The Ripple Effect

Proclaim Sermons
Homily: Ordinary Time 18
July 31, 2022
Reproduced with Permission
Proclaim Sermons

Summary : The parable of the rich fool leaves room to think about the good he could have done with his abundance and the positive ripple effect it could have had. This has implications for our churches.

Adriene Mishler, the founder of the YouTube channel, "Yoga with Adriene," became an internet sensation when the pandemic kept everyone at home and away from gyms and yoga studios. Though she started the channel in 2012, views and subscriptions skyrocketed when everyone was confined to their homes, at first for two weeks, then for a month and then for over a year. Mishler's style is beginner-friendly, with her dog often sleeping in the corner as she provides guidance for her audience to try new poses, repeat body-positive phrases and "follow their breath" in order to calm their minds and bodies.

If you remember those first few days and weeks of the pandemic, you will probably recall the sense of fear we all had about a virus that no one seemed to understand very well but was spreading like wildfire through communities. Whole towns and boroughs shut their borders, instructing all shops, except grocery stores and pharmacies, to close their doors to encourage people to remain home. There was a real sense of panic about what would be available in stores, and no one could find Lysol wipes or toilet paper anywhere. Schools closed and teachers and students scrambled to find each other on virtual classrooms and websites. We were all genuinely afraid and panicked.

As the days turned to weeks and months, we grew tired and weary of news about mask mandates, ventilators, hospital shortages and then vaccine mandates. Humans do not have the stamina to stay panicked forever, so panic often turns toward sadness, depression and exhaustion, as well as the companions of these emotions, like overeating, sleeping too much or getting too little exercise.

Throughout this time, there was "Yoga with Adriene." Adriene had videos for every feeling -- for anxiety, for uncertainty, for working from home, for breaks from school. There was something on her channel for everyone. Adriene Mishler filled a gap many people suddenly felt in their lives by teaching her viewers to slow down, pay attention to how they were feeling and how to help themselves, if only in small ways.

Ripple effect

In an interview of Mishler with Ross Edgley on British GQ's YouTube channel,1 Edgley said he read a comment about Mishler where one of her fans says, "This woman will never know how many lives she has saved." Edgley then asks Mishler if she is aware of the impact she has had.

Watching the interview, you almost expect Mishler to say something like, "I'm just one woman doing yoga," or "The impact is hard to imagine." But, she doesn't take this tact. Mishler says that the ripple effect is real. She tells Edgley that it really does take just one small action, such as recording a few yoga videos from your home, to start a whole chain reaction of good in the world. She goes on to say that when we undersell ourselves and say diminutive things like, "I'm just a girl from Texas ..." (as Mishler is), then we are really saying "It doesn't matter what I do because my actions do not make a difference." If enough people say that and feel that, then nothing changes. If we own that our actions, small as they may be, can have a large ripple impact, then we have a chance at changing the world.

Wealth and greed

The parable Jesus tells about the rich man with a magnificent harvest is a moral reflection on wealth and greed. At no point in the parable does the man wonder how he could equitably share his bounty. He has a certain self-assuredness in his sufficiency. He can provide for himself and care for himself. He will have enough for many years without any need for support from his community or friends and family. It is a prideful position. He doesn't seem to have any sense of responsibility to use his abundance to help anyone else, or to provide security for anyone else.

The rich man in the parable is living the dream, by American idealistic standards. We dream of a restful, relaxing retirement where we can sip from umbrellaed drinks, take vacations when we want to and indulge in our whims and desires. The greatest good we should hope and aim for in our "Golden Years" is to enjoy leisure and recreation away from the physical and emotional demands of work. This is the lifestyle the rich man not only aspires to, but actualizes for himself.


There is a hollowness in this wish, however. Though the rich man is wealthy by any economic measure, the poverty of his life is exposed in the final lines of the parable. God calls him a "fool" and admonishes him for laying up treasure on earth and not being "rich toward God." The hearer is urged to ask if the rich man's life has meaning? Is his life fulfilling because he can partake in leisure activities without the need for friends, family or community? He is so self-sufficient that he scarcely seems to need God. Although he may profess great belief, his actions point to a functional atheism.

There was so much potential in the life of the rich man. He had what physicists might call "potential energy," or the energy an object has because of its relation to other objects or forces. The rich man had a lot of options. He could have shared what he had. Perhaps he could have found ways to invest what he had, maybe by helping others build farms using seeds from his harvest or building sustainable and equitable practices so that his wealth could spur wealth for others. Imagine the ripple effect the rich man's life could have had if he had found ways to do something enduring, like help others buy land for their families. The domino effect of his life and his wealth could have positively impacted others for generations. Even an act as simple as offering his abundance for a community-wide meal has the potential of creating a ripple effect where others may have been inspired to similar generosity.

Instead, the parable demonstrates for us what happens when we either think of ourselves as too insignificant to have an impact, or when we think only of ourselves and how we alone can enjoy what we have amassed.

Potential in community

Communities have a tendency to have the same scarcity mindset, or even the functional atheism of the rich man in the parable. Religious communities show great concern about the upkeep of their enormous, hulking buildings on prime pieces of real estate with corner lots in the center of towns or cities. Many hours are dedicated to landscaping; multiple meetings are had about the placement of stained-glass windows or the maintenance of the organ. Fundraising campaigns are initiated to replace furniture or carpet, or to purchase new appliances. All of this for buildings that are often nearly vacant for six of seven days each week. Some buildings may only see evening use by the choir or committees that meet. One regional body of a church indicated that in their area, which encompassed a territory about the size of the state of Maryland, there was seating capacity for more than 30,000 if every pew was filled in the churches of that one denomination only. Of course, there is never an occasion where every single pew is filled simultaneously, so what to do with all of this space? Not just space, but beautiful, desirable, expensive space? What potential does this kind of wealth have?

We can own the possibility of our ripple effects. Could our collective wealth as a community be used in ways that benefit even more people? How could we imagine the maximization of all that we have been blessed to have so that even more people could experience the bounty? Could landscaping be changed to make space for a community garden? Are there closets or rooms that could be used to store pantry items for a food distribution operation? Could the kitchen be used even more frequently to provide healthy meals for children or senior citizens?

We sometimes forget what wealth we have. We take for granted so many parts of our daily lives that we are sometimes not aware of our own presence in the world and what potential it has for positive impact toward others. We can generate our own ripple effects with just small acts of kindness. We have the creativity and imagination to use our resources in ways that share our blessings widely, so that many can enjoy the bounty.

We can be where the ripple starts.


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