Woman Neighbor: Holy God, have you seen how Manasses is suffering?
Another Neighbor: Poor man, he’s always been so good!
Neighbor: That’s life, woman, he’ll end up in the grave… But, what a misfortune!
For two days, old Manasses, one of the richest men in Capernaum, had been agonizing on his soft, wooden bed. And for two days, his neighbors flocked to his house awaiting the end….
Manasses: Oh, damn….!
Neighbor: What’s hurting you, old man?
Manasses: Everything!…. My whole body aches!… Oh, oh…!
Neighbor: Do you want anything, Manasses? Some water, perhaps?… or hot soup?
Manasses: I want nothing, dammit!…. All I want is to get up from this damned bed… and drive you all away from my house….
Neighbor: What’s keeping this old man from dying!
Another Neighbor: Only the good die young, don’t forget….
Neighbor: Poor Manasses, he’s been good, very good!…. Death is like a thief in the night…. it comes any moment…and it’s coming…..
Manasses: Oooh!…. Damn…….. Daaaamnnn…..
Neighbor: Is he dying….?
Another Neighbor: Wait a moment… Let’s see… Yeah, I think so….
Male Neighbor: I guess he’s passed away already! He’s very pale!
Neighbor: Yeah, he’s dead!
Another Neighbor: May he rest in the peace of the Lord!
Another Neighbor: May the angels take him to Abraham!
Neighbor: And let’s see what we can take along with us!
Neighbor: I’ll take the chickens!
Another Neighbor: But didn’t I tell you that the chickens were mine?
Male Neighbor: Hey, don’t quarrel! There’s enough for everyone! The poultry yard is full!
Another Neighbor: Hey, Clete, take a look at that chest… and see what’s inside!
Neighbor: Hey, Madame, this sack of flour belongs to someone already…
Woman Neighbor: Oh dear! After having waited since yesterday, do you mean to say that I’ll be left with nothing? To hell with you! That sack is mine!
Male Neighbor: It’s mine! And the flour too!
Woman Neighbor: Where do you think this old man hid his money, huh? That’s more important!….
Manasses’ neighbors ransacked the whole house for any loot, while the mourners intoned their mourning songs. The children, each one carrying three or four chickens, leaped over the garden wall. Meanwhile, their mothers searched thoroughly into the chests…
Manasses: Ooooh!….. I am not dead…. I am not dead and I don’t intend to die yet!
Everybody, with hands full of the loot, stopped, scared stiff. Manasses, who was seated painfully on his bed, looked at them defiantly…
Neighbor: Who the hell said he’s dead?
Woman Neighbor: Old Manasses has a long way to go…. Be patient!
Manasses: No,… no, I don’t want to die… Go away, vultures!…. Go to hell, all of you!…. All you want is to rob me of my wealth…. everything is mine…! And it remains here!…. in my house…. oh, oh….
Woman Neighbor: C’mon, Manasses, take it easy…. that’s it… that’s it…
Woman Neighbor: Don’t exhaust yourself…. Rest…. Just rest…
Manasses lay down again, his eyes closed… and… he was nearly out of breath…. Things went back to normal, while the old mourners pulled their hair but stopped weeping… At this moment, when even the chickens were running loose in the garden and the entire house was in disarray, the two sons of Manasses appeared at the door. They lived in Perea, which was a long way from Capernaum, and they had received the news about their dying father….
Joel: What the hell is all this mess?
Woman Neighbor: Look who’re here, Joel and Jason!
Jason: What’s happening here, huh? What’re you all doing here?
Woman Neighbor: We’re here to help your dying father…
Woman Neighbor: He’s been in a lot of agony, poor man…
Joel: And you’ve been helping yourselves as well, to everything that you see in all corners of this house!
Manasses: They wanted to strip me naked of my wealth… damned vultures!… Get out of my house, I’m commanding you!…. Oh, oh, oh….!
Joel: Out, out, all of you! Get out of here!
Jason: Papa, poor Papa…
Joel: Out, out you go, everybody, dammit! And the mourners too!… And don’t take anything from here, do you hear?!…. Not even a needle should be taken away from here!
One by one, with bowed heads, the neighbors left Manasses’ place… The long hours of vigil had been in vain: the sons of the rich farmer, heirs to his fortune, had arrived in time….
Manasses: Are they gone…?
Jason: Yes, Papa…
Manasses: They wanted to strip me naked of my wealth…
Joel: But they have not succeeded… Oh, Papa, see how people can be so cruel. All they could think of is take possession of the wealth that you painstakingly accumulated!
Jason: We learned about your condition only yesterday… That’s why we didn’t come before…
Manasses: I… I’m dying, dammit!….. I’m ill… It’s just that…. It’s just that… Oh, oh, I feel so bad….oh…..
Joel: You’d better rest, Papa… let’s see… make yourself comfortable… that’s it… that’s it…
Manasses: Oh, oh, oh…..
Jason: Where dya’think he’s placed his money, huh?
Joel: How would I know?
Jason: Yeah, you know it, Joel! You know where he put it, don’t deny it!
Manasses: Oh, oh, oh?
Joel: Sshh, don’t shout, Jason; he might hear us!
Jason: He might hear us, he might hear us!… Well, let him hear us! What do I care? Half of that money is mine. You know that as much as I do!
Joel: You know fully well that all the old man’s wealth belongs to me, and only to me. I’m the eldest son and according to the law, it belongs to me. The law is the law.
Jason: The law says that the younger son has a right to the inheritance.
Joel: Not if the inheritance is little. So, the money can’t be divided. It can’t be touched…
Jason: Do you know how much Papa earned? You say it can’t be touched, because you want to have it all. Damn you, greedy man! You’re already rich, yet you want to have more!
Manasses: Oh, oh, oooh….!
Joel: Yes, Papa, we’re here beside you. Take it easy… Poor Papa, we know you’re suffering!… Now let’s see who’s the avaricious one… Your wool business is going fine, isn’t it?… What do you need the money for, huh?… To give alms to the poor?… You can’t deceive me, Jason. You’re more ambitious than an Assyrian king!
Manasses: Oh, oh, these pricking pains!
Jason: What’s wrong, Papa?
Joel: Do you need anything?
Manasses: I… I… don’t want to die….
Jason: Don’t think of dying now, Papa… You’re as strong as cedar from Lebanon…. You’ll be alright… Tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, you’ll get up from your bed, I’m sure… And you’ll continue working on the farm…
Manasses: This year… harvest has been so good… did you know?…. There’s no more room for wheat in the barns…. Ha, ha…. I’m goin’ to tear down the old barns… and build…. bigger ones beside the house… and money will flow like honey…. yes, it’ll flow like honey!… oh, oh, oh, it’s painful…!
Joel: What does he need the money for… to hide it in a pit underground… What a miserly old man…
Jason: And you, what do you need it for? So that you can spend it all as you please?
Joel: How selfish you are, Jason… Papa is panting like a wounded dog, while here you are thinking only of the money….
Jason: And what’s on your mind, you wretch? Your eyes have been sparkling like gold ever since you got here!….
John: Where are you going, Jesus?
Jesus: To old Manasses’ house, John. Do you know that he’s dying?
John: Yeah, but my friend Clete says he’s got a long way to go. That old man is holding on to his life like a leech. Nothing can banish him from this world…
The house was almost dark when Jesus and I reached Manasses’ house. In one corner of the room, were the two brothers who were whispering to each other….
Jesus: May we come in?
Joel: Who are you?
Jesus: We know your father…
John: They told us he was very ill and so we have come to visit him…
Jason: To visit him and to find out what you can get from him… Am I right?
John: Why do you say that?
Jason: Because all those who visit him have sharp fangs ready to take advantage of our poor Papa!
Jesus: You must be his sons who live in far away Perea?
Joel: That’s right. We arrived a few hours ago…
Jason: So, you’re our father’s friends…
Jesus: Well, not really friends. Manasses never had friends, and that’s the truth. He lived all by himself, ate and slept all to himself…. and in the end, he even talked to himself…
Jason: He may have talked to himself, and told no one where the hell he hid the money. He’s dying and we’ll have to demolish the house and dig into the entire farm just to find it!
Joel: We’ll have to… we’ll have to…. You won’t be doing anything because this inheritance is mine, don’t you understand, Jason?
Jason: Damn you, Joel, here you go again! I’ve told you a thousand times that half of that money belongs to me, to me! Let’s see, please tell us if I’m right or wrong: our father saved….
Jason: Tell him, stranger, tell him that the law provides that he has to divide the inheritance with me!
Joel: Don’t involve anyone in this! This is just between you and me!
Jesus: Listen, friend, who am I to meddle in your mess? I’m not a lawyer nor a judge…
Jason: Papa’s money is mine, Joel!
Joel: It’s mine, Jason!
Manasses: Papa’s money… belongs to Papa! It’s mine, mine and not even you nor anyone can take that away from me!…. Scoundrels! You, my sons, are also thieves who want to rob me of my fortune and leave me with nothing…!
Jesus: C’mon, old man, take it easy…. take it easy… c’mon… I’m Jesus, staying in Zebedee’s place. And this is John… We came to visit you….
Manasses: You have come to see what you can steal from my house… But you’ll leave with your hands empty… I don’t intend to die… I’ll have new barns constructed for my wheat this year… and for many years… oh, oh….
Jesus went near Manasses and gently closed his eyes…
John: He’s dead.
Jesus: This is sad, isn’t it, John? Old Manasses thought of nothing his whole life but to amass wealth. He had no time for anyone. He never wept for anyone, neither did he know how to be happy…. Of what use were all these things of his? Nothing. They were there for the moths to feed on… He came into this world naked and left this world naked. What’s the use of piling up things if he has lost his life?… Let’s go, John.
Jason: Where the devil could he have hidden the money, Joel?
Joel: The old man’s money is mine, Jason, and don’t you insist anymore!
Jason: Go to hell, Joel, I tell you…..
While the neighbors and mourners kept on coming to the house, old Manasses’ sons started to search the whole house, hoping to find in some nook their dead father’s savings. They were like two vultures tearing at a carcass….
The Roman conquest brought to Israel, among other things, a radical transformation in land ownership. Before then, it existed in two forms: The latifundium (or large landed estate) – which came about by expansion – and communal property, by lots and tilled by cooperatives or by families. The collection of taxes imposed by the Romans led to the gradual impoverishment and indebtedness of farmers. Many were forced to sell their lands. This hastened even more the process of concentration into big landed estates. This system of landed estates was eventually imposed, because it turned out to be more profitable. The figure of the big landowner, the proprietor who continuously accumulated wealth, had huge rice granaries, and enjoyed profits “without having to work,” was very common in Jesus’ time, especially in the Galilean region. In the upper reach of the Jordan, along the banks of the river and largely, in the mountains of Galilee, the arable lands were already large estates. Some parables, like that of the “rich fool,” are told in the gospel in such a vivid manner, that it is believed that Jesus didn’t make up the story, but simply referred to a fact well known to his listeners. In the episode, Jesus appeared among those who were awaiting the death of the landowner, Manasses, and what he had to say about avarice, life’s meaning (Mt l6:26) and real wealth, were born out of concrete experience. Jesus was not alien to the history of his time. He came with messages and lessons about compassion for those who came to listen to him. His words, his good news, reflected his thoughts on everything he saw and experienced. They were the consequence of his observations and his having lived with the people. This is also true for us, as we form our own conclusions about life in this world, when we live and share our experiences with others. Jesus strongly criticized the rich and showed how he distanced himself from money. Wealth hardens the heart and alienates people. Jesus saw a serious danger in riches, since they become a supreme value in life and a substitute for God (Mt 6:24). Much as one claims to be maintaining faith, a person becomes an enemy of God through avarice, ambition and covetousness. This is because the values of the Kingdom of God – the full surrender of life, unity among brothers and sisters, loyalty, respect for others, the desire to share what one possesses, the drive to serve and construct a just world – are diametrically opposed to ownership and accumulation of wealth, which should be an important consideration for those who idolize the god of money.