eliminated by abundance of riches.