“You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?”

Igala is one of the Nigerian languages that I speak. A few years ago, after reading today’s gospel passage from an Igala translation of the Bible, I became interested in the Igala word for “fool.” I wanted to know how the Igala-speaking people came up with the word. As a matter of interest, I like finding out the etymology of words in different languages. It gives me a good knowledge of people’s history and culture. 

The Igala word for fool is idada. In my research, I discovered that the word idada comes from two other Igala words, namely, ide, which is the verb “to guard,” and ada, which is the noun “trap.” The word for “fool,” therefore, is ideada later modified to idada, which can be directly translated into English as “To guard a trap.” Through further research, I came across the story that tells how the word idada came to mean fool in Igala Language.

A very prominent Igala man, Agbonika had ten children, a daughter, and nine sons. The time came for his only daughter Amichi to be given in marriage. The whole city gathered in preparation for the wedding feast. Friends and well-wishers made great contributions. When all was almost set, they discovered something very crucial was lacking, namely meat. Agbonika’s first son volunteered to provide the meat. He borrowed a trap from a friend and went into the forest to hunt deer. When he discovered the footpath of deer, he decided to set his trap. He then sat close to the trap guarding it to catch a deer. He remained there from sunrise until almost sunset. His family became apprehensive when he was not forthcoming, so they sent his immediate younger brother to go in search of him. When he found his brother sitting, he asked to know what was going on. The older brother explained to his younger brother that he was guarding the trap. Without asking a further question, he sat down beside his brother to guard the trap.

After a few hours, when both were not forthcoming, another brother was sent to go in search of the two brothers. When he found them, he asked to understand what was happening; the oldest brother explained as he did before, and the latest arrival joined his brothers to guard the trap. So it continued until the ninth son joined his brothers. When the villagers got the news that the nine sons of Agbonika were missing in the forest, the best hunters and warriors went in search of them. When they found the nine of them sitting in a semi-circle, they asked to know what it was all about. The oldest son explained as he had done to his brothers. The hunters and warriors were shocked beyond telling. For them, it was unprecedented. They explained to the boys that no one ever sets a trap and sits there to guard the trap; for his presence would deter the animal from coming near the trap. The right thing is to set a trap and go away from the area. The trapper must learn to let go of the trap to be successful.

The story of the nine boys went round the village. With time, whenever a person did anything that appeared silly, stupid or foolish, such a person would be told, “Stop behaving like the nine sons of Agbonika.” Thus, the nine sons of Agbonika became synonymous with foolishness. And so, for the Igalas, to be foolish is like guarding a trap.

The same word, idada or fool, was used for the man in the parable that Jesus told in today’s Gospel passage. He was like the nine sons of Agbonika. He could not let go of the trap. He thought he was the one in charge, he forgot that “It is not by might, nor power but by my spirit, says the Lord of host” (Zechariah 4:6). His wealth tricked him. He made no reference to God. He was quite convinced that his well-being with his security was totally under his control. And just when he thought he had got everything in check, God came to take him away from his wealth.

Be sure not to get this wrong. Do not go and submit your letter of resignation to your HR tomorrow. That will make you more foolish than the fool in today’s parable. Do not forget about your retirement benefits. Remember that laziness is a sin, so this is not meant to encourage laziness.

Jesus told the parable in answer to the man who requested Jesus to ask his brother to divide the inheritance with him. Rather than treat the symptom, Jesus went to the root of the matter. For him, covetousness was the issue at stake. Covetousness springs from the tendency to identify life with the abundance of possessions. The problem does not reside in his brother’s presumed refusal to divide the inheritance but in his own attitude toward the inheritance. The parable shows the futility of amassing material wealth for the future when the future could be cut off at any time.

It is not how much possession I have that will count against me, but how much my possession has possessed me. There will be multi-billionaires in heaven just as many poor will miss heaven. Our attitude counts more than what we have. Sharing with those in need and giving to God all that is His due secures the future for us.

Today’s readings are concerned with one of Philosophy’s most crucial question, namely, “What is the meaning of life?” The first reading sees vanities all around. The second reading urges us to focus more on the things above, while the Gospel sees as foolish, anyone who places his trust in his material wealth.

The rich man’s case in the Bible has been concluded, but not yours and not mine. We still have time to reevaluate our priorities. We still have time to stop building larger barns and to turn our attention to collecting treasures for heaven through sharing with the less privileged and giving to God the worship that is His due. It is time to let go and let God.

Rev. Fr. Emmanuel Ochigbo

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