THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK – TRUST – temporal/eternal – scarcity/abundance.
Living God, Judge of us all, you have placed in our hands the wealth we call our own: through your Spirit give us wisdom, that our possessions may not be a curse, but a means of blessing in our lives. Grant this through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
These readings starkly contrast a life of reliance on wealth with a life of dependence upon God and God’s abundant blessings.
Hosea prophesies judgment against Israel’s idolatry and unfaithfulness; yet from a loving parent, forgiveness is offered, and deliverance is promised.
The psalmist calls for praise and thanksgiving in response to the Lord’s abundant acts of love on behalf of God’s people.
Colossians reveals that through Christ’s life in us, Christians are called to seek the values of heaven over the values of earth.
Greed in any form is to be avoided. Because we are the same in Christ, we are to discover our life in Christ and seek to become like God.
In the parable of the rich fool, Matthew likewise offers a warning against greed. Although the wealthy man feels secure and comfortable in his earthly riches, such wealth becomes meaningless in death.
Christ challenges his followers to seek a rich relationship with God instead of material wealth.
The Text: Luke 12:13-21
Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” Then He said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” And He told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, `What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ “Then he said, `This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” “But God said to him, `You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”
Usually it’s good to have some kind of illustration to help us absorb and apply a bible text to our situation. Today we don’t need an illustration, because Jesus himself gives us one! He tells a parable:
“The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, `What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Then he said, `This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’ But God said to him, `You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’” (v 17-20).
This parable is usually titled “The parable of the rich fool”. But notice that Jesus doesn’t call this parable “The parable of the rich fool”. That’s a name that people have given to it through the years, and we need to be careful what we hear and understand with that kind of a title—that we don’t equate being rich with being foolish. That’s not what Jesus is actually teaching at all. Jesus does call the man a ‘fool’―however that is not a general put-down, but a very particular biblical way of describing a person’s attitude towards themselves and their attitude towards God. The scriptures speak of those who think they possess great wisdom and knowledge yet who don’t seek God’s counsel for their life as ‘fools’, for example Psalm 14:1: “The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” In contrast, the scriptures speak of those who do seek God’s instruction as truly wise, for example, Psalm 111:10: ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding.
This is what is at the heart of the issue in Jesus’ parable. The rich man seems to be a perfectly respectable character, who hasn’t exploited others, but become wealthy through honest farming and has responsibly taken care of the added wealth that has come his way. But although he is rich in material wealth, he is spiritually bankrupt, for he shows no appreciation toward God for the abundance that God has already given to him―something which Jesus quite deliberately points out in his parable: the abundant crop is not the man’s doing but God’s; the ground of the rich man that produced a good crop. The rich man is not concerned with the things of God, but preoccupied with himself. We see that with what he thinks: `What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ `This is what I will do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”
The rich fool is a fool not because he is rich, but because he has neglected to have God in his life and seek his will. He was preoccupied with storing up wealth for himself to enjoy it one day. Did you hear the words of the rich fool in the parable: ‘You have plenty of good things laid up for you for many years’. He made himself to be God and determined how long he was to live!’ But he hasn’t realised that it is God who numbers our days. In the parable it is God who brings sharp correction: ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you.
Jesus taught this parable as a response to an actual question. A man in the crowd had demanded of Jesus: ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me’. The man is coming to Jesus demanding him to help as a judge who he hopes will fix a particular financial issue. He is really treating Jesus as a means to an end―as a help for him to increase his wealth―not as a God over his whole life. So Jesus gives this parable as a warning against treating God as a means to an end, but instead depend on God for the whole of our life, each day of our life. He warns against the idolatry of greed and that a person’s life doesn’t consist in the abundance of their possessions, but that devoting our lives to accumulate possessions enslaves us. Working to accumulate possessions only possesses us.
This is exactly the world we live in, and it is the way many people in the world think about God, if they think about him at all. Most people will only turn to God when they want something; do this, they say to him, answer this prayer, meet my demand, do this for me. But Jesus would have us reflect on his words today too, for we should not think of ourselves to have some special immunity to the temptations of the world and sinful human nature. The issue isn’t only about building literal barns or harvesting huge crops. Jesus wants all of us―irrespective of our calling in life―to reflect on our priorities, something that is really summarised by Jesus’ words just after today’s passage in Luke 12:34: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”.
What is the treasure we fill the storehouse of our heart with? Is it God? Or is it accumulating financial wealth? Or what other loves do we work for and store up in our heart―our love for worldly possessions, or recognition, or sport, or entertainment? What is it that we fill the storehouse of our heart with that helps us feel good, or significant, or at peace? What do we really trust in every moment of our lives? The kind of faith that Jesus intends us to have is the kind that goes beyond going to church for an hour a week, or doing a good deed from time to time. It’s a living culture, a way of being and interacting with the world and everything in it as God’s people saturated, inspired and motivated by his word. The faith that Jesus grows in us doesn’t ask, “How big am I allowed to build my barns before God thinks I’m greedy?” but instead asks “How generous can I be to others with the little or the large that God has blessed us with and how will that show God’s own generosity and love?” By focusing on God that way, we won’t be able to be anything other than the city on a hill that cannot be hid, shining Christ’s light in a world darkened in sinful self-sufficiency and self-satisfaction.
It is significant that this text is placed in the lectionary directly after last week’s gospel reading―Jesus giving us the Lord’s Prayer, where he teaches us to ask: “Give us today our daily bread” to take our focus away from accumulating possessions over time and instead drawing our attention to our dependency on God the giver who provides us with what we need for each day―and to receive our daily bread with thanks. Through the Lord’s Prayer Jesus teaches us to prioritise what we need most: for us to keep his holy name holy by using it in prayer praise and thanksgiving, asking him to come as King and rule in our hearts, forgiving us our sins, leading us from temptation and delivering us from evil. And so like the man with the dispute we are led to reflect on our priorities. Today’s text is largely law—a serious warning: “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich in God.” God doesn’t want us to suffer the same fate as the rich fool. He doesn’t want possessions to possess us. He doesn’t want us to become poor by chasing after riches. He wants us to stay rich in him. He wants us to be recipients of his blessing over and over again as his own people.
God doesn’t just want us to be driven by his warning. He wants us to live in freedom through the gospel. But today’s Gospel reading doesn’t sound to have too much gospel, does it? Where is the gospel in this?
First, while there is a warning to anyone who is not rich in God, there is blessing to those who are rich in God. You who are baptised into Christ, and who have the fullness of God―Father, Son and Holy Spirit living in you are already rich in God. You who have been given faith through the Holy Spirit in God’s word are truly rich for you have true wisdom and knowledge. In Christ you have riches in heaven, for you have received the wealth God gives: forgiveness, peace, life and salvation.
Second, the purpose of Jesus’ parables is to teach spiritual realities through every day, earthly things. More particularly, what God is like, and how he works in grace. That is not explicitly said in today’s parable, but it does provide us with a contrast. In fact, I’d like to suggest that the church doesn’t refer to this parable as the parable of the rich fool at all―Jesus nowhere calls it that. Instead, I’d like to suggest that we call it the parable of the rich God. For unlike the rich fool in our reading, God does not store up his riches in a barn and greedily accumulate them for himself without thought for others. He is a God who freely gives―to those who don’t deserve it. He opens his heavenly storehouses and lavishes his wealth of forgiveness, peace, and salvation, upon the whole world, through Christ on the Cross. Christ ransomed the world, not with silver or gold, but with his holy and precious blood.
God’s storehouse is open today again as he dispenses his riches for you: the forgiveness of sins through his absolution, the presence of Christ and the Holy Spirit through his Word, Jesus meeting you to serve you his precious body and blood through bread and wine, all of these given by your Father in heaven to draw you close to him. He dispenses his blessings to you so that you may continue to be rich in God, walking the path of true wisdom and knowledge until the day you see your inheritance in heaven. Amen.