In one of my classes back in seminary, the professor put on a video for us to watch. It was from a psychology experiment. There were five people in a room, and they were passing a ball back and forth. We, the class, were supposed to count how many times the ball was passed in the course of the video. So the professor turned on the video, we all watched and counted, and then when the video ended he turned off the T.V. and asked “raise your hand if you saw the man in the gorilla suit.”
Y’all, I definitely didn’t see a man in a gorilla suit in that video. But when we re-watched the clip—now that I knew he would be there—there was totally a guy in a gorilla suit that walked literally right in between the five people tossing the ball back and forth. It was totally nuts that I didn’t even see him the first time we watched it.
Turns out, this is a phenomenon that happens all the time. When we need to focus on one thing—like counting how many times a ball is passed—other things will fade into the background to the point that our brains literally erase them from our awareness. It’s why people who get into car accidents changing lanes claim they didn’t see the car—since the other car was going about the same speed, their brain perceived it as being stationary and therefore not necessary to notice.
We actually see the world differently based on what we prioritize noticing.
This past week has been a flurry of activity for our congregation. The week has been filled with people gathering early in the morning to bake pies for the crowds that came to the fair stand. Soup was made which people inexplicably long for in the August heat. Workers took shifts at the fair stand to greet people at the fair, cook burgers, take orders, clean tables, run sodas, and count the cash register.
We are so incredibly blessed that God gave this ministry to this congregation. It is such an important ministry, and we take great pride in the fact that we are called to do it every year. Yes, there are the normal anxieties about getting enough workers and supplies and all—but this congregation always pulls together for the fair and it is always a success.
We do it because it’s one place that this congregation has put our treasure. We have our treasure in the fair by the physical presence of a building that we own and operate. We have our treasure in the fair by the long tenure of our participation—people would notice if we weren’t there one year. And we have our treasure in the fair by our pride in the good work we do together. And because this congregation has put its treasure in the fair, our heart is there too.
Hey, that sounds familiar.
We use the vocabulary of being “blessed” when things go well in our lives. When we have more than enough food on the table. When we land that new job we’ve been wanting. When the crops come in despite a difficult spring. When something good happens regarding our health. Having an abundance is a good thing. It’s a reminder of the goodness of God, and using the vocabulary of “blessed” to describe these good things really helps us reorient toward God in that goodness.
In fact, abundance shows up again and again as a way to describe God’s goodness throughout the Bible. Isaiah’s vision of the world when God makes all things new is pictured as a feast: fine wines, rich food, abundant bread for everyone. Jesus promises us that God will provide abundantly for all of our needs. Having a lot, having an abundance, is part of God’s good will for our lives.
So why is the rich man, who has enough abundance to need bigger barns, called a fool? Let’s take a look at this parable.