What’s important in life

The story is told of a rich industrialist who was disturbed to find a fisherman sitting lazily beside his boat. “Why aren’t you out there fishing?” he asked.

“Because I’ve caught enough fish for today,” said the fisherman.

“Why don’t you catch more fish than you need?” the rich man asked.

“‘What would I do with them?”

“You could earn more money,” came the impatient reply, “and buy a better boat so you could go deeper and catch more fish. You could purchase nylon nets, catch more fish, and make more money. Soon you would have a fleet of boats and be rich like me.”

The fisherman asked, “Then what would I do?”

“You could sit down and enjoy life,” said the industrialist.

“What do you think I’m doing now?” The fisherman replied as he looked placidly out to sea.

This is an interesting story, but it asks us about what is important in life. We all strive to achieve, provide for our families, and the next generation. This is perfectly reasonable, but when is enough? If we are blessed with a stable work situation and a good income, we are fortunate, but there will come a time in life when we ask what is important. The gospel begins with a dispute about an estate, and sadly the death of a parent or a relative sometimes leads to arguments about the estate.

The person who made the bequest wanted to divide assets for the benefit of all but sometimes a member of the family gets preferential treatment and others are excluded. It is easy to see how this can lead to dispute and litigation between family members which can end in bitterness and estrangement. This is always a very unfortunate outcome.

The parable of the rich man is like that of the industrialist who spoke to the fisherman, and it asks us to think about our priorities in life and whether or not they are governed by the economics of accumulation or other principles. There is nothing wrong with having assets for they are necessary for life, but it’s what we do with these assets. Obviously, we should provide for our family and business partners, but we also have a responsibility if we are blessed with assets to look to the good of those in need.

Do we have a plan for the distribution of some of our yearly gains to different charities? Have we considered the needs of our faith community and our commitment to educate children, support those in need of housing, rehabilitation programs, aged care and what can we do for countries suffering disaster? The gospel is not only about proclaiming good news but witnessing by our actions that the message of Jesus resonates in our lives and leads us to bear witness not just in word but also by deed.                                                      

Michael A Kelly CSsR

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